First and Last

Leicestershire CCC (155 & 191-3 dec.) v Lancashire CCC (170), County Championship, Grace Road, 23-26th September 2019

Match drawn

Regular readers (if any) may have detected of note of disenchantment creeping into my writings about cricket this season. Not disillusion (I have few illusions about the future of cricket in this country, or the likely place of Leicestershire within it), nor disappointment (my expectations were low enough), but a loss of enchantment. Perhaps this suggests an image of Disney’s Tinkerbell sprinkling fairy dust from her wand over the Meet, transforming it into a fairy-tale castle, but that it is not quite what I mean : I mean simply some vital spark to transform what I am often uncomfortably aware are a moderately talented collection of sportsmen struggling from contract to contract into something a little less mundane.

This game looked to be an improbable source of re-enchantment, featuring the two sides in Division Two whose final position was already secure : Lancashire, whose role in the ‘title race’ has been that of the electric hare, were certain to be Champions, Leicestershire nailed firmly to the wooden spoon (completing their set of three for the season), but for some reason – the feeling that we had better make the best of it while it lasts, or that, given the weather forecast, we were lucky to be seeing anything at all – or some trick of the light (and natural light, for what felt like the first time this season), I thought I felt a faint, but definite twitch upon the thread. And in a certain light, you could say that Leicestershire, unexpectedly, had the better of the game.

After overnight rain, I was surprised that play began on time, but it was no surprise that Lancashire chose to bowl on a wicket that was presumably moist, nor that Paul Horton made a third successive duck at Grace Road (the last two of them golden). Lancashire (clearly not keen students of my blog) began with a conventional field for Hassan Azad, who confidently, and uncharacteristically, drove Bailey for four in the second over. In the third, however, Gleeson brought in a short leg, and Hassan, his style cramped, patted a gentle catch back to the bowler. Ackermann lashed himself to the mast, weathering two overs from Bailey without scoring, before being prised off by Gleeson, for a second duck.

At 16-3, Gleeson seemed set to take all ten wickets before lunch (his journey from the honest journeyman I saw make his debut for Northants in 2015 has been remarkable), but, mercifully, he was replaced by Liam Hurt, and with the less exacting Bailey continuing at the Pavilion end, Leicestershire could relax a little. Cosgrove perhaps relaxed a little too much, edging an attempted cut on to his stumps for 17 (as his prolonged examination of the toe of his bat indicated, this can only have been the result of some kind of sabotage of his equipment).

With Gleeson away, Harry Dearden and George ‘Gritty’ Rhodes enjoyed a brief mouse’s playtime, as pleasantly surprised, perhaps, as I was to see Liam Hurt’s name on the scoreboard. Although originally from Lancashire, Hurt was briefly on the staff at Leicestershire in 2015, making a single one-day appearance, since when he has been a fixture on the 2nd XI triallist circuit, appearing for seven different counties. Although he has made some headway for Lancashire in white ball cricket this season, this was his first-class debut. It is good to see persistence rewarded, though his muscular, rather guileless, seamers posed little threat.

Playtime (not, in truth, very playful, with Rhodes and Dearden at the crease) ended immediately after lunch with the return of Gleeson, who bowled both Rhodes and his immediate successor Swindells, with the score on 82. This introduced the main bout of the afternoon, Parkinson v Parkinson. Of these twins, Lancashire’s Matthew bowls leg-breaks, and is much the better bowler ; Callum bowls slow left-armers, and has the minor compensation of being the better batsman. Apparently it is common for even identical twins (and they are indistinguishable by sight) to have different dominant hands, but it must sometimes have occurred to Callum, as he suffered from his twin’s feats of dexterity on the back lawn, that he had drawn the short genetic straw.

Rhodes and Dearden, who cannot have seen much serious leg-spin, had played Parkinson (M.) with the wary watchfulness of early European explorers encountering a previously unknown snake. The pitch was not conducive to dramatic turn (which I have seen him achieve elsewhere), but his drift and dip was as mesmeric as a cobra’s. With Rhodes gone, Parkinson (C.) combined a grim determination not to be outdone with, perhaps, inside knowledge acquired in infancy to survive the afternoon session. Dearden, who had batted for over two hours for his 30 (a reversion to his earlier style), was undone by a momentary lapse, and a rare ball that turned dramatically ; Ben Mike, who had displayed mature impulse control against Parkinson, relaxed it to flip a self-styled leg-break from Liam Livingstone, the last before tea, to Parkinson (M.) at square leg.

