(Trigger warning – contains mild gender stereotyping.)
Leicestershire v Northamptonshire, Grace Road, County Championship, 8-11 May 2016
I mentioned in the last post that I had picked up a copy of Alan Gibson’s ‘Growing Up with Cricket’ in the Supporters’ Club bookshop at Wantage Road the last time I was there. None of Gibson’s books show him at his best (most of his genius was wasted on journalism) and this one was written under particularly unhappy circumstances, but it has its happier moments, amongst them a description of his attempts, as a child, to find a game that would allow him to generate a precise facsimile of a game of professional cricket by himself in his living room.
He experimented with various combinations of toy soldiers, spinning discs, cards and pencils, before arriving at an adapted version of a card-based game called ‘Stumpz‘, that was apparently popular in the 1930s.
“I kept at this for years, constantly introducing new subtleties, and in the end managed to produce a game which, I think, set down ball by ball in a scorebook, could not be distinguished from a real one. It was, naturally, completely unmarketable, but it comforted me especially during the early years of war, when so little cricket was going on …
Interruptions from the weather solved themselves. In a small house it was not often possible to keep my apparatus, which covered a medium-sized table, intact between sessions. Mother would descend and remove it, and cards would have to be reshuffled later, and a new start made from the moment of interruption. Mother represented the weather.
I developed a complicated system, depending chiefly on the throwing of dice, to decide a light shower, nothing more than a ten-minute break, or anything above it right up to the disaster of “match abandoned”. She was a forbearing mother, and on the whole my table summers were bedevilled less by rain than a normal English one.”
There is something resonant and suggestive in that phrase “Mother represented the weather“. It occurs to me that, for the “cricket family” (an often fractious, dysfunctional and, frankly, childish brood), the English weather, in many respects, does resemble a Mother. Without it the game would not exist, and at times we bask happily, often unexpectedly, in the warmth of its approval. On the other hand, it can, as arbitrarily and capriciously, remove that warmth and put a sudden stop to our childish pleasures. A wise child soon learns to anticipate and navigate these variations in the emotional climate, and knows, above all, when not to push its luck.*
It is a measure of how far Leicestershire have advanced, and Northamptonshire declined, that it is possible to say that a game that the former could, and should, have won inside two days proceeded much as expected, and even to suspect the Foxes of a degree of complacency. On the first two days the sun shone so brightly on a notably large and festive crowd (mostly Leicestershire supporters, although Northants’ Members had been offered free admission) that our stately pleasure domes provided shade, not shelter.
By the end of the first day Leicestershire had reached 311-5, thanks to runs from Angus Robson (who has otherwise looked a little edgy this season), “Ted” Dexter (who has few obvious distinguishing characteristics, other than being very effective) and the unmistakable figure of Mark Cosgrove (no. 55), who shuffled through most of his runs as though wearing carpet slippers.
The only vague threat to their equanimity had come from the ever-promising Oli Stone (who bowls with heart and pace and demonstrative gestures, but has managed barely 20 first-class appearances since his debut in 2012) ; at present, Northants’ is a “four-pronged pace attack” that would struggle to spear a soggy chip, and, with Panesar beginning to take wickets again, I should be surprised and disappointed if he were not soon called in to provide some alternative to this relentless and largely futile seam. (I should also point out that – even without Duckett keeping wicket – they conceded a remarkable 60 extras, mostly in byes.)
On the second day Leicestershire displayed, perhaps, that element of complacency I mentioned earlier by losing their last five wickets for only 28 runs, but – no matter – because they had bowled Northants out for 151 by half past three. Duckett, the visitors’ best hope, only made 2, and spent the rest of the day wandering about looking like a boy whose Mother had – for no reason that he could understand – locked all his action figures away in a drawer until he had tidied his bedroom.
There cannot have been a spectator in the ground who had not studied the weather forecast, or who was expecting to return on either of the last two days (when rain was predicted), and none I spoke to who could understand why Leicestershire did not enforce the follow on and – with Northamptonshire in clear disarray – stand a fine chance of having victory wrapped up by the end of play.
The only explanation I can suggest is that Leicestershire’s “management team” is from sunny South Australia, where the weather (and, for all I know, the Mothers) are – though sometimes harsh – less capricious, and where batting again (as they chose to do) might have been a more plausible strategy. In the event, they batted on indifferently under what were already darkening skies to 132-6, before spending the last two days watching the rain fall.
I believe (I wasn’t there) that they finally made it back on to the pitch in time to bowl seven overs at Northants in failing light, the only incident of note being poor Duckett going for a second ball duck (at which point he must have felt as though his Mother had not only locked his action figures away, but accidentally hoovered up his Darth Vader).
If the weather is the Mother of English cricket, then (as any visitor to Lord’s will know) its Father is old and carries a scythe. He may not be capricious, but stern and inflexible he most certainly is and, if he has decreed that a match is to last four days, then four days it is, and no amount of pleading “but we haven’t finished the game yet!” or “can’t we just have one more innings?” will sway him. It is a wise child that knows its own parents, as I say, and a wise Captain that keeps an eye on the weather, and a weather eye on the time.
* I’m pleased to say that my own Mother – like Gibson’s – was nothing like this. Many are though, I ‘m told.