Cricket Grounds Visited April-May 2022

Bournville, Swansea, Neath and Winton Rec.

Passing by during the Cherries run-in was the thread that links these grounds. Bournville pavilion, a gift from the Cadbury family from 1902, is an imposing beauty of a building and going by (near-) contemporary photos  rather more impressive than the Edgbaston pavilion then. Recent comments on the Facebook group Cricket Grounds of Britain pointed to varying amounts of actual use of the pavilion by cricketers in recent seasons, but lucky those playing there with it as a backdrop.

St Helen’s Swansea, a ground known for  Garry Sobers six 6’s,  of which, with thanks to coverage by BBC Wales, we know two headed in the direction of the pavilion. If the building is semi-industrial in appearance, it is home and hearth to the club, a bar with  walls well adorned by memorabilia,  fine views beyond the playing area  out to sea. The leg-side boundary where the other four 6’s went is not the biggest and the corner flag of the rugby pitch is evidently adjacent, but for anyone with a taste in traditional cricket grounds it is very likeable.

The Gnoll Neath, 15 minutes from Swansea by train and one of a small number of outgrounds on the cricket calendar in 2022, when Lancs and Hants are due to visit for RLC fixtures.  The rugby ground is adjacent, but separate, and looking in it felt rather like a member of the 70s SL genre (no surprise to find that Glamorgan played their first SL fixture there). The Australians tourists came three times in the 80s and 90s and  overall it’s a pleasant setting, with character and its share of history.

Winton Recreation Ground, Bournemouth. Together with Dean Park, Meyrick Park and King’s Park the town boasts some fine grounds from Victorian and Edwardian times. In decades past the bowl at Winton rec was the venue for the local 20-over final, and if the tide for the sport has gone out rather since then it is at least still in use, when in 2022 council maintained pitches are not so many.  Years go it struck me as being really rather atmospheric, a nice ground, it still does.

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England’s Ashes Cricketers

Cricket Australia

The Gabba, Pat Cummins about to start his 3rd Test in 2021, Joe Root his 13th, leading an  England team that were, in the words of Gideon Haigh, over managed and under prepared. It seemed like a reasonable explanation of things when I read it.

Numbers on the cricket played by those appearing for  both sides in  2021 are here. Despite white ball priority since 2015 England  have continued to play more Test cricket, 96 matches 2015-21 to 73 by both Australia and by India; the Ashes coming at the end of calendar year in which Australia last played a Test v India in January.

So  is Test cricket now being played to the point that its followers in England are not switching on, greed at the ECB turning in on itself? Maybe so, the possibility of simply too much a  blind spot for those in media centres with a liking for world travel, and for  those who complain 18 is too many counties?

In the year of a T20 World Cup both sides had similar amounts of  short-form cricket in their players. The Australians played rather more in their domestic 50 over competition in 2021, the Marsh One Day Cup, which  might have helped them to  an extent, but players meeting  commitments to the IPL, were Warner, Smith, Cummins, Hazlewood and Richardson on one side and Malan, Buttler, Stokes Bairstow and Woakes the other.  Something similar  could be said in relation to the other T20 leagues around the world.

A match-up then between the Sheffield Shield and the County Championship, with the later guilty as charged? One look at what the players do  points as much as anything to the fundamental of the playing talent: the generational effects of taking  cricket behind a TV paywall and the prominence of London 2012,  and a line of ‘South Africans with Scottish grannies’ that had given England’s batting backbone, and brilliance, over the decades drying up. A  message from Ashes 2021 to English cricket not to understate its diversity problems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Azeem Rafiq

Watching county cricket next summer seems a long way off, just as well after Azeem Rafiq’s evidence to MPs this week about the Yorkshire dressing room.  Poor stuff, disappointing for those of us who had hoped cricket, of all sports, had players who were essentially above and beyond it.

But not to ignore the fact that Adil Rashid has made the England team, nor the positive comments reported from Ajmal Shahzad about his experiences at the club. Or to deny that Yorkshire’s management tried to prejudge the outcome of their investigations, making it harder for outsiders to appreciate the extent of the problem.