At tea, Parkinson (C.) could feel that he was having the better afternoon. What he did not know, but most of the crowd did, was that Matthew had been called up by England to tour New Zealand while they were on the pitch. Whether Matthew knew I am not sure, but twelfth man Saqib Mahmood (who had been similarly honoured) might have mentioned it when he ran on to offer him a drink (of energy fluids, I imagine, rather than champagne). Shortly after tea, Matthew completed his triumph by trapping his twin LBW ; I happened to be standing by the players’ entrance when Callum returned to the pavilion. He motioned to smash his bat against a railing (or possibly my head), but stayed his hand at the last moment, and disappeared into the interior, howling primal oaths. I suppose being knocked unconscious in a fit of geminicidal fury would have made a dramatic finale to what has been rather a dull season.

Gleeson, who had the incentive of taking more wickets for the season than Onions (more wickets than Graham Onions, I mean, not that he has been filching vegetables), finished the innings by bowling Klein, to claim 6-43. With the skies lowering, we had a brief taste of what it must be like to watch test cricket, as Wright bowled Keaton Jennings first ball. Leicestershire were, understandably, keen to continue, but the Umpires were not, and the day was prematurely terminated. Bearing in mind the forecast, I thought that it was it for the season, and I said my goodbyes, external and internal.

The second day was entirely rained off, and I was surprised to find myself back at the ground for 2.00 on the third, feeling as if I had been granted an unexpected lease of life ; by the end of the day, in the early evening, I felt mildly enchanted (it’s those long shadows, you know, those darned long shadows), although I could not directly attribute that to anything that had occurred on the pitch. By the end of the day, there was still a faint hope that Leicestershire might achieve another of their freakish, consolatory, end of season victories, such as that against Glamorgan in 2016, or Durham last year, if only because Lancashire, with their Championship already securely in their bag, seemed to be adopting an increasingly half-hearted, if not half-arsed, attitude.

Following Jennings, none of Davies, Bohannon (Bohannon! Bohannon!), Livingstone, Jones or Vilas (who also dropped more than one catch) could muster more than 20 against Leicestershire’s depleted seamers (even Mark Cosgrove was granted an over, to general merriment). Ben Mike, who has only really impressed this season when on loan to Warwickshire, offered some hope for next season, but then he did that last year too. At 77-6, perhaps waking up to the possibility that they might lose their unbeaten record, Steven Croft and Liam Hurt (in his major contribution) knuckled down to compile an eighth wicket partnership of 80, to equal Leicestershire’s total.

When Matthew Parkinson appeared at no. 10, Callum Parkinson (perhaps the only player on the pitch (other than Gleeson) with any real motivation) was brought on to bowl, and immediately had him LBW, offering some fertile material for students of twin studies, and cricket statisticians. Callum’s 2-0, as opposed to his twin’s 2-32, may have granted him temporary seniority, within the family at least. With Leicestershire 40 without loss at the close, 25 ahead, there was still the faint hope that the last might fleetingly pose as first in another sense.

The loss of the first hour of the fourth day meant the probable end to any hope of a result. Leicestershire at least gestured in the direction of making a game of it : Hassan Azad, unmolested by short legs, leg gullies or silly points, moved serenely in the direction of a century, while Colin Ackermann took advantage of some indifferent bowling to fall slightly short of his half-century. Once it was clear that no early declaration would be forthcoming, the only questions were whether Hassan Azad could make another hundred, and Gleeson could claim a fourth wicket, to make it ten for the match, or six to make it 50 for the season. I thought this might, at least, mean that they span it out until five.

At four o’clock, a fine, final, rain began to fall, and Leicestershire declared, with Azad on 82, and Gleeson still with only three wickets. Some covert calculation allowed them to shake hands and head eagerly to the pavilion, Lancashire receiving an ovation from their impressive travelling support, for their performances over the season, presumably, rather than in this match. Hassan Azad received more subdued, if heartfelt, acclaim from the remaining Leicestershire supporters. As I had already said my goodbyes to the ground and the season, I set off for home without any particular emotion.

So … to be continued? Well, possibly. Even given their current financial state, which is apparently more parlous than usual, Leicestershire should be able to keep going for another season. If so, I hope to be there – although there would come a point, if the first-class schedule is further buggered about in the interests of accommodating ‘The Hundred’, where I would have to question whether it is worthwhile renewing my membership (I do know, as they say, when I am not wanted).

