The cornerstone of international cricket competition, the Test match tour, has been transformed in recent decades. The pandemic of 2020 has left little in the relationships between nations untouched and it has pushed the international tour to a new extreme. The West Indies are more billeted than on tour: confined to two grounds with hotels on site, with Tests taking place only at those two venues and a single other tour game, contested by two teams made up of their own squad members.
While change has been recent – the West Indies played eight 3-day tour games in 2000 – the decline of the season-long tour was apparent much earlier. At least it was to those with an eye on cricket’s drift away from forefront of public attention. Ted Dexter had welcomed the introduction of one-day cricket to the English county game in the early 1960s. He led Sussex to the inaugural Gillette Cup final where he managed to defend a total of 169 and then retain the title the following year.
Eight years later, retired from the game (barring some Sunday Leagues appearances), Dexter wrote Wisden’s preview of Australia’s Ashes visit to England in 1972. He acknowledged the bold plan to hold ‘three one-day Tests’ in August, but was concerned that those were the only reference to one-day cricket.
The trouble with the Australian itinerary is that for more than half the time they will be playing what can only be considered friendly games with the counties. Not so long ago this gentlemanly basis of sporting competition was sufficient to keep the crowds amused but with the advent of sponsorship, win-money, man-of-the-match awards, etc., etc., the old format now seems hopelessly outmoded. Honour and glory, artistry and skills are now only given their due by your potential spectator if something depends on the outcome thereof. Not necessarily money; an extra point or two towards some goal may be quite acceptable. On the other hand a dozen or more games following one another in a pattern, each one played in a vacuum as on this tour, gives your cricket fan far too good an excuse to stay away if the weather is poor, if the star players are being rested or for any other minor reason.
The writing was on the wall last time Australia toured England. Since then Illingworth’s team in Australia has signally failed to halt the trend of dwindling gates for State matches. In fact it seemed that neither the State sides nor the M.C.C. could do more than go through the motions when there was literally nothing to play for. In no time at all the lack of interest on the field communicated itself to the watchers and I honestly think they swore to a man that they wouldn’t be taken for suckers a second time.
Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to involve a visiting team in the hurly burly in our own competitions. Points would need to be averaged up to decide how the maverick side was placed in relation to the others — either this or a concerted attempt made to find sponsors to put up prize-money–or, the ultimate in daring, to put up the prizes and promote the matches from within cricket and thus gamble a little on achieving a better return.
Otherwise I fear a situation where already hard-worked county players will be ever more content to take it easy against the tourists; the tourists will be just practising for the Tests and only the hardiest of cricket-watchers will pay to see them do so.
(Wisden 1972, “Welcome Australia”)
It was another seven years before Dexter’s recommendations were addressed. The touring team didn’t get an invitation to the County Championship; nor did cricket put any of its own money at stake to coax interest and excitement from the visitors and their county hosts. But sponsorship was found and Dexter appears to have taken it on himself to secure it.
For those who followed English cricket in the 1970s and 1980s, the names of its sponsors can probably be recalled as easily as those of our political leaders, chart-topping groups and Saturday night television programmes of that era. Gillette, Bensons and Hedges, John Player and Cornhill benefitted from an absence of commercial clutter on the BBC and in the first three cases from being the name of the respective competitions from their introduction. Schweppes, who paid for their name to complement the un-televised County Championship (1977-83), would be a easy-fair standard quiz question.
The name of the sponsor of the 1979 Indian team’s tour matches with the counties is far less well-remembered. Partly, this is because, unlike the other county competition sponsors they were not a household brand, pushing their product in supermarkets and newsagents. It might also reflect the lack of success of the ‘competition’ they sponsored. The name was Holt – not Holt’s the Manchester brewery – but a car care and chemical manufacturer. Wisden in 1979, welcoming the relationship, noted that “The scheme was devised by Ted Dexter and Mr Tom Heywood, chairman of Holt Lloyd International.” In the absence of further detail, I imagine Dexter, former England captain and PR executive, working away at the cricket-enthusiast Heywood until, after one particularly long lunch the corporate cheque book was produced.
That cheque carried the figure of £20,000 (£100,000 in 2020 terms), which would be shared by the Indian touring side and their county opponents, depending on results. The county judged to have given the best performance was awarded a trophy. There were also individual awards for outstanding players. India, across ten county matches, had almost £6,000 to aim for. A county could win £6,000 if it was the only side to defeat the tourists. To place this in its context, the West Indies won £10,000 as World Cup champions in the tournament that immediately preceded India’s tour.
Norman Preston had featured the details of these incentives to the touring team and hosts in his Editor’s notes to the 1979 edition of Wisden. The following year, the Almanack’s coverage of the India tour failed to mention Holt, or the existence of peformance rewards. Preston’s initials are printed at the foot of this tour review. He notes that ten first class games, including three of the Tests, were drawn, that India had a single victory – over Glamorgan – and lost to two counties. Wisden’s encyclopaedic reputation is in this narrow case undeserved.
