All posts by StephenFH

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?

 

 

Outgrounds

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.

 

Hampshire 2nd XI

Horsham, Hornsey June 6th, 9th

Horhsam, second XI games can be a relaxed  pleasure to watch and about 100 came to see this one, including some folk from Hampshire.  It felt rather like a third day at a Championship match from decades ago: tea stall and bar no  queue, boundary perambulators, ground views without  floodlights. Just no five minute bell.

The players in 20th century style sat outside in the pavilion. Scyld Berry in  Disappearing World struck me as being a bit distant on Hants, patrons  more prominent than home-grown players. But the Second XI sides might be expected to include some  local talent: three in this game  born in the county, two through the Hampshire Cricket Academy; although in truth at least going by birthplaces and schooling  the visitors were not as local as the home side.

Hornsey, one of several venues used by Middlesex 2nds this summer. In  1959 the two counties played a Championship fixture here, one previous 2nds fixture in 1970. On the visitors team-sheet that year Gordon Greenidge, Danny Livingstone and Osburn (‘Ossie’) St C Gooding among others; Hants are a county with a decent history of giving West Indian cricketers an opening when some did not.

This week it was a second success for the visitors with Felix Organ prominent batting against a Middlesex side fielding several first-teamers. Keeping track of SET20  is not the simplest thing, but according to the twitter feed @newsofthetwos for Hants it’s on to finals day, this year at Wormsley.

 

Disappearing World by Scyld Berry

Once past the opening I  warmed to this book, plain speaking at times  but written by one with a soft spot for all 18 counties. Scyld Berry’s career, life, has taken him watch county cricket at 50 grounds; Abergavenny near the Welsh border a favourite, host  to Glamorgan games in the 1980s and 90s. Wherein, of course, also lies the rub, or at least part of it: in 2023 county cricket is mainly played at main grounds; so  a book to celebrate its heritage and hopefully readers of it will include a decent number of under 50s.

Each county is given a solid chapter; literary references, Jayne Austen in the cause of Derbyshire, high exaltation of Kent CCC  in Canterbury Cathedral and also a  history of the county’s glove-men.  Essex of the smaller counties gets a, or maybe two, thumbs up; nomadic at home for a long time and a first Championship in 1979, Graham Gooch, Nasser Hussain and Alastair Cook major figures of English cricket in the years since.

Among the larger counties the chapter on Lancashire is approving of Old Trafford as now is, a year-round commercial venue; a long historical view of the county taken, an advance from its origins as a gentleman’s club in the 19th century. Likewise positive on Nottinghamshire, high praise for  William Clarke, a bricklayer born in 1798 who layed out the Trent Bridge ground, created the All England Eleven of the Victorian era and was an influence on the early career of  WG Grace.

And the big question: will the 18 first-class counties continue disappearing until such time as….?  There is no epilogue, readers are left to make up their own minds on the future. As to the suggestion the game is over-centralised, a problem with too many TMG counties for the needs of Test cricket,  comment there is on  Sofia Gardens (mistake acknowledged by the ECB),  the Rose Bowl (built in the middle of nowhere, although somewhere may get closer) and Chester-le-Street (better if  Durham’s development had been more like Essex).

Yorkshire CCC keeping up with the TMGs in the 21st century has tied it  to a board with problematic tendencies. The book also mentions Malcolm Marshall’s comment that the only ground in England where the West Indians were racially abused was Headingley (on the terraces). Cricket’s openness, capacity to integrate is a long standing issue, and gets attention in various places in Disappearing World; county success ratings a variable, Essex seemingly  a better story than Leicestershire, at least in the past. Hopefully with  fresh supplies of common sense now at the ECB county cricket will make progress on this.

 

 

 

Grounds May 2023

Old Deer Park, Preston Park (Brighton), Guildford

ODP as seen from the Kew Pagoda, a SET20 fixture going on down below. An  oasis of sorts, even in leafy Richmond; and one with good access:  a bus stop  outside and railway station  nearby. A bit posh? A bit, a sign round the corner  directed  those wanting to give Archery a go, but the pavilion is a friendly place and gives the venue  hearth, in part thanks to its history with London Welsh RFC.

Preston Park,  home to St Peter’s CC, a club that has been going since the 1800s, and the rather unusual feature of cricket being played  within a velodrome, the country’s oldest.  Atmospheric.

One previous visit to Guildford in 1997, Sunday League days and an innings of 203 from pinch hitter Ali Brown against a visibly shell-shocked Hants attack. A modern pavilion in 2023, but otherwise recognisably similar although what once seemed like (very) short boundaries side-on not so much so now. A county game between Surrey and Middlesex women in progress.

Cricket and Race

Critics of English cricket point to the disproportionately high number of club players of a South Asian heritage, figures of 30%+ and then question why so few play in  county cricket, suggestive that culture,  prejudice, frustrates the careers of talented players. How much this might be down to what goes on inside dressing rooms is moot, a question for insiders.

As to the stats  trawling through Cricket Archive for the players who appeared in the Premier Leagues last summer, set up by the ECB to bridge club cricket and the counties,  the % from a South Asian heritage was around half the number above: 28% in Leicestershire, 3% in Cornwall, Yorkshire, around 15% across the county as a whole. As to the numbers of county cricketers in 2022: 6% English qualified, around 10% of the 500+ total including those that weren’t.

So 30%+ to 16% to 6%, why the drop-off? The playing numbers of an age in different ethnicities where they might make it professionally might be one thing, but absent the detail open as to whether it lessens the drop or increases it. Differences  in education? The numbers below are not those of a country replicating the inequalities of past generations, and the Asian-White difference in particular has widened markedly in the last decade.

State School Students with Higher Education Places 2021 %

Asian 55
Black 49
Chinese 72
Mixed 41
White 33
Other 48

UCAS.

Cricket careers are risky, often short-term and it seems fair to think education is a fundamental and maybe  large  influence behind the drops. It’s a comment that could also  be made in relation to other ethnicities where there seems to be a similar pattern, Jewish cricketers for example.

Of the 24 English players from South Asian families who played for a county last summer 10 had been to an independent school at some point.  It’s a slightly smaller proportion than for county players generally, but broadly the playing base of English cricket is excessively reliant on three minorities: those with a South Asian heritage, those that have been privately educated and those who are neither but have a relative who has played the game. It’s about 1 in 6 of the general population and the obvious strategic question is what about everyone else?