Grounds June 2022

Chichester, Bath and Kew.

Priory Park, Chichester and the pleasure of  visiting somewhere new. With the Park Tavern nearby, it is as atmospheric as it is photogenic; if some grounds are usually photographed from one angle, this one looks good all the way round it.

Bath: the rec., a venue for first-class cricket from the visit of the Gentlemen of Philadelphia in 1897 to Somerset’s departure in 2006. In 2022 the Grade II listed pavilion remains, as do memories of sitting in front it, but alas there was  no sign of a pitch the day the photo was taken.

Bath CC: North Parade, on the other side of the road. In recent times Gloucestershire 2nd XI have played here, surprisingly maybe given the historical association of the area with their rivals. Perhaps county first XI’s will return at some point.

Kew Green, which has a rather intimate feel to it, despite the main road over the bridge to the left and the royal entrance  to the gardens to the right. Personally as familiar as any, it makes a picture, particularly in high summer.

 

 

 

County Members

The Church of England, the Conservative party and county cricket: personally only one of them has been of more than just passing relevance, but if the workings of god and power have been centralised, why would play be different?

Certainly Numbers of CountyMembers since 2005 show more downs than ups: a particularly large one at Old Trafford but also at Canterbury, Hove and Worcester, the traditional heartlands of the county game. As for the smaller ones in the East Midlands, member numbers last year had fallen below  1,000 at Derby and Leicester.

But this pattern is not true everywhere:  some have been steadier, even the other way, and Surrey, the biggest, is a big exception. The chair, Richard Thompson evidently  appreciates the existence of a membership body, elections to the club’s general committee are contested. Taken together with the  MCC and Middlesex, members  of cricket clubs  in London now number 40,000, if not more. Nationally though the total  for the 15 county clubs (Durham, Hants and Northants are organised differently)  fell to 65,000 or so before Covid.

No great surprise there given a problematic fixture schedule.  So wither,  sooner or later adieu to many, if not  all, of the 18, the future is franchises?  The 100 teams to be sure are in large part managed by  county CEOs ‘centralising’, all that is needed then is enough of the 18 chairs to follow ? Maybe, but not necessarily, and after the shift from Giles Clarke (Somerset) to the years of Colin Graves (Yorkshire) as ECB chair, the direction may change again.

 

 

Too Many Counties?

When this subject comes round it  doesn’t  often start with whether there are too many Test match grounds, obvious enough question that it is. Did anybody ever think nine was the right number? Maybe they did, or at least were in favour of competition to upgrade facilities, although of  the  150+ home Test matches since 2000, England have played just 15 of them at Cardiff, Chester-le-Street and Southampton.

This is a very different pattern to the expansion of Test cricket that took place after WWII  when as more Tests were played, more were played at Edgbaston, Trent Bridge and Headingley. In the years 1970-99 England played 150+ Tests and all six grounds staged more than of 20 of them,  albeit that as five Test summers became six more often in the 80s and 90s, Lord’s staged two matches.

One ground then usually missed out and  with Lord’s and the Oval something of a given, it left three from four. In the 21st century with the three newcomers and seven Test summers, a problem; too many and not only in hindsight.

The  consequences of this financially were wholly unsurprisingly sizeable losses at some of the TMG counties, followed by debt write-offs (a great big ‘profit’ for Glamorgan in 2015)  and other financial restorations. Taken together on this horizon the smaller counties  have essentially broken even, although whether they are more sustainable now with The 100  is moot.

So too many smaller (non-TMG) counties ? Or the opposite and that  they are not  ‘county enough’,  too much like smaller versions of the Test match counties when they should be staging  more festivals in more places.  As cricket finds out whether there is enough interest to sustain both The 100 and The Blast, a big expense, it doesn’t need the  bonkerdom of shrinking the cricket map as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grounds May 2022

Leyton, Lord’s, Eastbourne, Maidstone

A bit weatherworn and in need some of tlc but the pavilion at the old county ground, Leyton, still makes a picture. Put on the wider cricket map by Holmes and Sutcliffe with their record breaking partnership of 555, it attracts visitors to go by the groundsman who volunteered info on where the commemorative blue plaque was; cheerfully he was also preparing four strips.

Lord’s, £5 for the 4th day of a County Championship fixture, a fair offer I think;  personally, two hours in  high church on a near perfect Sunday morning.  A two-ball cameo from Ben Stokes, well caught by Sam Robson off the bowling of Toby Roland-Jones, was one up for Division II. The MCC do get things right, although the cricket with a Jeroboam (£)370 coming along in the schedule is for others.

The Saffrons, Eastbourne,  well-maintained,  genteel…croquet was in progress away to the left.  Sussex last used the ground for an ODC match as recently as 2019 and in times past Gordon Greenidge made his career HS of 273no here, 202 of them in boundaries. As a trip revisiting the 1980s it was really quite recognisable.

Mote Park, Maidstone, pleasant, a secluded feel to it now. Kent days with 5,000 in attendance an increasingly distant past but a ground fondly remembered on social  media: Aravinda de Silva made a big 200 here in 1995. Some years before a Hillman Imp ensemble set off from Dean Park and saw Hants do well on a Sunday afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grounds April-May 2022

Cricket Grounds April-May 22: 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.

Continue reading Grounds April-May 2022

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.

 

 

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