A Willow At Radlett, A Spaniel At Hove : My August In Cricket Part One

Middlesex 2nd XI v Hampshire 2nd XI, Radlett, 5th August 2014

Sussex 2nd XI v Gloucs 2nd XI, Hove, 12th August 2014

Radlett Aug 2014

August.  From one point of view, when the season reaches its climax (or a series of climaxes).  We’ve had the climax of the Test series, the knock-out stages of the T20 climaxing at Edgbaston and, for lovers of the traditional one-day form of the game, the Royal London 50 over competition, which is, as I write, building to its climax at Lord’s in September.  As the County Championship has been pretty much in suspension since July, my August has, since my moment of revelation on the Rec, been a bit of an anti-climax, though not without its own subtle jouissances.

I’ve mostly been watching 2nd XI cricket, which is a funny old beast.  Leicestershire take it seriously and usually field a side which is barely distinguishable from their 1st XI.  As a result, we have already won the T20 Cup and are in the Finals of the 50 over and 3-day competitions.  Other counties mostly use it to give players who are out of nick or who aren’t used in one-day cricket a chance to get back into and keep in form, or to have a look at triallists and Academy players.  You might occasionally spot an interesting new talent (such as Sam Hain the other week) or you might, as I did in these two matches, see some competent professionals such as Sean Terry, Joe Gatting and young Tavare (all second generation cricketers) making some untroubled runs against some occasionally ropy bowling.

I don’t think it adds to the would-be 1st teamers’ enjoyment that many of these games are played at club grounds (though it’s a part of the enjoyment for me).  It must seem a bit infra dig for them to have to go back to searching for lost balls in the hedge (as here at Radlett), when you are more used to the satisfying bonk of ball on boundary board at the County Ground.

Lost ball

Lost ball 2

Radlett (as regular readers will know) is a ground that is of particular significance to me ; I pass it every day on the train in and out of work.  When it vanishes into the gloom at the end of October I know Winter is here and when it first reappears in the early morning mists at the end of February my thoughts begin to turn to the hope of a new Season.  In truth it is a pleasant enough ground, in the Home Counties style, though what I’m not aware of when I speed past on the train, is, of course, the noise from the trains speeding past and, less obviously, that it is underneath what I take to be a flight path from Luton Airport to London for light aircraft and helicopters.  At times there were so many of them overhead it was like watching cricket in a scene from Apocalypse Now.

From my train window Radlett is at its best in Autumn (a willow at mid-wicket provides some wonderful effects when losing its colour)

Radlett August 2014

and the first signs were there that it is gearing itself for a spectacular display this year.

Autumn leaves at Radlett

Which will be some consolation, as I’m plunged into darkness once again.

A ground, by contrast, I’d expect to be at its best in August is Hove (or to give it its official title TheBrightonandHoveJob.com County Ground).  Good old Sussex-by-the-sea, a cavalcade of raffish manifestations of the amateur spirit – Fry, Ranji, Gilligan, Dexter, Snow, Imran – all of that and all of them.  And, to give it its due, that spirit is still sensibly lingering somewhere around the ground, but buried pretty deep beneath the spirit of commerce.

As Google will tell you, the ground isn’t so much a cricket ground as a multi-use complex, so complex that it requires a forest of signage to direct you if you’ve come there to want to watch a game of cricket, as opposed to patronising the Italian restaurant or visiting one of the retail outlets or small business units it also houses.

 

 

Hove

Of the main buildings, the neo-Edwardian glamour of the Spen Cama Pavilion (Cama was a mysterious snuff-sniffing Anglo-Indian barrister and property speculator who left the club a huge legacy) is still strong enough to shine through all the advertising hoardings

Spen Cama Hove

the moderne players’ pavilion just about makes it through too (“Never hurt – never fall out” is not, incidentally, some kind of team-building advice, but the slogan of the club’s “official earphone suppliers”)

Hove pavilion

but the charm of the poor old scoreboard and clocktower has sunk completely beneath the gaudy pixels

 

Hove scoreboard

and even C.B. Fry now comes sponsored by Parafix Tapes and Conversions Ltd.

C.B. Fry

In fact, so packed is every nook and cranny of the ground with money-making wheezes that it wouldn’t be too surprising (and quite in keeping with the traditions of the resort) to find they’d set up some sort of bijou brothel round the back of the scoreboard.

But who am I to mock?  Sussex is, as I’m sure they’d rightfully point out, in many ways a model for how a small county can thrive.  They are in Division One (and have been for some years), we are not and not likely to be for the foreseeable future.  They have trophies in recent memory; we have none (except for the T20).  So I suppose I’ll have to hold my nose and look forward to visiting the Pukka Pies Arena and sitting in the George Geary (sponsored by Airfix, Netflix or Durex) Stand.

(One feature of the ground I did warm to was the dog (a spaniel?) who helped the groundstaff when they were trying to clear up after the rain.  I wonder who his sponsor is?)

 

Dog on pitch

 

Will Flowers Be In Place At The Start Of The Season?