Even so, I am not sure whether I shall continue to write about it. As much as I complain about the players apparently going through the motions, I sometimes, uneasily, suspect that I am as guilty of that as they are, and – God knows – there are other things in the world to write about than cricket. But I shall have to see how I feel when the new season approaches, and wait for a firmer, more unmistakeable twitch upon that thread.

Winter well!

PTDC0869

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9 thoughts on “First and Last

  1. Please keep writing! I always felt that 2019 would be the last summer of cricket as we know it. Much of the problem with supporting Leicestershire is that success is so infrequent. It has been 16 long years since we played in the top division and despite Nico’s best efforts, unlikely that the situation will be different at the end of next season. It’s not as though we can buy our way to success. At least you have Northamptonshire in Division 1 next year.
    Winter well!

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    • Thanks, Christopher

      Knowing that the writing is appreciated makes me more likely to want to continue. I find one problem with writing about a consistently unsuccessful side in what is meant to be a vaguely amusing way is that it is tempting to succumb to making a string of cheap jokes at the players’ expense – which I’m keen to avoid. Sometimes, though, I just feel that I have exhausted cricket as a subject and that it’s time to find something else to write about. Winter well yourself. I’m off to Corfu, where I may catch a little … cricket!

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  2. I concur with the above comments completely, although I have never commented on your blog before I have been a regular reader for the past couple of years. It is certainly one of the most interesting and readable ones that I have come across. I often leave it with a greater appreciation of the meaning of cricket.
    This season has been a strange one for all followers of the county game, I am a Derbyshire member and despite a reasonably fair summer for Derbyshire, I sometimes found that there was a spark missing from my enjoyment of this season. It is only now with the summer behind me and the wind whistling outside that I realise that I miss it already. A trip to Lords in September also reminded me of all the reasons that I fell in love with what I consider to be more than a game but a way of life.
    I think that for a lot of us ‘traditional’ supporters of the game, of whom I consider myself to be one of, despite maybe not being as old as some (I am 33) found it to be summer of little consistency. Much like our respective counties are inconsistent on the field, it seemed to be periods of watching cricket followed by weeks of little or no cricket watching. I often liken a county season to a soap opera with its ups and downs, individual stories and incidents but the gaps in fixtures seemed to make you forget where you were within the story. I hope next season brings a better organised fixture list but I do not think any of us expect this to be the case.
    Thank you for providing a wonderful blog throughout the summer and I and many others, I am sure, sincerely hope that you continue to do so for next season and beyond.

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  3. Many thanks, Adam, for reading, your complimentary remarks, and taking the time to comment. I suspect that you are one of my younger readers! I entirely agree with you that the scheduling of the Championship fixtures is a major problem, and that one of the worst things about it is the lack of a coherent narrative throughout the season, of the kind that you would expect in any other sport – try explaining to a football fan that what is meant to be the most important league competition simply closes down for six or seven weeks in the middle of the season! Unfortunately, I fear the ‘Hundred’ will make the situation worse next year. At least your side had a relatively successful season (relative to Leicestershire, I mean).

    Thanks again for commenting – knowing that there are some appreciative readers out there is a great incentive to continue writing.

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  4. Hi Nick,

    I can only echo what others have said – please continue to write. Based on my experience of both writing blogs and reading them regularly, it’s clear that they simply don’t receive comments like they used to – people tend to respond via Twitter if they like something – but that doesn’t mean that you’re not being read and appreciated. Besides which, you provide a reliable source of material for my Wisden round-up each year, although as it’s been reduced in size for 2020 (perhaps as a nod to the Hundred) I can’t promise anything.

    Winter well indeed!

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  5. Thanks, Brian. I’m pretty sure I will carry on writing about cricket next year, if not indefinitely. I don’t particularly mind a lack of comments : I’m gratified by the ones I do get, and I am uneasily aware that I rarely do it myself. The number of times the pieces are read (or, at least, ‘viewed’) doesn’t seem to have decreased significantly. I think I just don’t want to carry on writing about cricket past the point where I’ve run out of original things to say on the subject (or, perhaps, I’m succumbing to a wider disaffection).

    I shall look forward hopefully to reading your blog round-up – I’d guess it must get harder to find interesting new bogs to write about, though it might just be that I’ve become lax about searching them out. Have a good Winter yourself.

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