Grounds 2023 (Sussex)

Hove, Arundel, Eastbourne and Horsham.

Hove in 1978, a small number of mainly seniors watching a slow moving game; no future in that they said. Championship cricket in 2023: some deckchairs still, the tree alas gone, hospitality cabins and the Sharks stand in view at the other end. The PA  referred to the stadium, that way in some corners maybe although to this visitor it feels more like a ground still.

Arundel, timeless, beautiful with its easy aristocratic charm. Southern Vipers v Thunder  below in a September  heatwave, and  for spectators a hose-pipe refilling water containers, which  personally was a first. The last trip I made was for a T20 match in 2007, although its ambience if not everything else, feels more suited to the long(er) forms of the game.

Eastbourne, Sussex returned here before covid after an extended gap with three ODC games. Twinned in a rather particular way with St Helen’s Swansea, two grounds where records were made during the era of dominant WI cricketers; bats different  but not the biggest of boundaries either.  In 2023, essentially, if not entirely, club cricket.

Horsham, as second XI games go a well-supported T20 fixture v Hants, one of three played here this summer. As with Arundel, and Eastbourne for watchers very little changed over the decades, bar an electronic scoreboard. Why would it have done?

Upgraded facilities, hospitality important at the centre, outgrounds used less and no more is a common denominator with other counties. Yet with increased ECB monies from The 100 and the ‘development’ ODC played in August this direction of (non) travel could change, at least to an extent. Question is, will it?

Outgrounds in 2023

In 2023 there have been  57 days in the men’s schedule (the total is 702) allocated to outgrounds;  Chesterfield, Cheltenham and Scarborough still going, a place for county cricket set in public parks, at clubs as well as in public schools.  In 2013, the last summer before Chris Arnot published his book on  festivals the  figure was 81.

Not great,  although there has been an increase in one-day cup games this year, 20 plus played in August and at some new(er) grounds, such as  Kibworth and York. Something similar seems likely again next year and maybe some will take root, although the increase has mainly been the  counties staging The 100 moving games out, the the future which must be about as certain as the  scheduling is stable.

Surrey versus Middlesex women  at Guildford was a pleasant early season trip, and  List A women’s cricket, the Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy, also had 20 plus days on outgrounds when The 100 was not on.  Hopefully venue-wise it will stay that way, the T20 competition is more concentrated on county grounds.

The other side of this is  the continuing disappearance of Championship fixtures,  not  everywhere,  Lancashire played home games at both Blackpool and Southport, but seven counties scheduled their 39 home days at just one ground. As  a counterbalance to the game’s centralising tendencies outgrounds are still on the scales, although it does look like the weights continue to move against.

Grounds 2023(Kent)

Beckenham, Dartford, Gravesend.

Apart from Canterbury past excursions  to Kent  meant Folkestone, in 1985, when a Malcolm Marshall resistant playing surface dented Hants title hopes, Maidstone, for a Sunday League game,  and Tunbridge Wells when Shane Warne was a very big star. Good days out at the cricket, prompting the curiosity  to return last year to what now feel like vacated English idylls.

The cricket map of the 1971 season shows just how local county cricket was at one time, diverse folks watching in diverse places. In Kent seven outgrounds in a home  season of 53 days, even ‘nomadic’ Essex played at just four that year. The cathedral county a power in English cricket during that decade was also among the most local: in 1971 the first game was at Gravesend against Leicestershire, four of the Ashes’ winners three months earlier on the scorecard.

In 2023 37 of the 39 men’s home days are at Canterbury, although credit the fact Kent do have a second ground at Beckenham, one they are committed to:  two ODC matches and a base for the South-East Stars this season. Big, almost farmland big to one side, to this visitor it fell between being a major stadium and the appeal of many outgrounds, a place for others to watch their cricket. The immediate environs are very leafy suburb, which might be one clue to the future  of diversity in Kent cricket.

Hesketh Park, Dartford, on a non-matchday the cricket ground was tranquility itself,  an oasis of sorts given the urban nature of the approach to it from the railway station. It’s on a scale more sympathetic to traditional supporters with a taste for outgrounds, in the years when Kent played here the largest attendance was 3,750.