To find the winners of the Holt Trophy in 1979, I have relied on the Lord’s Museum and its on-line catalogue. Within two folders of material relating to that tour – “Scoresheets, newspaper cuttings, statistics, press releases, correspondence, photographs” – the following examples of content are provided:
Includes spider diagram showing I T Botham’s innings of 137 in the third Test for England vs. India at Headingley, copy of Radio Times article on S M Gavaskar, press release relating to Holt Products’ sponsorship of tourists vs. counties matches, and photographs of the Holt Products Trophy and M J Procter, Gloucestershire captain, receiving the trophy from Holt Products after being chosen as winners of the award in 1979 for the best result against India.
Gloucestershire were the fourth county to play India, with the match at Bristol taking place on July 21-23, one week after England had amassed 633-5dec in their First Test victory. Gloucester fielded a first choice team – Sadiq Mohammed, Zaheer Abbas, Mike Proctor, as well as their home-grown players well-known for their one-day performances. India held the upper hand: underpinned by 137 from Gavaskar, the tourists were 200 runs ahead with Gloucester six wickets down in their first innings and all their overseas players dismissed. Phil Bainbridge and MD Partridge then put on 116 and Proctor declared 100 behind with the former in sight of a maiden ton. In murky light, Proctor took three quick wickets on the second evening and returned the next day to take four more. “Proctor allowed them no respite, bowling below full pace, but to a testing length and line,” Wisden reported on his analysis of 15.3-8-13-7. The home team’s top order then chased down the target of 203 at more than four runs per over.
That must surely have delighted Dexter: a see-sawing game, enterprising captaincy, marquee names performing to a high standard and contributions from county pro’s. Whether the prospect of a bonus had an influence, we don’t know. Nor do we know if the game was well-attended. Scanning the scorecards of the other nine matches, it appears that counties put out strong sides. The tourists came up against: Allan Lamb, Malcolm Marshall, David Gower, Viv Richards, John Wright, Ken McEwan, Clive Lloyd, Clive Rice and Richard Hadlee. Whether they were taking it easy is harder to tell.
Despite Wisden’s silence and India’s lack of success, Dexter’s initiative may have incentivised the counties to make a contest of their tour matches. Gloucestershire and Nottinghamshire were each £3,000 the richer for their efforts. By comparison, Somerset had collected £5,000 for their four match campaign to win the Gillette Cup.
The following year, the West Indies toured and Holt Products continued (or renewed) their sponsorship of the county tour matches. This time there was an eye-catching headline to the deal: the West Indies could net £100,000 if they won each of their 11 first-class county matches. One might wonder if the company bought lottery insurance, or took a calculated risk that such an outcome, faced with motivated opponents and the English weather was improbable. As a twelve year-old, absorbing cricket wherever I could find it, I validate Wisden’s assessment that “interest grew” in the county matches. The existence of the six-figure jackpot is the memory fragment that triggered the research for this article.
The tourists’ quest started, as tradition requires, at Worcester, where they secured a seven wicket victory, with most credit to Malcolm Marshall who took 7-56 in the the home side’s second innings. A curiousity of the game, the description of which takes up almost half of Wisden’s report, concerned Glenn Turner:
Worcestershire were desperately short of resolution in their second innings, which began with an out of character display by Turner, who stepped back and “slogged” at almost every delivery as he made 45 from 24 balls before stepping on to his wicket. The general interpretation was that Turner’s approach was linked with his strong criticism of the West Indians’ conduct on their tour of his native New Zealand in the previous winter. There were also suggestions that he had asked not to be selected for the match because of a back strain. The county’s cricket committee chairman, Mr Roy Booth, later interviewed Turner but an official statement was no more informative than that the club was satisfied that Turner has no grievances with them.
Leicestershire were defeated by an innings inside two days, with Greenidge scoring 165. In the maiden first class match at Milton Keynes, Northamptonshire lost early on the third evening; Richards and Lloyd both recording hundreds. The tourists then paused their challenge to take part in four county one-day matches (Prudential Trophy warm-ups).
Derbyshire, dismissed for 68 in their second innings, were the fourth victims in a nine-wicket defeat. The West Indies moved to Leeds and Lord’s for an international interlude, in the shape of the Prudential Trophy. They had reached the end of May with their hopes of claiming the £100,000 prize alive.
The county challenge was rejoined at Canterbury. A day was lost to rain, but captains Alan Knott and Clive Lloyd made first innings declarations to claw back time. The West Indies bowlers then got to work, dismissing Kent for 84 and setting up a target of 103 which was achieved, not without difficulty, with five wickets down. Another interruption for international cricket followed: the 1st Test at Trent Bridge. The West Indies won a close match by just two wickets. It was both the closest England would come to matching or beating their visitors and yet their only defeat of the series.
The middle game (number six) of the Holt Industries Trophy Challenge was at Hove. More bad weather and, in Wisden’s opinion, “the understrength home side” who had an attack of Imran Khan, Garth le Roux, Ian Greig, Jon Spencer and Geoff Arnold, brought an end to the quest on 16 June.
Three more draws, two rain-affected, left the tourists with a 7-4-0 record, and a string of entertaining innings and incisive bowling performances that entertained spectators immensely and may have raised the sponsor’s profile through radio and newspaper reports of the games.