So the case for the defence of Yorkshire, the institution, such as it might be has gone unheard. It was  pointed out that something like 30% of recreational cricketers  have a south Asian heritage, the  pros at Yorkshire, in county cricket generally, much less, under 5%.

Yet fair to add that a career as a pro can be a precarious one: giving it a go, taking time out from studies and/or other careers a risk, a sacrifice if  things don’t work out and to state the obvious the better the alternatives the less appealing it be.

FWIW personal experience of mainly BAME students over the years  in London also pursuing (semi-)pro sporting careers divided largely along ethnic lines: 5th/6th/7th tier footballers, mainly black and mixed ethnicity, 2nd/3rd tier rugby players, smaller numbers, white. Potential cricketers  going for county trials…more actual Olympians in boats.

So time outs to give a football career a go; a big magnet, some general understanding of those who want to leave no regrets. Cricket, niche, more reluctance; which points to the numbers of cricket pros from an Asian background squeezed by problems in the game and also by the openings in the  world beyond.

Lord’s Through Time

Deep into what used to be Cross Arrows time the Bob Willis Trophy this week, its purpose not very clear and its timing a bit odd, but a trip to Lord’s with the feel of spectating now quasi-normal  something to be thankful for. In the decade or so since Anthony Meredith’s readable appreciation of the ground was published, a new Warner Stand, and now the redeveloped  Nursery End, which with the ground in empty cathedral mode, came as a pleasant surprise.

Lower level seating is a lot more  open looking towards the pavilion, a 270 degree panorama with the naked eye, which may not be the first thing you think of looking the other way given the height of the top tier. Personal taste obviously, but the pavilion remains the most aesthetically pleasing backdrop to watching at Lord’s, a 19th century structure, something from another world in a ground largely rebuilt since the 1980s .

It is also more open behind at the Nursery End with demolition of an older bar adjacent to the  shop; a more expansive feel and a contrast to the tighter spaces behind the pavilion. Prominent, not this day but this summer the Veuve Cliquot kiosk, offering spectators a bubbly Jeroboam (£)370. Quite why the 300cl bottle should be more than twice the price of one with half its contents something of a minor mystery, maybe it’s an in-joke among patrons.

But a part of this world whatever the reason for it,  and one pointer of course, as to how much cricket’s audience, in London particularly, splits between those for whom a day at the Test, and those who go at other times. In 1980 watching Graham Gooch make his first century for England was within the budget of this then one student, standing in front of the Tavern. In 2022 if not match day staff, cricket for those on a limited budget is largely white ball games, conceivably the Oval Test 5th day, if there is one.

Not great and the direction of travel on this one has, if anything, unfortunately quickened in recent seasons, regular ticket prices for Tests at the Home of Cricket a magnum, up from a bottle in the middle of the last decade. Which for red-ball followers leaves the County Championship, still most of the cricket scheduled at Lord’s, tickets, as elsewhere, not expensive. With streaming and a capacity for good fourth-day finishes it has a better story to tell than some  give it credit for.

The Blast

The ECB’s shiny new engine has had its first outing to great fanfare, much expense, approval from passengers. It’s been a visibly good summer for Sir Topham. As for that old favourite BranchLineBlast, parked in the siding and feeling rather neglected, a big weekend engagement this month, although passengers seemingly rather wonder about its future.

Long ago in the days of nationalisation  Sunday League services maintained a regular schedule, One-Day Cup matches were played  on a Saturday. 172 weekend fixtures over the summer at times, in places, to attract newcomers, with weekdays mainly the long format for established custom. Not everything was better in the 1970s,  a lot of things weren’t, although as a way to run a railroad…….

Winds of change came, suits replaced secretaries and county T20 cricket, looking not unlike the second half of many Sunday League games, started in 2003. Aimed more at after work crowds,  the funky innovations of the noughties included spectators in bath tubs. 10 of the 48 games in the first year were played on a Saturday or Sunday.

Station managers  saw the £ signs, the competition greatly expanded in terms of the numbers of games.  By 2019 the figure that was 10 had risen, but only to 35,  25 days for the RLC, a total of 60. While The Blast was unfortunate that cricket FTA paid for by adverts was a loss-maker, broadly the game invested in buildings before a new generation of supporters.