Gravesend, historic is a good word to characterise the The Bat and Ball Ground,  first-class games played here according to Cricket Archive between 1849-1971. In past the pub of the same name in 2023 a functional nature, but still atmospheric, with club cricket strong enough for a midweek afternoon fixture.


Champions by Dave Allen

Dave Allen’s expertly produced pamphlet recalls  a season in which Hants quite unexpectedly became   Champions, all the more favourably remembered because of it. In the years that followed the county arguably became the buzz team: high expectations but impacted by the rain gods winner of only two more trophies by 1978. It was also the start of almost 20 years in which the county’s bowling was spearheaded first by Andy Roberts and then Malcolm Marshall.

The cricket of the 1973 season  had a rather different nature to it: brilliant openers, teamwork among the bowlers that included the slow left-arm of David O’Sullivan and Peter Sainsbury, backed-up by very good fielding. Personally, I got lucky seeing nine days during August, eight of them red-ball. It seems a lot now,  although in the sporting landscape of then domestic cricket was prominent in a way that is hard to imagine in 2023:  sports desk updates on the radio most weekdays in the summer months were racing results and county cricket scores.

The Dean Park pavilion in 1973  was  much as it was when Gary Sanford took his fine photo above years later, and sitting on the green benches to the left was certainly prime listening when an announcement was made on the (just visible) PA about becoming Champions during the Bournemouth week. The cowshed (white) building to the right, the press box,  and Desmond Lynam’s afternoon  radio show was one broadcast of this to a wider world, followed by a report  that evening on the main BBC news. In the days of three tv channels it was probably seen by several millions.

As for messages for 2023: outgrounds are a fine part of the landscape, wherever the Championship(s) are eventually  won. Unexpected triumphs flag  the virtues of competitive balance:  success, spread it.  Since 2000  nine counties have won the title and keeping it on the horizon of those that haven’t should be a priority,   perhaps with  Bazball energies towards the red-ball game it will be.










Photos from the Past II

A second set of photos taken from the world of county cricket over a six-week period in 1978. Some of them have appeared on this site or social media before, the best of the bunch individually are on the tab above, the ones here though hang together in their own way. There are all told seven ICC Hall of Fame of Players shown on the county circuit, one marker for just how different things were then.

The Oval, Roger Knight leading out the Surrey side  followed by the Hampshire openers Barry Richards and Gordon Greenidge, later that afternoon Andy Roberts with both bat and ball. Top right at mid-on Intikhab, who over six years was Pakistan’s Test captain, an entertaining player to watch.  John Edrich in his final season, bottom right and the wicketkeeper is Cornishman Jack Richards.

Weston, grainy and a bit distant but Vic Marks bowling to  Mike  Taylor, identical twin Derek behind  Two photos giving some idea of the presence of  Viv Richards.  Bottom right concern for the welfare of Peter Roebuck, plainly in something of a daze; a picture with poignancy given his later career at Somerset, and the rest of his life, well-written about by Jon Hotten in his book The Meaning of Cricket.

Cheltenham, green and rather dark images from a game played during a wet-spell of weather. ‘Proctershire’, with Zaheer and Sadiq were a strong side, a contender for trophies, the two counties close rivals.

Bournemouth week; Warwickshire with, at the time, West Indian captain Alvin Kallicharran prominent. Top left shows David Brown bowling, Geoff Humpage keeping with David Rock batting. The pleasure for spectators of watching at the 5 o’clock hour.

Champions-elect Kent the second game, Derek Underwood bowling, Paul Downton behind the stumps with Asif fielding close. Credit the unseen, if not unknown, short-leg fielder in the pre-helmet era, still alive. A century from Trevor Jesty helped Hants to a win; a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1983, in another era he would very probably  have played more ODIs for England.