The following summer, Holt Products again continued (or renewed) their sponsorship of the counties’ games with the tourists: the Australians. I cannot find a record of the incentive structure in place, but it appears not to have motivated the visitors, who managed just two victories. The second of which came late in the summer at Hove, which was again the scene of a significant match in the short life of the Holt Products Trophy. John Woodcock’s Editor’s Notes in the 1982 Wisden were very critical:
Less happily, following a match at Hove in which Sussex fielded a discourteously weak side against the Australians, Holt Products, whose sponsorship had been aimed at making these games between counties and touring teams more competitive, withdrew their support. If Sussex’s action was only partly responsible for Holt’s decision, it was still a pity, in what was a fine season for them, that on this occasion they misjudged their obligations.
Sussex had omitted six players from the team fielded in their previous County Championship match: captain John Barclay, Imran Khan, keeper Ian Gould and bowlers, Garth le Roux, Geoff Arnold and CE Waller. The match fell at the end of the third week of August, one week after the 5th Test at Old Trafford where England’s victory ensured they completed the series turnaround and retained the Ashes. The 6th Test at the Oval was to follow – not only an indulgence, but a dead rubber. Sussex had four matches remaining in the County Championship – a competition they had never won, but for which in August 1981 they were in contention. It appears that they preferred to conserve their star players and captain for that objective. Sussex won all of those four games, but fell two points short of the title which was won by Nottinghamshire.
Sussex were, of course, Ted Dexter’s own county team, which may have made this an uncomfortable denouement to his experiment. Was Dexter critical of his own county’s choice of priority – I suspect not? I also find something odd about Woodcock, a traditionalist, writing so harshly of a county showing such commitment to the County Championship. Barclay wasn’t saving himself and his bowlers ahead of Lord’s final; it was a tough run-in to the first class season that was his focus. The Sussex v Australia game encapsulates the problem Dexter had sought to solve and the dilemma that cricket continues to struggle with: balancing a domestic game with international commitments.
Dexter’s intention had been to incentivise interest and commitment through monetary reward. There is some evidence from these three seasons that the outcome was achieved, but there were also unintended consequences. From the perspective of behavioural economics (1), Dexter’s plan to make the counties’ games with tourists more competitive handed Sussex the permission to be less committed. Woodcock complained about obligations being unfulfilled, but those cultural and emotional ties that bind behaviour are loosened once a financial transaction is introduced. Unwittingly, by offering a performance bonus, Dexter enabled Sussex to, in effect, turn down the financal reward in favour of their other objective.
Touring teams continue to play counties, although with a reducing number of fixtures – Australia met just with Worcestershire and Derbyshire in 2019. The emphasis has shifted to the tourists gaining match practice, but rarely if ever against full-strength opponents. I am not aware of any initiative similar to Dexter’s that would provide context and incentives to perform in these games, whether in England or for Test teams touring other countries. With the benefit of hindsight, Dexter was less a visionary than an unsuccessful conservationist, unable to stem the current of change to international cricket tours.
- See the Haifa Day Care Centre Study, chapter 1, Freakonomics (Steven D Levitt & Stephen J Dubner)
The Test series, the Ashes no less, slid away like a fall down a mountainside in a dream. Moments of stability, then another slip, painful scrapes, bruising, but when the bottom came, we were on the whole intact.
When, a little dazed, English minds turned to the one day series, first thoughts were of Moeen even more exposed and Woakes, blinking, but never scowling or swearing, getting carted around the park. Those were the instant notions I had, anyway. But, then, quickly they were chased away by something more upbeat and exciting. Not foresight of Roy’s fast starts, Buttler’s sprint finishes, Wood’s slippery speed or even Rashid’s googly. But the anticipation of an event with associations of its own. Exotic and intense, cricket played on its margins of performance and under lights.
The source of this thrill felt for limited overs, day-night cricket in Australia, pre-dates Bayliss’s supercharging of the England team, survives the years of plodding competence overcome by Australian boldness, precedes even England’s best team in the world World Cup runners-up of the late 1980s. It springs from the last minute Larry (Kerry?), almost improvised tour of 1979/80.
Australia celebrated peace breaking out between Packer and its cricket board by inviting over their common enemy. England agreed to come and perform as the object of ritual sacrifice before Australia’s united and very strongest team, as long as the Ashes weren’t at stake. There was more wrangling over format with the hosts insisting on Packer’s innovations and the visitors trying to hang onto their dignity, just as they had not given up the urn.
The limited overs internationals fell between and after the Test series that Australia won (without regaining the Ashes). England picked teams for both formats from a single tour party. 38 year old Boycott, naturally, stood aside from the short form games. Until, that was, England found themselves lacking fit batsmen. Boycott, who had made 50 from around 30 overs in the World Cup Final at Lord’s the year before was brought in to open the batting. I suspect he took more pleasure in confounding expectations than he did in his attacking innings of 80-odd, lofting down the ground the bowlers he might preferred to have dead-batted.
It felt that England, despite their recent form as World Cup finalists, were entering a new arena. Floodlit cricket at home meant novelty bashes held on damp nights on a carpet pitch laid over the half-way line at Stamford Bridge. In Australia, light flooded its vast cricket grounds, under spectacular twilight skies. Tens of thousands of passionate, partying Australians, watched from the dark fringes of the ground. The cricket was physical, demanding and unsettling. England, under grey-haired Brearley could get swept away. Their insistence on wearing white marked their naivety and discomfort.
But a single incident showed that England could raise themselves to compete, could be inspired by the novel challenge, not implode sulkily. It was more stunning and memorable even than Boycott lashing Lillee back over his head.
