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.