Back from the Brink by Ivo Tennant

As I remember it Hampshire’s 1987(8?) AGM was when  members were first informed about the possibility of a new ground,  Northlands Road too small and in the not-so-green 1980s parking a problem. It became a project with a long run-up, dependent on the sale of the ground to help fund a new one, and as  the property market boomed, slumped and recovered to an extent the idea passed through cold storage before taking hold.

Time enough for those who ran the Hospital Broadcasting service then to comment, if only  to each other, that for spectators Northlands Road only occasionally had a capacity problem and, if the aim was Test cricket, the Oval was not so very far away.  Time enough also  for committee ambition for the new ground to grow apart from the  funds for it, and  Ivo Tennant’s book is candid, and quite detailed on this, on those who were directly involved: ‘we were a little bit delusional’.

A financial barometer was put on the wall by the entrance to the old pavilion to show progress with funding, it didn’t move and the end  beckoned. At which point Hants got decidedly lucky with Rod Bransgrove who stepped in:  Back from the Brink portrays a personable cricket-loving man, blunt at times, kind to those in need, not snobbish to those less articulate than himself, unusually for those at the top someone who had held down a manual job.

The  machinations of allocating Test Matches at the ECB are gone into in some detail and the author remains sympathetic to his subject through them, although fundamentally six TMGs becoming nine this century has been too many, the building of the Rose Bowl one part of the problem. There are some good stories about his relations with players, appreciation for the role played by Robin Smith in bringing him and Shane Warne to the county. There  are no concessions to diplomacy when on the growing pains of the ground, when on things that got acrimonious with some; Ivo Tennant’s accounts of what went on seem admirably clear.

So in the end  a success story, with four years to look forward to an Ashes Test? To this reader it’s a rather qualified one:  a big upgrade in facilities, greater capacity for T20 crowds and so on, yet the Rose Bowl also fits into a general picture of much centralisation, a game that has been heading up-market. The book mentions that in the 1960s Rod Bransgrove was a bus-ride away from watching professional players, in 2023 cricket has a problem with the numbers  growing-up for whom that isn’t true.










Grounds 2023 (Essex)

Colchester, Ilford, Leyton and Westcliff.

Sunday League days  included a trip to Castle Park, Colchester, which Stephen Chalke in Summer’s Crown understandably describes  as the most attractive of Essex’s former outgrounds.  If Cheltenham and Chesterfield work as places for cricket festivals in 2023, the ground, a stage for 2nd XI games currently, looked under-used to this visitor.

Valentines Park, Ilford; last time in 1986 when Allan Border was the overseas player for Essex, Malcolm Marshall for Hants, all seemed quite normal at the time.  On a second look the cricket ground is strikingly small, the outfield, as public parks tend to be, no bowling green.  But no doubting the fun of the those playing who were very amiable towards this passing perambulator.

Leyton, a ground with a storied history that dates back to the 19th century: a blue plaque  on the pavilion records Holmes and Sutcliffe 555 partnership in 1932. If the building  is looking a bit weather-worn now, it is still a dominating feature. Rat Pack  v Noak Hill Stars   this month.

Chalkwell Park, Westcliff, one of three grounds that were used by Essex CCC within about 5 miles of one another. Like Leyton a stage until the 1970s, but coming to it from the railway station is more like Maidstone or Tunbridge Wells, roads with large detached houses. Essex reached  diverse places  when nomadic. A home ground to  Trevor Bailey, who was born here and Barry Richards made one of his highest scores in England here.

Scyld Berry suggests that Essex have become the New Zealand of county cricket;  well-earthed and good at what they do. The appeal of a success story built from local roots obvious: in 2022 their players were drawn from state schools in the county and east London as much as elsewhere, which does help give  meaning to being a county side.

Grounds 2023 (Hampshire Outgrounds)

Dean Park, May’s Bounty, United Services Ground.

In the history of Hampshire cricket about a half of its home Championship fixtures have been played at these three outgrounds, even on a count  to 2023; the club expanding its reach in the early 20c, contracting again towards the end of it, now the Rose Bowl.  So what got left behind? Scyld Berry in  Disappearing World expresses a  reasonable preference for grounds that are a part of somewhere: convenient to access and  places with some character, a common denominator with these three.