The Australian batsman flashed hard, lifting the ball over the infield. The ball was over the infield, when one of those infielders arched up and backwards, taking the shape of a high-jumper stretching hand first, followed by arm, head and back over the bar. Derek Randall emulated Dick Fosbury’s technique, and surpassed him by catching the ball mid-leap.
That single reflex action showed that England had the vitality and panache to play a full part in the heightened atmosphere of day-night cricket. At home, Randall’s catch was talked about all day before the footage could finally be seen.. on the evening news.
I carry with me the thrill of seeing Randall hurling himself backwards to grasp the ball. It remains dormant until, every four years or so, I think about England taking on Australia in a one-day series, under lights. The whites have gone, as have (usually) the Ashes by then. One day cricket has been normalised. It has been tarted up with rule changes to save the format from itself. End of tour series are derided. Individual matches and performances blend into insignificance. Yet, when this team is playing in a particular country it creates in me an excitement that I can trace back to that one instant.
From the book
England played Australia and the West Indies in a twelve match, three-sided series running from late November until the end of January. Two of the three Test matches between England and Australia fell during the one-day series, the last after the one-day, best of three game finals. West Indies defeated England 2-0 in the finals.
The one-day series began at Sydney on 27 November 1979, where Australia and West Indies contested the first ever ‘official’ ODI under floodlights. The following night, England played the West Indies. Randall’s catch came late in the game. Andy Roberts (not an Australian!) chipped the ball into the leg-side, where Randall launched himself to the ball. England won by two runs, placing all ten fielders (including wicketkeeper Bairstow) on the boundary for the final ball defending three.
England played in their Test match whites. Australia and West Indies wore stylised white outfits, with coloured piping and shoulder panels as well as coloured pads.
Geoffrey Boycott (39) was not selected for England’s first match, but replaced Geoff Miller for the second game, with Brearley dropping to seven in the batting order. Boycott scored 68 (85 balls) in a successful chase of 208. Boycott finished second top scorer in the tournament despite only playing six of a possible nine games with 425 runs (avge: 85), with one century and four 50s. His strike rate (69/100 balls) was higher than that of Gordon Greenidge, Greg Chappell, Alvin Kallicharan and Graham Gooch, amongst others.
Format: a prose review, structured around a list of eleven selected posts, without clever (or laboured) analogies to the selection of a cricket team.
Criteria: posts published on-line, with authors (to the best of my knowledge) unpaid and having not appeared in any of the five previous Declaration Game annual select XIs. Ultimately, each selection is nothing more than my subjective judgement of what is interesting, insightful or amusing.
The select XI for 2017 begins where almost all cricketers start (and most remain): the grassroots. Being Outside Cricket is a multi-blogger site created by the blogger known as Dmitri Old (select XI 2012). The post ‘Community Service‘ by thelegglance, extols the virtues of club cricket’s dedicated servants before, wholly in keeping with the tenor of the host blog, turning its ire on the cricket establishment:
The rarefied atmosphere of the highest level of any sport is a world away from the day to day that makes up virtually all of the game. Yet professional sport relies on the amateur to a far greater extent than the other way around, even though they both need the other for it to flourish. But take away professional cricket, and the game would survive. Take away amateur cricket and there is simply no game at all, which is why the dismissive behaviour towards it remains one of the more despicable attitudes pervading the corridors of power.
John Swannick moderates a LinkedIn group for club cricket administrators, on which he posted a link to an article by the former Chair of Westinghouse CC. This piece was the most compelling long read of the selected XI. It tells the story of the decline of the club from a thriving institution enjoying on-field success to, within a matter of years, folding.
The warning signs had been creeping into the club for the last four or five years. As players left it became harder & harder to find replacements. As volunteers reclaimed their free time, it became impossible to find others willing to step up. Committee roles became something people recoiled at the thought of.
But as much as we can pinpoint the cause of the apathy, & believe me I do share the feelings of our members, it cannot hide the cold facts. Not enough of our members cared enough about the club to see it through to the end. Too many egos skulked behind rocks & into hiding when a once proud club was relegated not once but twice in the space of a few years. When the time was right to fight for the club & return it to glory, too many seized the opportunity to desert the ship before it sank further.
I doubt any cricket club official in the UK could have read this piece without recognising some aspect of their own club in the meticulously related account of Westinghouse CC’s fall. An uncomfortable, but important read.
A quick change of pace: satire. In the spring, That Cricket Blog wrote a county championship preview, extrapolating the excesses of 2017 to the competition in 20 years’ time – 2037; for example:
Defending champions after another season where bonus points based on corporate hospitality Yelp reviews left on-field performance largely irrelevant.
Dan Liebke has an excellent sense of the ridiculous, which comes across well on Twitter and in the podcasts to which he contributes. I have, though, tended to struggle to get past the sub-title on his liebCricket header (“funny cricket > good cricket”) but was glad I did when he wrote about the end to the 3rd England v South Africa Test.
The tension was immense. A hat trick attempt is always thrilling. A delayed hat trick attempt even more so. A delayed hat trick to win the Test would seem to be just about the pinnacle of Test cricket excitement.
And yet Joel Wilson – a lateral thinking marketing genius disguised as an umpire – found a way to top it.
