Time Passed : a Retrospect of the 2016 Season

For the end of the year, a reprise of my accounts of the 2016 season.  I doubt I shall ever watch quite so much first-class cricket again, but I seem to have made some hay while the sun shone.  Many thanks, and a Happy New Year, to all who have taken the trouble to read, comment or Tweet.

April

In Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Season I explain my changed circumstances and visit Edgbaston and Trent Bridge.  At the former, I discover an evangelical church round the back of the R.E.S. Wyatt stand ; at the latter I unknowingly watch James Taylor bat for the last time.  Weather very cold.  A Warwickshire supporter corrects my geography.

All the Time in the World I am prompted by the sundial at Wantage Road to muse on the passing of time, James Taylor is forced to retire, and I remember Colin Milburn.  It rains, and Ben Duckett is left stranded on 288*.

Monty : my Part in his Comeback I witness Monty Panesar’s return to Wantage Road in a 2nd XI game.  I suggest that it might be a useful strategy for Northants to prepare turning pitches and bowl him in tandem with Graeme White. They ignore my advice. Still cold.

In LE2 did Wasim Khan a Stately Pleasure Dome Decree : Works in Progress compares the recent redevelopment of Grace Road to the refurbishment of my patio, and I predict that Leicestershire will be “hard to beat“.  Zak Chappell impresses before pulling up lame ; I express the hope that his “Springtime promise has not been nipped in the bud by this cruel late frost” (he is out injured until the last match of the season).  It snows.

May

Cricket, Proper and Improper I watch cricket of both varieties, at Trent Bridge and Wantage Road respectively, and find I enjoy the latter more.  I photograph an ice-cream and Duckett bowls an over.

Old Mother Cricket and Old Father Time The sun shines briefly, I compare the English weather to Alan Gibson’s mother, and Leicestershire spurn a chance to defeat Northamptonshire. Duckett makes 2 & 0.

In Praise of the Doldrums I continue my ruminations on the state of the pitch at Wantage Road and conclude that “A respectable, high scoring, performance in the Championship will do, while they put most of their efforts into making money and achieving a flicker of glory in the T20 competition“. Duckett is out cheaply again.

Veni, Vidi, Leachy An outbreak of mass hysteria means Leicestershire are bowled out for 43 by Worcestershire. I compare Grace Road to the Marie Celeste, and a gateman makes a shrewd assessment of Joe Leach’s backside.

June

 

Friday Night and Saturday Morning Northants draw with Essex. I compare seam bowling to shift work, and Duckett (who makes 189) to Jimmy Cagney and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Fun, Fun, Fun (Until Arriva Takes the Buses Away) The RL50 arrives, Elsie gets a metaphorical wasp in her drawers and Lancashire channel the glory days of acid house. I refer obliquely to the referendum.

“Time to Join the Real World”? England’s women embrace professionalism.  I wish them well, but wonder if that is entirely wise.  I hear “Love Will Tear Us Apart” in an unusual context, and speculate that cricket, in England, may become a game played predominantly by women.

July

Live at the Electric Circus I watch my first floodlit T20, on the evening after the result of the referendum had been announced.  Through the drizzle I observe “there is hardly enough time to get fighting drunk in the space of a T20 game” and some lamentable cricket. I miss the chants of “we’ve got our country back” that a correspondent reports in the comments.

Bittersweet Summers : Seaside Special I visit Scarborough, where I am pleased to see a portrait of Lord Hawke in the Grand Hotel.  I compare Cardus and Kilburn, and see Gary Ballance make a century (“like watching a three-legged donkey giving rides on the beach : inelegant, at times painful to watch, but astonishing to see it done at all”). I realise I am forty years too late, but resolve to return.

England’s Fitful Dozing I watch an awful lot of cricket, and note a cartwheeling hat, some copulating ducks, “an obdurate, but not inelegant century” by Haseeb Hameed, and a pauper’s funeral.  Duckett struggles with the burden of captaincy, and succumbs to hubris in making a pair of single-figure scores.

All is Ripeness : Ripeness is All. Pt. 1. A Hardy Perennial On the day of the ants, I see Trescothick make a century, in what I take to be his late manner. A Somerset supporter writes in to take issue with my analysis.

All is Ripeness : Ripeness is All. Pt. 2. New Blooms, Nipped in the Bud On the hottest day of the year, I visit Desborough to watch the tooze.  I make some Biblical allusions, am caught in a thunderstorm, and menaced by a farm dog.

August

Super Heroes and Scary Creeps My season curdles, soured by a surfeit of sixes.  I compare Duckett’s performance against the Sri Lankan spinners to Jack Hobbs, a Yorkshire supporter is ejected for abusing some schoolgirls, and I have more trouble with dogs.

Eckersley in Excelsis I live in the present, and detect about Ned Eckersley “a whiff of Bohemia”. He makes two centuries, but Leicestershire spurn a chance of victory against Derbyshire.  They do so again against Northamptonshire, and I re-encounter Sarfraz Nawaz, pursued by ancient autograph hunters.