Some Big Questions to be answered in Big Cricket when the new season starts.  Should Flower stay – or should he go?  Should KP go – or should he stay?  Should Cook … well you get the idea, and you probably have some answers.

But, noticing today that the cherry blossom is already in bloom around the bowling green

DSCF3914

and catching a glimpse of the scoreless but sunlit scoreboard at Fairfield Road through a gap in the hedge

DSCF3910

some other questions occur to me.

Will the mild Winter mean that the sycamores and silver birches at Grace Road will be in leaf (unusually) for the start of the Season?  Will the daffodils in the beds in front of the Pavilion be in bloom?  Will there be a fine sheen of pollen on the outfield at Fairfield Road?

And I find I care far more about the second set of questions than the first.

Long A-Growing

On this thoroughly miserable weekend (not helped by waking at 4.00 to the crowing, not of a cockerel, but Glenn McGrath) let us make a nostalgic pilgrimage to the site of the Stump.  Long time readers may be wondering whether it has somehow – hope against hope! – managed to revive, but I’m afraid the answer is that its mortal remains still slumber in the earth and the grass has begun to cover it.

Stump November 2013

I am reminded of the old song …

The trees they do grow high and the leaves they do grow green,
The day is passed and gone, my love, that you and I have seen.
It’s on a cold winter’s night that I must lie alone,
For the bonny boy is young but a-growing.

At the age of sixteen he was a married man,
And at the age of seventeen the father to a son,
And at the age of eighteen his grave it did grow green.
Cruel death had put an end to his growing.

 

Stump Watch : Coda

A resurrection of sorts for Easter.  Not too far away from the remains of The Stump the authorities have planted a sapling horse chestnut.  I wish it well, although the last time they tried this it was swiftly snapped in half by vandals.  I don’t think I shall be reporting regularly on its progress, although it might feature occasionally.

Stump Watch Coda Easter 2013

For anyone curious as to how The Stump might have developed, if left to its own devices, here is a wild horse chestnut of a similar age to the sapling, a short walk along the Brampton Valley Way, as approached from Little Bowden.  At this early stage in its development there are several branches that have the potential to develop into a trunk.  In time, all but one will die away or be destroyed and all the strength of the tree will be concentrated in the surviving branch.

DSCF1720

Stump Watch : The End

I’m afraid this really is The End, my friends.  A week ago the Stump was showing signs of ailing.  Dry rot had set in on one side.  Someone had hacked lumps off it and strewn them all over the Rec.

Stump Watch February 2013

The Stump had, however, survived one previous assassination attempt (in January a year ago) and I was hopeful that this latest setback would prove a mere interruption to its continuing story of resurrection and renascence in the face of adversity.  However, this was the scene that greeted me this morning:

Stump Watch - The End

Well and truly and radically extirpated, I’m afraid, and (as football commentators are prone to saying in less dramatic circumstances)  it’ll take a miracle to come back from this.

When I have gathered my thoughts I shall try to compose some suitable epitaph for the Stump.  For the moment, though, I suppose it’s a good job I didn’t identify with the Stump too closely.

Stump Watch For January 2013 (with a contribution by D.G. Rossetti)

Belatedly, the Stump in January, looking a little like a Christmas pudding with sparklers stuck into it:

Stump Watch January 2013

and, as a bonus, the Stump in context.  It does have an awfully long way to go to regain its former glory, as you will see.

Stump Watch January 2013 2

These scenes may, perhaps, prompt a sigh of regret – “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?”  Or perhaps not.  It is one of those phrases, like “whatever happened to the crispy bacon we used to have before the war?” or “I understand he speaks very highly of you” that I tend to slip into the conversation without really knowing what they mean or where they come from.

“Mais, où sont les neiges …” is actually the refrain of a poem by François Villon – Ballade des dames du temps jadis – that was popularised in England by Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s 1870 translation as The ballad of dead ladies.  Rossetti couldn’t find an exact English equivalent for “antan“, so he invented his own word “yester-year”.  The neologism caught on and is now, of course, a great favourite of DJs on oldies radio stations.  Here is Rossetti’s poem:

.

Ballad of Dead Ladies

Tell me now in what hidden way is
Lady Flora the lovely Roman?
Where’s Hipparchia, and where is Thais,
Neither of them the fairer woman?
Where is Echo, beheld of no man,
Only heard on river and mere–
She whose beauty was more than human?–
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Where’s Heloise, the learned nun,
For whose sake Abeillard, I ween,
Lost manhood and put priesthood on?
(From Love he won such dule and teen!)
And where, I pray you, is the Queen
Who willed that Buridan should steer
Sewed in a sack’s mouth down the Seine?–
But where are the snows of yester-year?

White Queen Blanche, like a queen of lilies,
With a voice like any mermaiden–
Bertha Broadfoot, Beatrice, Alice,
And Ermengarde the lady of Maine–
And that good Joan whom Englishmen
At Rouen doomed and burned her there–
Mother of God, where are they then?–
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Nay, never ask this week, fair lord,
Where they are gone, nor yet this year,
Except with this for an overword–
But where are the snows of yester-year?