One of the strongest features of cricket blogs in 2017 was the quality of statistical pieces. Fielding analysis came to the fore. Kesavan trawled through ball-by-ball commentary of 233 Test matches to gather the material for the most comprehensive analysis of slip-fielding that I suspect has ever been published – with breakdowns by bowler type, position, country and individual fielder (Steve Smith and Kane Williamson come out on top).
Paul Dennett had a similar interest and no less an obsession. Dennett introduces Fielding Scores for every player in IPL 2017 thus:
The lack of any worthwhile fielding statistics has always bothered me.
So for this edition of the IPL I tried to do something about it. I’ve spent the last few weeks reviewing every ball of the group stage of the tournament, creating 1,666 entries in a spreadsheet for all the fielding ‘events’.
It has been an absurd amount of fun.
Data visualisation is an adjunct field to statistics and of ever increasing importance. The strongest example I came across in 2017 was the blog post ‘Bat first or field. The choices teams make in Test cricket‘. It uses a background the colour of a Wisden dust jacket, over which charts, maps and monochrome photos slide in and out of view, as the data and its interpretation gradually unfolds.
Charles Davis is a doyen of cricket statisticians, with a prodigious output of analyses, lists and reports on Z-score’s cricket stats blog. One thrust of Davis’s work is to fill the gaps in 19th and early 20th century match records, by using newspaper archives to recreate the detail with which we have only recently come to expect of the recording of international fixtures. In ‘The Odd Fields of the Early Days‘, Davis has surmised, by studying reports in The Times, where the fielders were positioned at the start of the innings in fourteen late 19th century Tests, illustrating how in 1893, Johnny Briggs bowled to a field with five players positioned between mid-off and mid-on.
Raf Nicholson is also a cricket historian, specialising in women’s cricket, and a moving force behind the CricketHER website. In February, Nicholson published her ‘Thoughts on the batter/batsman debate‘. Her contribution is of note not just because of the side she takes, but because of her command of historical source material. The post also very neatly encapsulates one of the challenges facing girls and women’s cricket: whether the game’s growth will come with closer alignment to the men’s game or striking out and creating a distinctively new sport.
Recent history is the subject matter of That 1980s Sport Blog. Steven Pye’s post on the 1984 County Championship was as entertaining as this introduction promises:
The script would involve an underdog who nearly became a hero; a substitute fielder earning himself legendary status for a county that he never played for; panic on the streets of Chelmsford; a case of so near, yet so far for one team, and unadulterated delight for another. There might not be the angle of a love interest, but come the end of September 11, 1984, Keith Fletcher would quite probably have kissed Richard Ollis in relief.
My eleventh choice comes from Matt Becker’s Limited Overs blog. Becker has woven the personal story with the public cricket narrative as effectively and affectingly as anyone. This was hard, it was fun was Becker’s resurfacing after a one year absence from the blog.
And so I came back here. To write about this game I remembered that I loved, and to get away from the book I don’t want to think about anymore, and to keep writing in a space where I feel comfortable.
Becker fulfils that aim throughout the English/US summer of 2017 until, marking the final day of the England v South Africa series, he discloses his motivation for returning to the blog. It is moving and meaningful blogging.
Limited Overs is one of five blogs in the selection – the others are Being Outside Cricket, liebCricket, Z-score’s cricket stats blog and cricketHER – which published regularly during the year and from which selection of a single post was more difficult. I would encourage readers to spend some time visiting each and find their own favourite.
Last year, I introduced – ironically in terms of my appropriating the title, but genuinely in terms of my appreciation of the blog – the World’s Leading Blogger citation, which (as in Wisden) doesn’t restrict me to mentioning those who have not featured in previous years’ Select XIs. I nominated Backwatersman’s New Crimson Rambler and have come very close to announcing his retention of the WLB status for 2017.
Top of the tree, however, as my favourite blog and nomination for World’s Leading Blogger of 2017 is Peter Hoare’s My Life in Cricket Scorecards. Throughout the UK summer, Hoare blogged weekly about the parallel events – cricket and otherwise – of the summer of 1967, when as a young boy he had seen his home county challenge for honours and win the Gillette Cup. The material was fascinating, the writing crisp and the treatment of that earlier time both respectful and questioning. On top of all of that, the delivery through a cricket blog of a sustained project has taken the medium somewhere new and – for anyone with Hoare’s dedication – fertile.
Please read, share, disagree and generally engage with these and the many other independent cricket writers out there on the web.
Yesterday evening, I wandered around the boundary at Radcliffe CC, watching an under 16 cricket match. The play was of a good standard, but subdued. The two teams had played each other the night before in an exciting Cup Final and this match, despite having the potential to be a league decider, was passing calmly. The scene was peaceful, too. The ground, in bright evening sunshine, was still, belying its elevated situation to the north of Manchester, Pennine hills visible to the east. Family and players from both teams, sitting on the terraced benches rising up to the pavilion, chatted amicably.
The ground stands on the site of an old race course and was first used for cricket in the mid 1870s and has been in continuous use for the sport for 107 years. For an urban-sited ground it is unusually spacious having not experienced the incursions from land sold for housing or from clubhouse extensions to earn the club fees from function room, bar or multi-sports facilities. The boundary, when the full field is in use, is marked by a narrow gutter and whitewashed low brick wall. There’s a low picket fence around one stretch of the field and whitewashed walls mark the club’s curtilige. The playing area shows devoted care that promises batsmen will get the full value of their shots. The outfield may be Test, let alone first-class standard. The square extends two-thirds of a central band running east to west across the ground. The tracks to the east, within 15 metres of the full boundary, are well worn, suggesting their use, not for junior matches but square practice with a mobile cage.