The Business End of a Squeaky Bum I contemplate the return of the Big Six, fail to make it rain, and watch Leicestershire disintegrate. I am impressed by Alastair Cook.

September

 

 

Mildly Surprised by Joy  Northamptonshire, at last, take my advice and prepare a turning pitch.  Only Duckett (who is also “in excelsis”) can cope, and plays the innings of the season.

Happy Days and End Games I make out the inscription on the sundial at Wantage Road, enjoy a perfect day at Belper, and watch Leicestershire (and their Over-50s) triumph in their last matches of the season, as do Northamptonshire.  I express some forebodings about the future.

Make time, save time, while time lasts. All time is no time, when time is past.

 

Grand Christmas Quiz 2016

Another year, another quiz.  I know you can’t wait to get started, so I won’t waste too much time on the preliminaries.  Two points are available for each answer, except where otherwise noted.  Answers to be revealed on 2nd January (probably).  First prize, as usual : a year’s subscription to the New Crimson Rambler.

This year I have broadened the scope a little, to include some questions about football, and, in a few cases, I have provided clues.

Q1  What do the following cricketers have in common?

a) A.C.D. Ingleby-McKenzie (Hampshire)

b) Dudley Owen-Thomas (Surrey)

c) Paul Franks (Nottinghamshire)

Q2  Who was the last Oxford Blue to appear in the top division of the Football League? (2 points for the player ; 1 if you don’t know the name, but can name the decade in which he first appeared.)

(The last that I know of – points will be awarded for any plausible later answer.)

Q3  This lady was the Mother of which future England cricket Captain?

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Clue : her great-granddaughter is a well-known writer and art critic, and this is not her first appearance in this quiz.

Q4 The following is a description of a well-known cricketing personality’s debut as an entertainer :

He basically trotted out a stream of lewd jokes and foul language. Some people found it funny, but there were plenty who didn’t.” Friends described it as “One of the major disasters of his life” and were “relieved and grateful” when it was over.

But whose?

a) Fred Trueman’s stand-up comedy routine in a club in Stockton-on-Tees

b) Colin Milburn’s turn as a DJ in the Turner Suite at Wantage Road

c) Lionel Tennyson, addressing the Mothers’ Union

Q5 The case of “the Lustful Turk” was a notorious breach of promise action, featuring the Mother of which cricketing personality as the plaintiff?

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Clue : he was later supposedly blackballed by the MCC for having described her as “a kind of genteel courtesan”.

Q6  The following is an excerpt from the autobiography of which Warwickshire cricketer?

Marijuana later crept into my life as an alternative to alcohol, which was starting to lose its appeal. Drinking alcohol on top of taking ecstasy allowed me to drink twice as much. Smoking marijuana was actually my attempt to rehabilitate myself.”

Clue : it is neither M.J.K. nor A.C. Smith.

Q7  Which English cricketer shared his name with a play by William Shakespeare? (2 points for the individual I am thinking of, but bonus points may be awarded for ingenious alternatives.)

Q8 The man in the hat was, for many years, Chief Scorer at Wantage Road, despite labouring under which handicap?

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a) He gradually lost his sight, and had to have the play described to him

b) He was hopeless at maths, and always added the scores up wrongly

c) He was French

Q9  The urchin second from the left in the back row grew up to captain England at cricket, but who was he?

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Q10  Which writer described which cricket tournament as being “widely and justifiably viewed as a civilisational nadir”?

a) Virginia Woolf, writing about the “Bodyline” tour

b) Clive James, about Kerry Packer’s WSC

c) Mihir S. Sharma, about the IPL

Q11  The Casuals XI of 1914 included two players of particular note :

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a) (Front row, extreme left) captained Manchester City and England at football, won a Wimbledon doubles title, made a century at Lord’s, and once beat Charlie Chaplin at table-tennis using a butter knife.

b) (Back row, centre, in blazer) set a batting record that still stands, had a brand of whisky named after him, and was once accused of “Bolshevism” by Lord Harris for leading all of his side out at Lord’s from the same entrance. (He is shown here in close-up in a cartoon by Tom Webber.)

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But who were they? (2 points each)

Q12  Alfred Stockwin, Northamptonshire’s groundsman at both the Racecourse and Wantage Road, once had occasion to pull a drayman down from his cart and give him “a good hiding”. But what had the man done to provoke this?

a) Watered the beer intended for the Pavilion

b) Suggested that Northants were not worthy of first-class status

c) Ridden his cart across the square

Q13  Three members of “the Establishment” on their way to see the Home Secretary. But who were they and what were they going to discuss? (1 point for each answer)

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Q14  According to E.H.D. Sewell, the following were the nicknames of some then-prominent cricketers – but can you attach the right name to the right nickname? (1 point each)

Balmy ……………………………………… J.A. Bush (Gloucestershire)

Jungly ……………………………………….K.J. Key (Surrey)

Nutty ………………………………………. H.A. Gilbert (Worcestershire)

Fatty ……………………………………….. Father J.G. Grieg (Hampshire)

Frizzy ………………………………………. F. Martin (Kent)

Q15  Two cricketers, whose names will be forever linked – but who are they?  (1 point for the player on the right, 2 points for the other.)

