All posts by StephenFH

Lord’s

The Lord’s Tour April 2017, Middlesex versus Hampshire T20 Blast,  3rd August 2017

April and the Lord’s Tour to help welcome in the new season. The star exhibit in the museum for England supporters got its due attention, but absent the activity of a match and as seen within the social etiquette of a tour, the pavilion is not overly large inside nor perhaps all that imposing. There are some fine landscapes of the game’s history in the Long Room and portraits of the game’s greats on the steps to the players’ changing rooms, although  the rooms themselves were surprisingly basic: no captain’s place, showers separated by a ‘public’ corridor, the balconies in front bijou plus spaces.  The staff in the museum and the pavilion, it would be fair to say, were a model of courtesy and perhaps Victorian interiors will be become more fashionable again at some point.

The Media Centre being closed the tour finished on the upper level of the Mound Stand and looking across to the Nursery End views were invited on the aesthetics of the Centre. What was once thought of as marmite seemed to be taken in somewhere near neutral by those going round. As for those going round: from the subcontinent, a majority, whose numbers included the most enthusiastic and the importance they placed on the game evident; from Holland, in their own way the most respectful;  Australia, the most informal, thought the Twickenham tour had more to offer and commented on how much more affordable test cricket was back home. There were two from England, the guide included, who after a little prompting found a moment to mention Old Father Time.

The T20 fixture between Middlesex and Hampshire drew a crowd of  over 22,000, Lord’s under lights a stage for a good show. The first half of the home team’s innings  started fairly well, after a modest power play Mason Crane’s first over was expensive and they looked on course for a competitive total at the half way point. However the leg-spinner was to get his man, bowling Stephen Eskinazi for 43, and his remaining three overs were tight ones.  The second half of the innings subsided badly and the final total of 136 was probably something like 25 under par.

A routine win for the visitors followed after a good start by James Vince and Rilee Rossouw, the South African who was hit on the helmut early in his innings, went on to make 60 before being caught on the long-leg boundary.  By the time Lewis McManus and Sean Ervine knocked off the winning runs the result had been settled, barring the very unexpected, for some time.

As for the occasion, an introduction to the game was provided on the scoreboards for those who need to know that it is eleven a side and the other basics. Sweet Caroline and Hi Ho Silver Lining exercised the crowd’s vocal chords, the ScatterBlast scattered t-shirts into the Grandstand and hampers were distributed amongst those who waved at the camera. The Lord’s fox put in an appearance and found that, despite the advert, cricket does have boundaries. In the years of the Sunday League dull fixtures were without much to lighten proceedings, T20 matches come with some cheer on the surface. The evening  was also helped by having the  Lord’s Pavilion in view, whatever  might be made of its interior, it is a beautiful building from the outside, both during the day and at night.

 

 

 

 

 

Old Deer Park, Richmond

Middlesex versus Kent, T20 Blast, 20th July 2017

The first match Cricketarchive records as being played at ODP was a fixture in 1867 between Richmond and a United South of England Eleven, a  team of travelling cricketers taking the game around the country. It was the second USEE match of that season, having lost a  few days earlier in Southampton with the Hampshire county team  finishing 95-13. They won at ODP  by an innings, and their itinerary that summer was to take them round southern England including Harrow, Islington and Southgate in Middlesex and Ashford and Maidstone in Kent, the games being played with 11 against between 15 and up to 22 on occasion.

Kent take to the field.
Brendon McCullum, 9 4’s and 6 6’s
Tim Southee, bowled around his legs for Matt  Coles’ hat-trick ball.

150 years later, Middlesex were taking games to outgrounds and the Kent team that took to the field was made up of players born in Ashford, Maidstone and elsewhere.  There were globe travelling  cricketers available to showcase their talents on both sides;  Brendon McCullum, one of the game’s major figures, and Dawid Malan, from Roehampton to Richmond via Paarl in a manner of speaking, opened for Middlesex and gave them a good blast with a partnership that made 92 for the first wicket; ‘ain’t no stopping us now’ accompanied Dawid Malan  back to the pavilion. Brendon McCullum went onto make 88, 72 of which came in boundaries, and together with a rapid 28 from Eoin  Morgan, over 200 was possible for a time, but the innings was checked by a hat-trick by Matt Coles in the final over.

Jimmy Neesham giving Kent a chance.

Kent went in search of 180, but were soon two wickets down, the second over being a wicket maiden bowled by Steven Finn and Middlesex fielded with three slips at one point;  but Kent rallied with a fourth wicket partnership between Sam Northeast and Jimmy Neesham, the New Zealander,  hired by the visitors for the tournament;  Alex Blake kept the visitors hopes real until  a boundary catch at the end of the 18th over. They finished 16 short.

The Pagoda in Kew Gardens was under wraps this year, and the vantage point of the London Welsh rugby stand was also closed, but ODP, home to a cricket club that was established in the middle of the 19th century and with the oldest rugby club around the corner does sporting history; a place in which the T20 Blast felt like a descendant of the 40 over Sunday League,  cricket a bit more like cricket and comparisons with baseball more distant.