In the break between innings I climbed the steps to the pavilion bar. Charmed as I was by the ground, the bar brought even more treats. On a beam, above the picture windows looking out on the ground, that runs the length of the bar, were photos of each of the club’s professional cricketers. Worrell, Amarnath, Pepper, Sobers, Ramadhin, Pilling, Moseley, of those with instantly recognisable names. In an unlit corner, marked for sponsors, there was a sculpture of Sir Frank Worrell who had pro’d there from 1948-53.
As we drove away from the ground, I told my son that he had been playing at the club where Gary Sobers had played. “Was he famous then?” he asked.
“Oh, yes. He played Test cricket at 17 and held the record for highest individual Test score when he played here.”
“Why did he play here?”
I explained that there was very little money in the game for players before the 1980s and a professional in the Lancashire Leagues would be well paid for one or two days work a week. The key detail I didn’t have to hand, was that until the late 1960s strict residency qualification periods were in force for county cricket. For example, Bill Alley, synonymous with Somerset, spent five years playing league cricket in Lancashire before becoming eligible to join Somerset in his late 30s.
If Sobers had been born 60 years later, he would still have been forced to migrate to make a good living from the game. But not to Lancashire (or Nottinghamshire), unless perhaps for a four week contract covering the final stages of the county T20 Cup, but to Bangalore, Brisbane, Melbourne or Mumbai.
Radcliffe is quieter and less vital than in the heyday of the Lancashire Leagues. The buildings and areas beyond the boundary are looking worn, but good attention seems to be paid to the bit of real estate that matters – the bit in the middle. The junior section thrives and, from my experience of watching three games, has depth and a good friendly spirit.
Next year, the club breaks a tradition of almost 80 years. Radcliffe leaves the Central Lancashire League to join the new Greater Manchester Cricket League. New clubs, fresh players and followers will have the pleasure of playing on and spectating at its excellent ground and pausing in the bar to take in its heritage.
343-7 (88 overs)
Australia’s day: the pitch is benign and conducive to heavy run scoring; seven wickets taken on a day when the bowlers lacked focus and looked only intermittently threatening.
England’s day: took the attack to Australia’s bowlers, scoring at nearly four runs per over across the whole day; Root reinforced his status as the key batsman and Ballance demonstrated he can battle to make runs.
Add to the mix the selective punctuation points of 43-3 and 280-4 and more arguments can be made in favour of one team or the other.
Our keenness to call the first day of the Ashes series suggests it has meaning: setting the tone for cricket to be played across England and Wales over the next seven weeks; establishing advantages and inflicting inferiorities that will recur in the twenty-odd days to come.
Is that the role of the first day of an Ashes series – to create patterns of play and relative position that predict its outcome? I have looked at day 1 of the last ten Ashes series.
2013/14 Brisbane: Australia 273/8 (Warner 49, Haddin 78*, Johnson 64, Broad 5-65)
Day 1 did not foreshadow Australia’s dominance or England’s horrors. In retrospect, it seems a day belonging to the preceding series, rather than the one it started. Haddin’s salvage job on the Australia innings from 100-5 was to become a feature of the series. Johnson, it is often said, bowls better when he has scored runs and that association proved, in this case, true.
2013 Trent Bridge: England 213 (Trott 48, Siddle 5-50), Australia 75-4 (Smith 38*)
It could be argued that day 1 at Nottingham fairly summarised a series where England’s worst could be outdone by Australia’s; or more generously, Australia would be unrewarded for periods of fine cricket (in this case Siddle’s bowling). The only major player on that first day to go on to have distinguished series was Anderson, who took two of the wickets to fall, including Clarke bowled with a gem.
2010/11 Brisbane: England 276 (Bell 76, Cook 67, Pietersen 43, Siddle 6-54), Australia 25-0
England’s disappointing first day of the series (second and third days, as well) were poor indicators of this contest’s ultimate direction. Some of England’s batsmen showed form that was to develop into great richness. Siddle took almost half of his wickets in the series on that first day.
2009 Cardiff: England 336-7 (Pieterson 69, Collingwood 64, Prior 56)
A closely contested day’s play, with the initiative swinging between the sides and no dominant individual performance was a fair microcosm of the 4 and 4/5 Tests that followed.
2006/07 Brisbane: Australia 343/3 (Ponting 137*, Langer 82, Hussey 63*)
It wasn’t the first day that summed up this series, but the very first ball: Harmison’s wide delivered straight to his captain at first slip. Australia cruised to a big total on the first stretch of their cruise to a 5-0 whitewash of England.
2005 Lord’s: Australia 190 (Langer 40, Harmison 5-40), England 92-7 (McGrath 5-21)
This thrilling day was a fitting overture for ‘the greatest series’. It suggested however that England’s best would not be quite enough to topple Australia. The day also impressed on all the importance of McGrath, though noone was thinking about the impact his absence would later have.