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Q16  True or false : the German writer W.G. Sebald was named after W.G. Grace, as a secret gesture of support for the Allied cause?

Q17  Which of the following has not, at some time, been the nickname of one of Market Harborough’s football teams?

a) The Huntsmen

b) The Cheesecakers

c) The Corsetmen

Q18  Who is the author of the hymn (no. 307 in “Hymns Ancient and Modern”, rev. ed.), whose first verse is as follows?

God, whose farm is all creation

take the gratitude we give;

take the finest of our harvest,

crops we grow that men may live.

Q19  The nine sons and three daughters of William Kingston, Headmaster of Abingdon House School :

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How many of the nine sons represented Northamptonshire at cricket?

a) Three

b) Five

c) Eight

Q20 A fine player for Northamptonshire, a flat-mate of Colin Milburn, and a familiar figure at Wantage Road, who sadly died this year.  Who was he?

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Happy quizzing, and a Merry Christmas to all my readers! 

 

Dreams of Leaving

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For a few years after they were married, our parents managed a butcher’s shop, the end building of a deformed 1930s’ crescent of ten shops, a series of white concrete cubes with elongated windows, unornamented, geometrical, exiguous. California had come to the outskirts of Northampton, futuristically prefiguring the society of consumption. The building was redolent of absent sunshine, leisure and romance ; although it was not long before the rain seeped through the flat roofs and in fungoid green stains on the inside walls, and subsidence cracks veined the already maculated concrete with black, and the parents separated and returned to the familiar red brick terraces from which they had unsuccessfully tried to anticipate their future release.” (Jeremy Seabrook : The Everlasting Feast)

I think I remember reading, some time ago, that W.H. Auden had once described his ideal as being to live “a Mediterranean life in a Northern climate”. I cannot remember where I read this (it might have been in Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of the poet), and have not been able to verify it. I may have misremembered, or even invented it, but that is beside the point : it is not Auden I am concerned with here, but Mediterranean lives and Northern climates.

The phrase stuck in my mind because, at that time, (about thirty years ago), I sympathised with the sentiment, although I had never been anywhere near the Mediterranean, and my idea of what life was like there was exceptionally vague. I supposed, though, that it involved making a leisurely daily round from café to café, good food and drink in civilised quantities, with plenty of time for contemplation of beauty, both natural and man-made, and convivial conversation. (This is, I imagine, very unlike the daily life of – say – the average Greek fisherman, but – again – that is not the point : we are discussing day dreams and ideals here, not realities.)

I doubt that Auden and I are alone among the English in nurturing this fantasy, which finds one expression in certain types and features of English buildings. There is the patio, which (as I have pointed out before), was intended, in its Andalusian home, to offer protection from the sun, but, in England, itself requires protection from the cold by heaters. Expanding the scope of the fantasy a little, there is the verandah (purloined from Hindi), and the pavilion. There is the balcony and the window-grill. In Spain, these serve the practical purpose of allowing a ground floor window to be left open safely during a siesta, and, as a happy side-effect, facilitate picturesque flirtations :

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In England, where, I have noticed, newly built flats often sport vestigial balconies and waist-high grilles, they seem more designed to prevent children, sleep-walkers, and drunks toppling out of upper-floor windows.

Then there are white buildings, of any description. In hot climates the whiteness is, presumably, intended to reflect the sun’s rays and cool the interior. In a northern climate, they suggest, to me, a longing to be elsewhere, an aspiration to distance themselves from their homely, russet-coloured, indelibly local neighbours.

For a while (I think after an earlier visit to Southern Spain) I developed a fascination with these buildings and photographed them whenever I came across one : pavilions, stuccoed villas (“do you know that the stucco is peeling?”), a Sikh gurdwara, a working men’s club.

The last of these, a moderne house in Paradise Lane, Kettering, (which used to belong to my Uncle Ray), would be in its natural habitat in the South of France, an introduced species with a reasonable chance of survival on an English sea-front, but splendidly incongruous and redolent of hankering after “absent sunshine, leisure and romance” in its actual setting on the fringes of Wicksteed Park.

A danger, I find, in visiting the Mediterranean is that it stirs into life pipe-dreams of giving up the struggle against the damp and dreich, the winter warmers and beer jackets, and leaving to pursue that Mediterranean life in a Mediterranean climate. The day-dream objection to this, (as opposed to the insurmountable real world objections), is that it would mean I would no longer be able to watch much cricket.