 

The Oval

Surrey versus Hampshire  July 16 1978, July 3-6, 2017

To the Oval, about to celebrate staging its 100th test but also a place  where the question posed by CLR James in Beyond a Boundary…what do they know of cricket who only cricket know?…still resonates. The book, published in 1963, came after the appointment of Frank Worrell as West Indian captain and the decades that followed were to become a time of Caribbean dominance in cricket; the  Oval, particularly in the 1970s, a place  where the West Indian team and their supporters  made a statement against a background of prejudice and lives being difficult.

Gordon Greenidge and Barry Richards batting for Hampshire for a final time in  a Sunday League match. Intikab fielding.

West Indian cricketers were also prominent in the domestic English game, Hampshire very much included, although by comparison with the tests, county matches were relatively calm occasions; four days for county cricket then  meant a Championship game  played on a Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, together with a 40-over Sunday League  match. When  Hampshire went to the Oval in July 1978 the Sunday saw Gordon Greenidge and Barry Richards open a Hampshire innings  for the final time in a Sunday League match, putting on 97; with the help of some late hitting by Andy Roberts the innings totalled 238-7 at a time when 240 was a ‘good score’ in 60 over cricket and heading over the horizon in the 40 over format.

John Edrich the non-striker, umpire Tom Spencer. Benches for spectators.

Surrey however, with a team that had John Edrich, Younis and Intikab chased down the runs with a ball to spare, despite economical overs of medium pace bowling by John Rice and Tim Tremlett.  A defeat for Hampshire to get over and also the last  weekend in which Andy Roberts played for the county; although in a message about winning competitions they went on to lift the Sunday League trophy that September, winning four of their five remaining games played, in  large part thanks to Gordon Greenidge who made two centuries, and also perhaps to a  changed dressing room.

The Bedser Stand to the right of the pavilion, a redevelopment is planned after the 2019 World Cup.

In the years since the Oval has been largely rebuilt, albeit that it retains much the same ambience for watching the game. Gas holder number 1 is now seen as iconic and has been granted grade II listed building status.

Cricket, of course, no longer holds the place in West Indian culture that once it did; the Oval in  2017, home to Surrey cricket and to much corporate hospitality and event management, a reflection of the prosperity of London in an era in which, broadly, those born in the decades after WWII, those at the top, have done particularly well. The capacity of the ground is planned to rise to 40,000 in time for the 2023 Ashes test;  an expression of confidence in the future, although if the current era beyond the boundary is now drawing to a close, the effect on English cricket, the Oval, is really anyone’s guess.

George Bailey and Jimmy Adams making runs in the sunshine.
Dominic Sibley lbw Kyle Abbott, Hants confer.
Some lively spells from Fidel Edwards.
Hampshire’s future promise, Mason Crane and Lewis McManus.

In the 2017 fixture it was Surrey, with their home in the global city, that took to the field with ten England qualified players and Hampshire who were the team of internationalists: four England qualified players, three South Africans, two Australians, one Zimbabwean  and one West Indian. The first two days were dominated by Hampshire who posted their 5th highest ever score,  648-7, with centuries from Jimmy Adams, James Vince and George Bailey; but they were also then  left with the difficult task  of bowling out an opponent twice on the same pitch. Rory Burns led Surrey’s response from the front, but Hampshire  stuck at it with Fidel Edwards, now just one of four West Indians on the county circuit, bowling quickly on the third evening and handy support given  by Ian Holland who took five wickets on the final day; although, in truth, the Oval was rather becalmed on the fourth afternoon. A draw on a draw wicket.

From the Oval, the pleasures of a county match in an empty cathedral; in a nice touch on the first day there was  a presentation made to Surrey members who had passed their personal half-centuries of membership; if other counties don’t do something similar in a better world they would. Hampshire stronger than they were a year ago and they should be playing Division 1 again next year; if they were to win four of their remaining five matches this year they could still be on to something.

Summer’s Crown by Stephen Chalke

A beautifully illustrated book, written with great clarity by a hugely well-informed author; part social history, although as much as anything the strength of the book is the character portrayals of the players who played the game in different eras, individuals as different as Brian Close and Shane Warne for example. The format of the book, picking out particular performances and matches, teams in particular seasons works well; it is just a pity that many of the grounds that appear in the book are no longer in use by county teams.

It is the story of a competition which in the parlance of modern analysts is not particularly well-balanced; Surrey, Middlesex and Yorkshire have been champions in roughly half the years it has been played, three counties have still to win it and a fourth, Derbyshire, won  it once, before WWII. To some extent this seems to have been rectified in the modern era with the arrival of one-day competitions in the 1960s, and the history of the competition has surely been more interesting, happier, as the number of winners has increased over the years.

Quite how much the Championship and one-day competitions have fed off each other and in quite what ways is an interesting question, and is touched on in the book: a ‘grounded’ club like Essex, for example, first champions in 1979, six time winners now and have now won sixteen trophies in all. The likelihood of three counties still to win the Championship actually doing so at some point in the future, has also probably been generally helped by them winning their share of  limited-overs competitions; although not always, Gloucestershire in 1977 denied by Hampshire who they had earlier in the season narrowly defeated in a one-day semi-final en route to winning that trophy.