2002/03 Brisbane: Australia 364/2 (Hayden 186*, Ponting 123)
Day 1 was one of many in the series that Australia won by a distance. Hayden and Ponting scored heavily while England toiled. Simon Jones’s injury, sliding in the field, was the most serious of a number than hampered England in the matches that followed.
2001 Edgbaston: England 294 (Stewart 65, Atherton 57, Caddick 49*, Warne 5-71, McGrath 3-67), Australia 133/2 (Slater 76*)
A rambunctious first day saw runs scored at almost five per over. The hints on this day of close competition were misleading as England failed to reach 250 in another innings until the fourth Test when the series had already been lost. Warne and McGrath – 8 wickets on the day – kept up their early momentum, sharing 63 wickets in the five Tests.
1998/99 Brisbane: Australia 246/5 (S Waugh 69*, Healy 46*, Taylor 46)
Australia emerged on top after a tightly fought opening day. England could only attain that level of competitiveness sporadically across the series that followed.
1997 Edgbaston: Australia 118 (Warne 47, Gough 3-43, Caddick 5-50), England 200-3 (Hussain 83*, Thorpe 80*)
England had a first innings lead before the end of the first day. It was an aberration, although not one Australia could correct until the second Test (England bowled out for 77). By the fifth of the six Test series, Australia had a 3-1 lead.
Five of these first days proved to be fair indicators of the direction the series would ultimately take. There were too many false clues laid, however, for any reliance to be placed on the first day as a predictor of the cricket that follows.
Luke Wells straightened from his crouch, like a rifle, butt and barrel aligned. He took in the umpire’s raised finger and turned towards the stumps and waited, as though stillness was needed for the disappointment to settle on him. The Sussex batsman had reached this final match of the 2014 season averaging under 30 and without a century. He had batted to lunch at Northampton, on a tricky morning when 41 wickets fell across the country, and into the afternoon to make 81.
Two days later, batting again, Wells made determined, cautious progress until bad light left him 91*. The next morning, the very last of the 2014 season, Wells crept towards his hundred, eventually reaching it and mopping his brow before raising his bat – the gesture of relief preceding that of celebration. On he batted, doubling his previous best of the year to finish on 162.
The batsman who has struggled for runs must find comfort in striking form at the tail end of the season. There will be fresh memories to sustain and create expectation for the following spring. But won’t there also be regret? That tiny technical adjustment, that sliver of luck, that random dose of form – had any come earlier, the long summer days could have been prosperous not a struggle. Or maybe doubts steal in: it was a one-off, in a match with nothing to play for against a weakened opposition; a tainted ton.
Luke Wells enters autumn ruing that his best form came so late in the summer, but rewarded by Sussex with a new contract, giving a focus for spring. A young man, Wells could easily find somewhere to play cricket this winter, to make his rich form a patch, not a spot.
At the end of every season there will be players reaching their peak just as everyone else is ready to pack up. One hundred years before Wells, at the same Northampton ground, Geoffrey Davies of Essex rounded off his season with 118. Davies was probably thinking of action overseas in the winter – not on the hard tracks of the Southern Hemisphere, but on what was to become the sodden battleground of the Western Front. He didn’t need to wait until spring to represent his county again, however, as he spent the next 12 months in the Essex Regiment.
In 1914, the County Championship stuttered to a close as the British Expeditionary Force found its feet and very soon combat action in Europe. Kitchener’s New Army was to take recruits from England’s county game. Davies, an undergraduate and potential Test cricketer had just two years of first class cricket before joining the military.
Late in the next season that never was, Temporary Captain Davies was leading his men into action at Hulluch in France. Lethal miscommunication saw his regiment surrounded by the enemy. The regiment suffered 80% casualties, amongst them Davies, shot dead, 99 years to the day before Wells’ season-ending century.
For Wells and so many others who find late season form, it raises hopes of a fruitful new season. For Davies, his late season form was the last and unfulfilled best.
If Indian cricket fans needed a 24 hour telephone help-line, this could be the number. It’s the sequence of five innings scores that saw the optimism of leading the series after Lord’s get swung and spun into humiliating defeat.
Five consecutive sub-200 run completed innings in Test cricket is a rarity. It’s 55 years since India’s only ever previous sequence of this kind – also in an away series against England. In 1959, they faced Trueman and Statham. But just as in 2014 it wasn’t always Anderson and Broad who took the wickets, so Tommy Greenhough (a Lancashire leg-spinner), Harold Rhodes and Brian Close prospered in that earlier series.
Scoring fewer than 200 runs in a completed innings is itself not unusual. There have been 1,478 instances in the 2,137 Test matches played to date. 28% of all completed innings fail to top 200. What is rare, in Test history, is the run of these run-shy innings.
The longest sequence suffered by a Test team stretches over 11 Test matches and four years. From July 1886 to August 1890, Australia were dismissed by England 21 times in succession for scores as low as 42, but never higher than 176. Every match, but one, was lost. In July 1888, scores of 116 and 60 by Australia were sufficient for a victory at Lord’s with the comfortable margin of 60 runs.
The late 1880s were a period of exceptional low scoring in Test cricket. In four of the Tests that feature in Australia’s skid, England set their own record of eight consecutive innings without making 200, while winning three of the matches.
South Africa own the equal second longest streak of this kind, which began in the late 1880s and continued until the second half of the next decade. These were the African colony’s first six Test matches, all played at home against England and lost.