But then it has often occurred to me that a day at the cricket (the proper kind that begins in the late morning and ends at dusk), with its white pavilions, its leisurely strolls around the boundary, its retreats into the shade, its prolonged periods of contemplation and breaks for refreshment, even its occasional siestas, is the closest the English ever come to attaining Auden’s ideal. Perhaps all the business with bats and balls is merely a pretext, and, perhaps, I would not miss it, or not too much.

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An Occasional, Seasonal, Dream

Trigger warning : if you are one of those who believes that other people’s dreams are always and inherently boring, then look away now …
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Every year, at about the same time, I notice that the daffodils that grow perennially in the flowerbeds that border my patio have begun to poke their tips through the topsoil. In fact, I can be more precise. In 2014, I first noticed them on the 2nd of November, in 2015 on 11th November, and this year, on my return from a short holiday in Spain, on 27th November. And, every year, I think that they have come too early.

It may be that I am over-sensitive to the probability of “climate change” (although I am not sure whether this “small data” supports that) : I think, though, my reluctance to see these green shoots too early has more to do with not feeling ready, with the last leaves still clinging bravely to the trees, to think about the Spring quite yet. These shoots, I feel, should be nudging hopefully against an eiderdown of snow, not snuggled under a blanket of fallen leaves.

I felt much the same way when, while in Spain, I was visited prematurely by a recurrent dream that usually saves its first appearance for the darkest nights of Winter, the dream of the forgotten cricket ground.

The most commonly reported dreams involving sport, I’m told, fall into two categories. One includes those where the dreamer finds themselves called upon to play, (often at a higher level than they are used to), and finds that they can perform either much better than they can in real life, or only embarrassingly badly. I have occasionally had dreams of this kind, in which I find that I am incapable of bowling, (the aspect of the game I used to have some slight talent for), in more than slow motion, or, alternatively, that I have been magically transformed into a high-class batsman (which, in real life, was far from the case). But these “performance anxiety” dreams are commonplace enough, easily explicable, and do not concern us here.

The second kind are those dreams involving well-known sporting personalities. These are, apparently, common too, but I seem largely immune to them, in the same way that I don’t think that I have never dreamed about meeting the Queen (or any other member of the Royal Family)*. The only memorable exception was one in which I watched James Taylor compete in a game of wheelchair football, using one of those little carts that amputees seemed to use in continental Europe between the wars (you sometimes see them in films by Luis Bunuel, for instance). I remember feeling in something of a quandary, at the time, as to whether I should expose him as able-bodied. But, vivid as this dream was, it can be explained rationally, in that I had recently watched wheelchair football (or rugby) on the television, and Taylor “warming up” by playing (non-wheelchair) football in the outfield. My subconscious had simply reassembled those elements, and added a dash of continental spice.

My recurrent dream falls into neither of those categories. What is striking about it, apart from the regularity of its occurrence, (at least once a year, as I have said, usually in January or February), is that it is always exactly the same in every particular, so that I can now relive it (or re-dream it) perfectly without even being asleep.

It always begins, on a Saturday afternoon, in the rain (not heavy rain, but steady drizzle), and I am standing outside the British Heart Foundation shop in Market Harborough (I accept this will mean little to you if you are not familiar with Market Harborough, but bear with me). I am feeling at a loose end, perhaps because the football season has ended. I then remember that the cricket season has started and it suddenly hits me that there might be a game on at the forgotten ground (I call it that because, in my dream, I appear to have forgotten its existence). I feel some sense of relief, but more of self-reproach (as well I might, given how often I seem to have forgotten it).

I then set off for the ground. One of the few verifiable aspects of this ground is its physical location, which is here :

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– a slightly sunken area of Welland Park which, in reality, contains a rose garden (there is no cricket pitch, and, as far as I know, never has been).

I approach the ground by a long passageway that leads between two tall hedges, (at this point followers of the good Dr. Freud may be adjusting their pince-nezs thoughtfully), and arrive at a narrow turnstile. I now remember that I have forgotten to renew my membership (more self-reproach) and will have to pay to get in. In the corner of the ground nearest the turnstile is a portakabin, which acts as a club shop and office. I think of renewing my membership there, but realise I don’t have enough money on me.

I am now standing on a terrace. This terrace is, in a way that would be impossible to construct physically, simultaneously an old-fashioned terrace and a roofed “scratching shed” of the type that you still find at the smaller football grounds. It is, though, as steeply raked as the seating in a Roman amphitheatre (the obvious trigger for this dream is that I had, that day, visited such a one in Malaga).

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The pitch itself is oblong, like a football pitch, (although they are clearly playing cricket on it), only sunk into the ground like an empty swimming pool. On the far right hand side there is a pavilion of sorts : on the other sides there are grassy banks, ringed with tall hedges. It continues to rain, and the light is poor, but the game continues. Everything is very indistinct, and I can remember nothing of the match. And that is it.