It is striking that the photographs in the counties section has just one, Trent Bridge, which is a test match venue and one that is a current county ground, Worcester. The view that county cricket is often at its best for spectators when sitting in deck chairs at tree-lined out grounds is well-represented in this book: Colwyn Bay or Cardiff, Aigburth or Old Trafford; Scarborough or Headingly? Hopefully at some point more matches will be played away from the centres.

The book comes with  handy stats for reference, some extras on the scorers and umpires.  There is also a contender for a gremlin on page 274, but nothing that  detracts from the pleasure of reading this book.

 

 

The Kings of Summer by Duncan Hamilton

This book is a celebration of the best of county cricket and the author does a fine job of narrating his readership through the epic finale at Lord’s at the end of last season.  Having attended on three days, it was a welcome reminder.

Three points : I He seems to have had a rather variable relationship with Lord’s as a place to watch cricket. Thirty years ago when bacon and egg tie were high royalty, certainly some staff knew how to (un-)welcome non-members; but now from ticket office, through the Grace Gates to those at the tea-urn they seem as polite and friendly as a great many. The criticism of Lord’s as home of cricket seemed a bit misplaced.

II In reaching into the past for comparisons to last year he references Hampshire, who ‘astonishingly’ beat Gloucestershire on the last day at Bristol in 1977.  Their openers then were Barry Richards and Gordon Greenidge (both of whom made scores in the nineties in the match) and of whom it could reasonably be asked has there been a stronger pairing? Being fortunate enough to have seen the last day, it was pretty obvious that Hampshire were going to win from the mid-point of the innings on.

III What that game did have in common was that a county that  had not previously won the Championship entered the final day with a fair chance, but ended it disappointed.  There is an inconvenient question about the declaration last year which is under what circumstances, if any, were Somerset going to win? In other words when does a contrived finish become a fixed one; hopefully someone keeps an eye on the influence of betting patterns in order that others can write and appreciate Cardus.

Ordinary spectators with ordinary pockets paid £80 for a ticket  for Test cricket at Lord’s last summer, £5 for the finale of the domestic season.  Perhaps the county game just needs a bit more care and attention and hopefully this fine  book will help it get it.

The ECB and the Sky Millions

The ECB’s decision to end live terrestrial coverage of England in 2005 has been a pain to many of us ever since. Given that it is a decision usually explained in terms of the extra revenues coming into the game, going in search of the upsides the two obvious questions are how much more money has it been and what has it been spent on?

Chart by Visualizer

The revenues line is monies from broadcasting, a large part of it, but also from ticketing and other things. If, for much of the time, broadcasting income has driven the trend it also very apparent just how much some World Cup years have generated and the extent to which the game in England is now dependent on cricket globally, particularly the other two members of the big three.

Surprising as it may (or may not) be the ECB’s revenues grew at a quicker rate in the era of free-to-air coverage, a comment on the question of whether cricket exists to make money or whether it should be the other way around. While the numbers, of course, reflect various influences over the years the decision to take England coverage behind a paywall, and keep it that way, has been a mixed blessing financially and can reasonably be seen as something other than a blessing overall.

The lower line in the chart is the distributions from the ECB to the counties (including the minor counties and the MCC) after allowing for charges. When it was set up in 1997 in an era before central contracts and the NCPC at Loughborough University, the ECB distributed approximately 60% of its revenue to the counties and the grassroots as channelled through Chance to Shine. This % spend has dropped by more than a half in the years since.

Michael Atherton writing in The Times last year recalled his experience of playing for England in the Caribbean in the 1990s with a team that was not fully fit, and minus some basic medical supplies, which were then provided by a friend and paid for by a cheque that bounced. The rebalancing towards the centre and the England team that followed was plainly not before its time, although he concluded in the same article that a fundamental change of direction back was needed now.

Chart by Visualizer

The general shape of the ‘ECB’s Manhattan’ can be taken as pointing the same way. If football has a problem with rich and arguably too-powerful large clubs, and a rather weak governing body, cricket has seemingly traversed a long way toward the other end of the spectrum. In other words what, fundamentally, is the ECB for and would it matter if the governing body of the game to an ever greater extent became the game?

Current arguments about whether to have two domestic t20 competitions from 2020 raise the acute question of whether this is a way to sustain counties that do not stage international cricket or whether it is more likely to be one step towards their set aside. While 8 team t20 competitions have been big successes in the other two of the big three, they have become so in very different sporting environments. By 2020 it will have been almost a generation since watching England was free and more like two generations since cricket was a mainstay of school sport, during which time football’s dominance has become ever greater and the time formerly known as its close-season has more or less disintegrated.

The better showing by England in Ashes series has arguably been the chief upside of the last decade or so. It would be ironic if the influence of Cricket Australia and the BBL was such now that ECB administrators playing a global game struggle to adapt to domestic conditions. Sometimes it might very well be better to simply stop (over-)managing, and let the game and its players adapt and evolve. The conclusion of last year’s county Championship at Lord’s one case in point; it is a competition which reaches its finale at a time that largely, if not entirely, excludes a young audience, which is unfortunate given that it deserves its chance to shine.