Which raises the question  of whether it will  now invest in encouraging more families, under 10s to come along?  Those that have been on The 100 might find that actually BranchLineBlast has really quite similar carriages, gets up to speed pretty well and runs on the main lines.

It would have be said that in 2021 there was no obvious sign of it, rather a fixture calendar that started in early April, had almost no domestic white-ball cricket before the middle of June, then scheduled fewer Sat/Sun dates than in 2019. From which the question how long  will passengers  be waiting on the platform next season; as for those who do the administration for one engine, and give directions to the other, a pointed question as to which service, if either, will they be sending?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

99.94

If a  time machine took you back to watch a Don Bradman innings how many would you expect him to score? 99.94, meaning a 100? Suggestions that batting averages at times are over relied on are not new,  but this one is iconic, a number to end arguments: ‘The Don’s’ average is almost 40 more than George Headley, Graeme Pollock, Steve Smith…..

Yet in his 80 Test innings  he made 100+/-50 in just 24 of them and if batting careers are made from a relatively small number of really good days, a larger number that aren’t, what of such an elevated average as his? It’s a big compromise but it gets the right man as the greatest?

Bradman  made big hundreds, 150+, 18 times; more than Headley, Pollock and (to date) Smith together in less than half their combined number of innings. His 334 at Headingley in 1930, his 13th innings, took his career average to 99.67 from which there were not later big variations.

This suggests consistency, yet one run short of making three 300’s,  one four short of another .06.  the average variation of his scores was more than 70; the experience of those watching a  ‘day at the Test’ different day-to day. This applies to others of course,  Steve Smith, with a current average of 61.8 has made scores within +/- 30 around one innings in three, something similar or more so, with Graeme Pollock and George Headley.

Bradman b Hollies 4 at the Oval? If one ball in cricket history could be changed his last would surely have made for a happier ending, although from the standpoint of 2021 99.94 has its charm,  mystique as well maybe. It’s a marker of DGB’s greatness of course, but not very far away from this statistic are also markers for how much the experience of watching is personal;  that greatness is in the eye of the beholder, a matter of  aesthetic pleasure as well as the numbers.

Given the chance to see one innings from the past, personally DGB would be one contender but so would several others, including George Headley, ‘the black Bradman’, who from accounts of his time was arguably more stylish and Graeme Pollock, and the ‘golden hour’ of South African cricket complete with a century from Barry Richards at the other end.

 

 

County Directors

After Exeter City Supporters’ Trust became the owners of their football club I was a visitor to one of their board meetings. One of the directors was a former paratrooper; a supporter since boyhood who at the time had been repairing much of a then crumbling ground. Not remotely distracted management speak, he had the sort of energy that should be on club boards; diversity 2004: elections to anchor those making decisions and the influence of those that do.

As to county cricket and its diversity  now,  30 women directors, about 1 in 6 of the total, just two county boards/committees  all male (Kent, Northants ). The count of BAME directors 18+ maybe, changing times and some progress in the last decade, albeit  more by nomination than member election in some parts.  But as to the influence of those that do,  it seems doubtful that there are any nurses, or van delivery drivers,  among the 180 odd directors of the county game.

Cricket a game within a business and managed by the managerial classes then? The 100 team boards are largely made up of county chief executives together with a small  number of others that include an even smaller number of newcomers. While the counties take a payout, strategically The Blast  and The 100 are substitutes, competitors, rivals and  how those directors (or staff) acting in the best interests of one, will also be acting in the best interests of the other, is a mystery.

For members who put red-ball cricket first,  CC/ODC/T20 as  their order of priorities, 15 of the counties are membership bodies and  members electing other members still looks as a good a bet as any.  The question of what people stand for;  from personal experience credit those at the ‘People’s Home of Cricket’, the Oval, who stood for election this year and expressed an opinion, with some help from twitter what’s supposed to work still did in 2021.

Numbers here

 

Remarkable Cricket Grounds by Brian Levison

This  fine collection of  photographs caters to very different tastes in what is sometimes called ‘greater cricket’. For those who see the  good in what the Victorians left behind there are some iconic views of domestic  grounds: Canterbury, Cheltenham, the cathedral view from New Road.  Old world charm exported also photographs well at the City Oval, Pietermaritzburg, SA,  a ground modelled on Queens Park, Chesterfield complete with the oak tree from the 1880s on its playing area.