The ground certainly has elements in common with various grounds that I have visited. The long passageway has something in common with Rothwell Corinthians FC, and, perhaps, Tunbridge Wells. The portakabin is very like ones I have seen at Stamford and Belper. I have spent many an afternoon in many a scratching shed. There are still banked terraces at Scarborough (wood) and the smaller of the two grounds at Wardown Park in Luton (stone).

The curious thing, though, is that the dream-ground predates my visits to most of these, resulting in a faint, untraceable sense of deja vu, a sense of having been there before, when I do visit.

This dream, especially its persistence, frustrates me by its sheer banality. It is, at least, useful, in that it reminds me that the season is on its way, and that I need to remember to renew my membership, but I receive quite enough letters and e-mails reminding me to do that already. I would prefer it, on the whole, if the subconscious mind, which seems to offer others (or so I read) access to vast archetypal images and lurid psycho-sexual dramatics, did not settle, so bathetically, in my case, for behaving like a pop-up reminder of a meeting on Microsoft Office.

Thank you for bearing with me. Perhaps the simple act of writing about the dream-ground will somehow exorcise it. If not, I should welcome any suggestions as to :

a) Which actually existing ground I might be dreaming about (preferably one that was demolished in about 1942 – a hint of the supernatural would, I feel, add a touch of distinction)

or

b) Any symbolic interpretation, the more fanciful the better, but preferably of an encouraging nature.

Anyone who prefers to suggest that my dream means that I spend far too much of my time watching sport of only moderate quality in the East Midlands needn’t bother. I knows it.

 * With the possible exception of Camilla Parker-Bowles (but it was very dark in that dream, and there was an awful lot going on).

A Musical XI

A propos of nothing in particular, I thought I’d resort to the traditional Winter pastime of assembling imaginary XIs. The aim here is to put together a side who could perform equally well as a large band (or small orchestra), or a cricket team.

To begin with, looking it at first from the musical perspective, three very competent musicians.

Ewart Astill (Leicestershire and England) : piano, backing vocals

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Alongside fellow all-rounder George Geary, Astill formed the backbone of Leicestershire’s side between the wars.  Although he never played a Test in England, or toured Australia, he was taken on several other England tours, to South Africa and the West Indies. His medium pace off-breaks and cutters, competent middle order batting, and uncomplaining nature made him a handy man to have around, but so, in the days when touring teams had to make their own entertainment, did his ability as a professional-quality pianist and singer, specialising in jazz and ragtime styles. He will also act as our band-leader.

Frank Parr (Lancashire) : trombone

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The only member of this side (to my knowledge) to have been both a professional musician and cricketer, Parr kept wicket for Lancashire between 1951 and 1954, was described by Herbert Strudwick as “the most promising ‘keeper I’ve seen in years”, and was tipped for an England place, but his career came to an abrupt end when he was dropped by the newly appointed professional Captain, Cyril Washbrook, who also wrote to Worcestershire, suggesting that they should not employ him either, on the grounds that he was “a grave social risk”. Parr said later said that his sacking was “the reason I took up serious drinking”.

Parr had been playing jazz trombone part-time alongside his cricket, and, after his sacking, joined the Mick Mulligan Band, which featured George Melly as lead vocalist.  Melly described him as “An extreme social risk, a complicated rebel whose world swarmed with demons and Jack O’Lanterns” and that he “concealed a formidable and well-read intelligence behind a stylised oafishness”.  Clearly, anyone whose behaviour struck Melly as excessive was unlikely to appeal to the disciplinarian Washbrook, but his dual talents mean selecting him is an “extreme risk” I am prepared to take, even if it means propping him up on stage to play.

Neville Knox (Surrey and England) : lead vocals

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Knox, who had opened the bowling for Dulwich College with P.G. Wodehouse, was a tearaway amateur fast bowler of the Edwardian era, described by Jack Hobbs as “the best of my time”. His star blazed briefly, but brightly, enjoying two very good seasons in 1905 and 1906, the high point of which was taking 12 wickets for Gentleman v Players at Lord’s in 1906 (this was the game in which one of the professionals, seeing the speed at which Knox and Brearley were bowling, allowed himself to be bowled and walked off, saying “I’m sorry, Sir, but I’ve got a wife and family to think about”).

Knox always bowled flat out, off a long and winding run, with an “unusual” action.  Most observers thought he would not be able to keep this up for long, and so it proved.  He developed severe problems with his shins, which left him permanently lame, and played only irregularly after 1906.  After this he devoted himself to his career as a professional “concert singer”.  I have not been able to discover exactly what it was that he sang, or whether he was any good, but I am prepared to take a gamble by choosing him as my lead vocalist.