Dean Park: out of the station, round Cavendish Road and the first sound of bat on ball as players knocked-up before the start. A  ground to bear comparison with say, Tunbridge Wells, no rhododendrons that I remember, but a fine late 19c pavilion; public transport, then 10 minutes on foot.  A long time now since Hampshire days; in 2023 the BCP conurbation has a population in excess of 500,000, Hants departure a bit like ‘withdrawing from Somerset’  in terms of the game’s reach.

Basingstoke this month, the most recently used by Hants in 2010, and very recognisable now from decades past; just add marquees and spectators, and a player’s benefit year. A club where the county connection was evident during the later-stages of the one-day cups in the 20c, with a BNHCC banner cum flag on its travels, akin to those used by England football supporters.

Portsmouth, alight from a  Grade II listed building, pass the Guildhall, over the footbridge and then on to Burnaby Road; 25 and more years after the last time, the footbridge is no more, USG cricket still, but behind lock and smart card, a place for the military. Better perhaps to remember halcyon days when the Sunday League captured imaginations, prompting as it does the the question how many now head to the station, and alight at Hedge End for the Rose Bowl?




The south-east map of f-c county cricket in 1971, 6 counties 24 grounds; across the game that year 74.  A different world half a century ago, but one in which cricket was accessible to folks from the sort of backgrounds the sport struggles to reach now, in many cases just doesn’t; the professional game being nowhere near them a part of it.

It being how things  were when first taking to cricket I have taste for outgrounds.  This season the counties play Championship fixtures at   seven of them, some places to feed the soul of traditional supporters still:   Chesterfield, Cheltenham and Scarborough going strong and Lancashire have games at both Blackpool and Southport on their schedule, but by comparison with 2019, the last full season before The 100, there has been a very noticeable drop from the 19  grounds used that year.

Au revoir then to Arundel, Colwyn Bay, Swansea, Tunbridge Wells, Liverpool among others as stages for the 4-day game?  Maybe so, certainly the payouts from The 100 don’t seem to be doing all that much to help the cause of outgrounds,  the opposite if anything. Not helping them to promote the long-form of the game, but not the shortest either: Blast games there were at Blackpool and Chesterfield and Middlesex, moving away from Lord’s, in 2023 played games at Merchant Taylors’ School and Radlett, but that’s it.

Perhaps county managers were or are anticipating reductions in the playing schedule or have developed likings for The 100, and become more centralised in their views. But whatever lies behind the decisions taken, outground cricket, at least in terms of the number of places played is increasingly the ODC; some discretionary decisions to take games away from the centres, some not.

The recent equity report on cricket made very little of the game’s geography, but the chance for kids of all ages to watch the pros and play on the outfield during the intervals is one of the game’s better customs, still practised by some counties and worthy of  spreading back to places that cricket seems to be leaving behind.


Counting Members

15 of the counties are membership organisations and while the records are a  bit dated 65,000 is a reasonable estimate of the total number of their members, down from around 85,000 in 2005. A decline is not particularly surprising, but it is not as big a fall as some in the media would suggest.

What’s being counted above is members with votes, adults, numbers from the counties who file away records at the Financial Conduct Authority; so a consistent basis, records largely complete  over the years. The totals are on the low side by comparison with some that could be given: not including juniors and not categories of members which are more akin to season-ticket holders. So not those at Durham, Hampshire  or Northamptonshire, nor some at the 15 counties that are member-owned.

The decline would be that much greater but for Surrey, where members have  doubled in the last 5 years to over 19,000. Quite why and how  it has bucked the trend to the extent it has is a bit of a mystery, although the cost of  a day at the Test at Lord’s might be one thing and the bundling of The 100  with some membership categories another.  But not to doubt the management culture at the Oval which values its members highly.

A disappearing world? At some smaller counties, less or not at all at some others, but overall yes, if only slowly.  As for those there are,  folks with long-memories, resistant to change?  Or just a  balance against an establishment thinking about the pound signs? Giving some influence to those who think that money exists to play cricket continues to look like sanity to me.


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