The  MCG has a cricket history that goes back to the mid-19c and is one of the world’s great sporting venues, but as a modern stadia, capacity 100,000, for spectators the action looks a bit distant, implied as often as it is seen maybe. Other angles might present it in a more sympathetic light, but seen through English eyes one up for the different scale of TMGs in England.

The redeveloped Old Trafford with its futuristic design gets a six-page spread as does Lord’s, and The Oval.  All three  have been substantially rebuilt in recent decades and the two in London have largely retained their ambience in grounds that have  been enhanced.  As for the controversial Point facility at  OT,  Winston Churchill once used the word remarkable when being  diplomatic about his portrait by Graham Sutherland,  which he disliked ( ‘a remarkable example of modern art’).  Some might think The Point a remarkable corporate facility with Churchillian sentiment, but whether to taste or not it is prominent, if not dominant; more so maybe than when the media centre at Lord’s was new and controversial.

The influence of common standards for spectator ‘matchday experiences’  is striking in the images of the modern stadia in Dubai, Durban, the Gabba. The Ageas Bowl fits into this category in its own way, but the pavilion with its tented roof is  to be sure easy on the eye.  Will it, aesthetically speaking,  go the distance, a structure for the 21st century?  By comparison with, say, the justifiably still much appreciated Edwardian pavilion at Bourneville?  Maybe it  will.

 

Remarkable playing conditions, those way off the norm, appear with organised beach cricket in Fife,  cricket-on-ice at St Mortitz  and on a one -in-seven slope, Bilsdale Yorkshire. Atmospherically, Maifield, Berlin, adjacent to the 1936 Olympic Stadium, seems an empty if not eerie place for a game of cricket but there also some wonderful images set against mountains and other imposing natural backdrops.

78 grounds are included, a number to defy classification and social media timelines from Facebook groups and similar cover much the same terrain. It’s a coffee-table book, but a reminder to appreciate just how much  the game’s settings vary, a good reminder to have in covid times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A West Indian Legacy

Gordon Greenidge at the United Services Ground, Portsmouth, after making a brilliant Sunday League hundred back in the 1970s; memory fades, but he may well have been the only black man at Burnaby Road that afternoon.  When Hampshire played games in  Southampton then they had  a (one) black supporter, regarded as a socially important person by some, thanks largely to the chair of CAMRA  at the time who dispensed communism during afternoons at cricket.

The era of WI dominance that ran until the mid-90s is largely remembered now by World Cup Finals and brutal Test encounters; Fire in Babylon, WI cricketers doing wins a help to WI folks in England. But not to neglect the impact on domestic cricket and on the attitudes of those who follow(ed) it.

County Appearances of the 1975, 2019  World Cup Winners

West Indies 1975 England 2019
Roy Fredericks (Gla 71-3) 90 Jason Roy (Surrey 08-) 271
Gordon Greenidge (Hants 70-87) 549 Jonny Bairstow (Yorks 09-) 200
Alvin Kallicharran (Warwks 71-90) 574 Joe Root (Yorks 09-) 108
Rohan Kanhai (Warwks 68-77) 315 Eoin Morgan (Middx 05-) 267
Clive Lloyd  (Lancs 68-86) 492 Ben Stokes (Dur 09-) 175
Viv Richards (Som 74-86, Gla 90-3) 519                Jos Buttler (Som 09-13, Lancs 14-) 215
Keith Boyce                          (Essex 66-77) 360 Chris Woakes (Warwks 06-) 230
Bernard Julien                   (Kent 70-77) 163 Liam Plunkett (Dur 03-12, Yorks 13-18, Surrey 19-) 345
Deryck Murray   (Notts 66-9, Warwks 72-5) 252 Jofra Archer (Sussex 16-) 77
Vanburn Holder              (Worcs 68-80) 345 Abdul Rashid (Yorks 06-) 350
Andy Roberts                  (Hants 74-8, Leics 81-4) 208 Mark Wood (Dur 11-) 73
Total Number 3867 2311

Data sourced from Cricket Archive.