Curtly Ambrose (Northamptonshire and West Indies) : bass guitar

Richie Richardson (West Indies) : rhythm guitar

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Ambrose (Richardson not pictured)

 

As cricketers, these two need no introduction : as musicians, they play together in the band “Spirited”, specialising in reggae and soca.  It is fair to describe their playing style as “minimalist”, but I hope they will provide a solid rhythmic bedrock for some of my more extravagant soloists to stretch out and wail.

Lionel Tennyson (Hampshire and England) : drums

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There is no getting away from it that who is to occupy the drummer’s seat is a bit of a conundrum.  I think I remember once seeing Vivian Richards playing the bongos, but I doubt if that is enough to propel a band of this size.  So, I shall have to gamble on offering the sticks to Lionel (later Lord) Tennyson, grandson of the Laureate, and sometime captain of Hampshire and England.

Tennyson undoubtedly fancied himself as a jazz drummer.  On a tour of New York, with Mayor Jimmy Walker, he visited Harlem and “insisted on studying the great jazz drummer Arthur “Monk” Hazel from close quarters”.  On the boat out to South Africa in 1924, he sat in on the ship’s band on the voyage out.  During the trip to the West Indies in 1925, he formed the touring party into a band (led by Ewart Astill), with himself on drums, which apparently went down well with those on board.

However, not everyone was as appreciative of his playing.  On the tour to South Africa, Charlie Parker (the spin bowler, not the saxophonist) grew so tired of Tennyson’s inability to “follow even the simplest tempo” that he joined with Tour Manager Archie MacLaren in throwing his drum kit overboard.  In Port of Spain, Tennyson’s band were booked as top of the bill in a variety theatre, but were, unfortunately, forced to beat a retreat under a hail of missiles before the end of their first number.

I will admit to some misgivings about his ability to “mesh” with his rhythm partner, Ambrose, but I feel that enthusiasm counts for a good deal, and that, if the worst came to the worst, we could always pass his playing off as “avant-garde”.

At this point, we have the makings of a decent side, and a decent band : two fast bowlers, a wicket-keeper, two middle-order batsmen and an all-rounder ; or, a singer, a rhythm section and two lead instrumentalists.  All we need to do now is to flesh out the bones a little.

Chuck Fleetwood-Smith (Australia) : vocals and bird impressions

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I feel we need a specialist spinner in the side.  Graeme Swann does sing, of course, but I have heard his singing.  George Macaulay  (the irascible Yorkshire wet wicket specialist of the 1920s) used to give recitals of songs by Gilbert and Sullivan, but I fear his habit of viciously abusing his team-mates for dropped catches might extend to dropped notes and missed cues, and the band is already something of a combustible mixture.

So, instead, I have opted for “Chuck” Fleetwood-Smith, the Australian slow left-armer of the inter-war years.  He was not a concert performer, but did a wide range of bird impressions : when coming in to bowl he would make “the loud cacking noise of a magpie or the whoop of the whipbird”, and once defused a tense situation at Northampton, following a disputed dismissal, by performing an impression of a kookaburra on heat, “complete with flapping wings and frenzied hops”.  When he was not impersonating birds, he would “stroll along the boundary singing “I’m in the Mood for Love” and other romantic numbers”.

Philip Sharpe (Yorkshire and England) :  vocals

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Perhaps my band is lacking a little solidity, but who better to add that quality than the late Phil Sharpe? In addition to his batting and impeccable slip-fielding, he was a keen amateur singer with the York Light Opera Society, specialising in songs by Gilbert and Sullivan, and I think he will harmonise nicely with Neville Knox.

Harold Gilligan (Sussex and England) : water whistle and tenor saxophone

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Gilligan on left, wearing trilby

The brother of A.E.R. Gilligan, Harold captained England on an early tour to New Zealand, but was a player of modest ability, whose major achievements were scoring 1,000 runs in a season at the lowest ever average of 17.70, and being Peter May’s Father-in-Law.

He did, however, join Tennyson in sitting in with the ship’s band on the tour to South Africa, and is described as being “superb on water whistle and tenor saxophone”. As the musical direction of the band is tending inexorably in the direction of jazz, I think he has to go in, and can share solo spots with Astill and Parr.

Walter Hammond (Gloucestershire and England) : flexatone

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A flexatone

An all-time great as a batsman, of course, a more than useful fast-medium bowler, and a star of Tennyson’s band on the trip to the West Indies, playing the flexatone, a device comprising two pieces of bent steel with two clappers.  It produces a sound that is a cross between a musical saw and a theremin, and will provide some pleasing tonal colouring.

Joe Root (Yorkshire and England) : ukulele

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OK, so his playing may be a little on the rudimentary side, but the lad can bat.

So, in batting order, that gives us :

Root

Sharpe

Richardson

Hammond

Tennyson

Astill (Capt.)

Gilligan

Parr (WK)

Ambrose

Knox

Fleetwood-Smith

I have made Astill the Captain.  Tennyson won’t like it, but he made a popular and successful professional Captain of Leicestershire in 1934, and it will reinforce his authority as band leader.

This looks like a pretty powerful team to me.  Knox and Ambrose will form a formidable new ball partnership, with plenty of support from Astill, Hammond and Fleetwood-Smith. Parr was a quality wicket-keeper, and Hammond and Sharpe an unbeatable slip cordon.  The top order batting is very strong.

Musically, although there is plenty of individual talent on show, I am a little concerned about their ability to “gel”.  A lot, I think, will depend on Ambrose and Richardson’s ability to adapt their style, and provide a solid foundation for what threatens to descend into a series of free-jazz improvisations on themes by Gilbert and Sullivan. But I am confident that no-one will be asking for their money back, and, if all else fails, there are always Fleetwood-Smith’s bird impressions.

 

The Colin Milburn I Remember

The older I grow, the harder I find it to write about anything but memory. I picture it as a cloudy golden fluid, in which once solid, living, things, rather than being preserved like flies in amber, dissolve and fragment.” – Nicholas Faxton.

So, time for some memory work. Who was the Milburn I remember? Memory speaks :

“He was the first player I remember well, the first to really capture my imagination. Although I lived in Lancashire as a child, my family spent most of the Summer holidays staying with my Grandparents in Northamptonshire, and we spent a lot of time at Wantage Road, watching the cricket. I can picture my Mother’s Father driving my Dad (who didn’t drive) and I to the ground, and I particularly remember my Dad being anxious that we should arrive in time for the start of play, in case Northamptonshire batted first. He didn’t want to miss Milburn bat, you see, who I had been told was capable of doing extraordinary things – he might hit boundaries – even a six! – in the first over, or score a Century before lunch, which was considered a great achievement in those days.

Sometimes, of course, we would be unlucky. Northants would bowl first, and I would have to be content with watching Milburn fielding at short leg (his rear view was a source of great amusement), or bowling his underestimated medium-pacers. The best you could hope for would be that he would field in the outfield and have to pursue a ball to the boundary, urged on by the crowd as it accelerated away from him. But if were lucky, Northants would bat, and Milburn would open.

Milburn’s opening partner was always Roger Prideaux. I can see them now, walking down the steps of the old pavilion, Prideaux immaculately turned out in his Cambridge Blue cap and knotted silk ‘kerchief, Milburn, bare-headed, his belly already straining to remove his shirt tails from his trousers. My strongest memory of him is of sitting in the old West Stand and readying ourselves to take evasive action as Milburn pulled ball after ball to the boundary, often low and hard and straight into the stand itself, crashing into the wall and rebounding down the tiers of seats, scattering the spectators and upsetting our thermos flasks. By this stage, he would be sweating profusely and his belly would have freed itself from his shirt and his shirt tails from his trousers.

Of course, we all thought he should have played for England more often than he did. Another clear memory is of the announcement of the touring side to Pakistan in the Winter of 1968/9. In those days the composition of the party was announced over the radio at the end of the 2 o’clock news on the Sunday of the last Test of the Summer. I can picture us sitting in the dining room of my Grandparents’ house, dinner cleared away (and, I suspect, my Mother and Grandmother already doing the washing up), with the old Roberts radio already tuned in. We listened as the names were announced, the Captain first, then in alphabetical order – J, K (Knott?), then straight on to P for … Prideaux! The surprise that Prideaux had been chosen, and Milburn left out (which we probably blamed on some kind of class prejudice) quite obscured the fact that D’Oliveira had not been selected either.

Then, of course, came his accident …”

But let us stop for a moment, and ask how much of this is true. That is, how much of it is an accurate account of what I can remember, as opposed to simply writing, and how much of what I think I can remember might be true?

To begin with, Milburn’s accident occurred in May 1969, when I was eight years old, and I can remember very little of my earliest childhood. It is true that, in the mid-1960s, we used to stay with my Grandparents during the Summer holidays (there are photographs and even cine-films as proof), but I don’t think it would have been for all, or even most, of them (that belongs to a slightly later period), and I’m not sure that we spent all that much time watching cricket together at Northampton (if anything, we would have watched the games at Kettering, which I don’t remember at all).

Even if we had spent the whole of July and August in Kettering between 1966 and 1968 (I don’t think I would be capable of remembering anything before that), we could, according to Cricket Archive, have watched 21 home games (4 of those at Wellingborough or Kettering) : Milburn played in 11 of them, making 4 fifties (3 in 1967, 1 in 1968), with a highest score of 58 (in fact, Prideaux seems to have been the more prolific of the two). Looking at the scorecards, I can’t say any of them rings a particular bell : if I had to pick one out that might have lodged in my mind, it is quite likely that we would have watched the match against Nottinghamshire on 31st July 1968 (to see Gary Sobers), in which Milburn made 49, batting at no. 3, but that is pure conjecture.