Seven of the 1975 WIs played for what were then non-TMG counties, at a point in the history of cricket when List A games were reviving it  WIs were doing a lot of the reviving. Exciting cricketers, liked by crowds at matches that were played at many local outgrounds, those at Portsmouth above for instance, saw a game between Hants and Yorks and  also a  pre-run of sorts to the 1979 WC Final.

The relaxing of the rules on overseas players  gave more WI  experience of English conditions, a lot of it by today’s standards, even allowing for the fact that the England players’ numbers are from  careers-in-progress.  At a time when first-class cricket in the Caribbean, the Shell Shield, involved a total of 10 matches a season, the experience a help in establishing their dominance in Tests against England, if not elsewhere; so an exchange of sorts at work as well. Much the same point could be made about limited-overs cricket: the Gillette Cup in the WI started in 1975/6.

WSC, rebel tours altered the financial incentives but it is very striking how loyal the 1975 team were to their  counties.  Most of the  players who went on to play for the WI in the years between 76-95 also played county cricket,  including all of the quartets of fast bowlers, of whom no-one with a  longer span than Courtney Walsh and no-one with more appearances than Malcolm Marshall.

In 1975 black people in the eyeline of this one spectator were some of the game’s greats, in 2019, at the Oval, they were gate staff.  The game has the support it does in England because of WI cricket past, no question, so what then to make of the sentiment that something is missing now?  In Cricket:The Game of Life  Scyld Berry comments that  ‘We should not wonder at West Indian cricket becoming so moderate, but at it once having been so magnificent’.

It’s  an understandable point view to take, particularly given its setting in an historical context. As to the involvement of black folks in cricket in England now, playing football was a comment heard more than once last year; it is, after all, where the money and the glory is, the game a lingua franca.  But it leaves an awkward question for cricket, as to whether its relative decline among those with a Caribbean heritage is, socially, a problem, or just a sign of progress?

 

 

 

Photos from the 1970s

In  2019 Brian Carpenter who writes a piece on cricket blogs for Wisden mentioned  this one, pointing the way to some photos I snapped in 1978.  Quite a number of them are on this site somewhere, or on twitter, but if you have come this way for a look, ‘a best of the bunch’ are collated here.

Many thanks go to Gary Sanford, a fellow sightscreen committee member from long ago, for his photo of the Dean Park pavilion above  and also to the ‘unknown developer’.  In the 1970s when rolls of film were sent off to be developed, it was not too difficult to imagine that some of those doing the processing also followed the game,  certainly in a couple of cases an enlargement returned was an improvement on the original.

Hove 19th June One of the iconic settings for county cricket then, and now, and happily still ‘a ground’.  Turn left out of Hove station on a Monday morning  and where better to start an extended cricket-watching holiday?

 

The Oval 16th July A Sunday League game: two ICC Greats, Barry Richards and Andy Roberts,  John Edrich, together with David Turner.  Umpire Tom Spencer, who three years earlier had officiated in the first World Cup,

Northlands Road, Southampton 5th August A relaxed-looking Geoffrey Boycott in front of a full pavilion,  hosting a good many tykes on tour. Photograph taken from 40-50 yards away, the awareness of its subject having prompted his response. 

Clarence Park, Weston 10th August A shaft of sun light giving a terrestrial-celestial aspect to the cricket; some of the  other snaps of Viv Richards taken that afternoon  show just what a colossus he was and a dominating presence in this one certainly.

Dean Park, Bournemouth  23rd August Dennis Amiss batting for Warwickshire, a pioneer user of helmets that summer when their use was ‘controversial’.  A man apart rather because of it, generations of cricketers since have had reason to be grateful to him.

Northlands Road,  27th August Gordon Greenidge playing against Kent in a SL game. The Hants Handbook for the year records his frustration with only making  51, a century in each innings followed when the Championship fixture resumed the following day.

Dean Park 3rd September Richard Gilliat with the JPL trophy. A happy ending for a batsman who walked, and who had reached the the end of his playing career that year.  Not everything about cricket celebrations in the 1970s was better then, but they did connect players with ‘ordinary’ supporters, and hopefully some in the picture still follow the game. For those who do QoS,  is the partly obscured figure behind ‘RMC’ a  recognisable one?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A blog about English cricket