In fact most of what I remember, or what I have claimed to remember, is conjecture, embellishment, or outright invention. Milburn often did open with Prideaux, though not always. I cannot, though, picture them walking down the steps of the old pavilion (in fact, looking at photographs of the pavilion at that time, I had quite forgotten what it looked like). I do not remember Prideaux wearing his Cambridge cap or a ‘kerchief round his neck (it’s the kind of thing he ought to have done, but if he did, it is something I have imported into my memory from photographs or books). I must have seen Milburn field, but the humorous aspect of his rear view is probably something I remember from the work of Roy Ullyett, the old Daily Express cartoonist, rather than life.

The vignette of being driven to the ground, which I can picture with suspicious clarity in my mind’s eye, is probably true, if only because I don’t think I can have borrowed it from anywhere else, and seems characteristic of both generations of parents. As for my most vivid memory, of being bombarded in the West Stand, it is very likely that something of the sort happened : if Milburn had been batting at the Pavilion End, his trademark pull would, indeed, have landed in or over that Stand. The only problem with this is that the stand is still there, and I often still sit in it (remembering, as I think, Milburn), and some of the details (the ball rebounding off the back wall, the upset Thermos flask) may date from as recently as last Summer, and a more modern batsman entirely.

Most of the third vignette, which again I can visualise quite clearly, must be pure invention. Touring parties were indeed given out in this way, and it is more than likely that I would have heard one being announced in those circumstances, but whether it was this particular one I have no idea (and, having looked the tour party up, Murray and Pocock would have intervened between the absent Milburn and Prideaux). As for the old Roberts radio (which I think might actually have been a Bush) and my washing up Grandmother, these, like Prideaux’s cap, are the kinds of concrete detail that help to make an untruthful narrative, or a fiction, convincing.

But back to the accident, which I cannot remember, though it must have occurred when I was back at school in Blackpool, and its aftermath.

 

I can remember pictures of Milburn, sitting up in bed, with his eye bandaged (like Pudsey the Bear), “joking with the nurses” and, I think, drinking a glass of champagne (though I may be confusing these with similar pictures of George Best). At this point, I don’t think it occurred to me that he might not play again. My Grandparents used to send us a copy of a now defunct local newspaper called “The Leader”, so that we could keep in touch with events in Northamptonshire, and this carried regular bulletins on his progress, his good spirits, his plans to return to the nets, his optimism that he would be returning to cricket soon, perhaps next season, perhaps the one after, a process that must have continued for all of four years. In the meantime he had a strange afterlife, inhabiting a limbo in which he was never quite absent, though his physical return was always postponed.

The same “Leader” had published a centrefold of Milburn, which I had pinned up on my bedroom wall (and would have been the last thing I saw before I fell asleep at night). It showed an artist’s impression of him, playing a pull shot (in the direction, perhaps, of the old West Stand), his shirt unbuttoned and his shirt tails flapping, perhaps his trousers split (and, no doubt, when I close my eyes and picture myself back in that stand, that is the image I see).

I was, at that time, a devotee of pencil cricket, in which England sides of my own devising played out various shadow series (often against Rest of the World XIs, which were then fashionable). My selections were rooted in the real world, but soon diverged from it, as players who were favoured by the roll of the pencil, or (to be frank) whom I liked (such as, puzzlingly, Dudley Owen-Thomas of Surrey) prospered and others (such as Geoffrey Boycott) failed. In this shadow world (which, at times, seemed more real to me than the real one), Milburn retained his eye, and his England place, and he continued to bombard the old West Stand, as the pencil, repeatedly and mysteriously, awarded him six after six.

As the years passed (four of them, a long time at that age), and Milburn’s bodily return seemed to be indefinitely postponed, the visions faded. I grew tired of pencil cricket, and the ikon on my wall was replaced by a poster of the Carillon at Bruges, or possibly Alice Cooper. By the time he did return (playing 16 first-class games in 1973, and 12 in 1974), I had almost forgotten him. He was, as everyone said, a shadow of his former self, not the player he had been, not what he was. I must have seen him play then, and this shadow-self should be the Milburn I remember well, but I find I can remember nothing. The truth is, the Milburn I remember was always already a memory, a golden absence, beyond recall.

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A Midlands Romance

 

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“The only thing romantic in the Midlands is the names of the professional football clubs – and football, generally speaking, is not a romantic game …

 

The towns are, perhaps, not meant for summer, summer’s delights and summer’s games, and only when the fogs come down and blur their grim, unlovely lines and the street-lamps mingle with lights from stalls and shops to deck them out in a boisterous blaze do they become warm and human. 

 

Football is their proper game, and, seen in the lights of the trams as they sway over lines glittering in the December rain, the stop-press columns of the evening papers with their long lists of scores and results take on a mystic significance …”

Meet me on the corner when the lights are coming on and I’ll be there – I promise I’ll be there …”

Quotations from Dudley Carew (“To The Wicket”) and Rod Clements (“Meet Me On The Corner”).