Bangladesh have also endured a run of 12 innings of sub-200 scores. It started 13 months after their Test debut, when they had not only topped 200 but reached 400. Dizzy heights. Across seven Tests, in four countries on three continents, Bangladesh went from December 2001 until October 2002 making 12 scores between 108 and 184.
The West Indies were another side to find 200 too steep for a period of their early days in Test match cricket. In their first series away in Australia in 1931, the West Indies had six consecutive sub-200 scores. They broke that sequence at Sydney in February 1931 with their first victory away from home, losing only 11 wickets in the match.
Two other Test teams have had runs of six completed innings below 200. New Zealand in England in 1958 didn’t even make it to three figures four times out of the six innings. Australia in 1979, rebuilding without most of their established stars who were playing World Series Cricket, finished the Ashes with five scores below 200 and started a series away in Pakistan with a sixth.
Then one notch down comes the India team of 2014. Not a nation at the outset of its Test career; not battling in tense encounters on uncovered nineteenth century pitches; not deprived of its finest players by defection or selection.
India’s streak is alive, although its prognosis is poor. Their next Test match starts on 31 October at the Hyderabad (Deccan) ground [note 1], where India’s lowest completed innings score in three Tests is 438. The opponents are the West Indies who conceded 453 and 495 in India’s two innings in Tendulkar’s farewell series last autumn. It will take something truly wretched for the India team of 2014 to go one step further and become holders of the joint fourth longest streak of sub-200 Test match innings scores.
Note 1: India did not play their next Test in October, because of the abandonment of the West Indies series owing to the tourists’ dispute with their Board. The start of India’s next series, in Australia, was delayed for compassionate reasons. Their opportunity to end this streak will take place at Adelaide, where India have only once been dismissed for less than 200. Their most recent innings at Adelaide (January 2012), however, only amounted to 201.
(updated 7 December 2014)
On Saturday I went to Lord’s with my older son for the first time. There, we met my Dad and, three generations together, spent a day watching England play India. It’s 36 years since my Dad first took me to Lord’s – to see England play Pakistan. I can, through first-hand, personal experience, account for one-sixth of the duration of the Home of Cricket, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year. My Dad, although a Surrey man, spans nearly one-third of the great ground’s existence since his first visit. This sport, conventionally seen as so ancient, can easily have large chunks of its familiar chronology bitten off by two generations of one family.
I recently joined the Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians (ACS). Inadvertently, my first contribution to the Association’s on-line discussion site prompted a very reflective response by a Committee member, which included consideration of the question of what the Association should consider as ‘history’.
I don’t think we’ve ever defined when “history” stops for ACS purposes. The end of WW2 has been suggested but I feel that is too long ago. I think we’ve reached the stage where the Packer Affair, for instance, or the shenanigans around sanctions-busting tours to apartheid South Africa, are definitely “history” rather than “current affairs”. As a rule of thumb (I reiterate this is a personal view) I’d suggest that anything is “history” if it is far enough back not to involve the careers of any current players.
Where does history stop for cricket? The Committee member provided an answer for an Association that serves people who have a keen interest in the sport’s past. I wanted to see if I could formulate a definition that could be applied more broadly.
One approach would be to set an absolute date, probably based upon an event that is seen as marking a significant change in the sport or in its context. The end of World War Two is an example. Or, a date that has a feel about it, even if it doesn’t hold as the boundary between eras. This is how I can explain my undergraduate modern history course (1986-89) topping out in 1964. Somewhere between the beginning of sexual intercourse and the summer of love; inclusive of the Hungarian uprising against the Soviet Union, but not the Prague Spring; historicising JFK but not LBJ.
The end of history could be seen as a relative point in time. The point at which none of the major protagonists is still living (or in cricket terms, playing) is one such criterion. History would hold still for years and then with the passing of Michael Foot, Emperor Hirohito or retirement of Sachin Tendulkar, it would jump forward. The 1992 World Cup became history in November last year when Tendulkar retired. It will be joined by the 1996 tournament when Chanderpaul steps aside (assuming he outlasts Jacques Kallis).
I favour another method of distinguishing between that which is history and that which is too recent to be considered so. It depends upon an understanding of history as a discipline. Crudely, history is the creation of a narrative. Narratives are of course constructed continually in, and about, the present. The feature of the historical narrative is that it applies an interpretative layer, without which its subject could not be understood by the non-expert reader of the present day. History, therefore, applies when the events described cannot readily be made sense of; or, the interpretation of those events through the lense of contemporary assumptions would create serious misunderstandings. We rely, therefore, on experts – historians – to tell us the story of a time that isn’t easily grasped. That’s not to say that historians don’t mislead, just that their aim is to help the reader with an imaginative leap. The past is a foreign country. Cricket’s past is an overseas tour.
This line of thinking leads to cricket’s history being seen in different strata. Starting with the unembellished action on the field: a cricket match viewed from 20, 50, even 100 years ago would be followed and absorbed without great difficulty. The essence of the contest, the range of skills displayed and tactics employed show variety around a strong core of consistency. Extremes around, say, the coping with uncovered wickets after a soaking may startle the modern viewer – but they’re not a great distance from cricket’s current grassroots game. If we go back to the Golden Age, the modern viewer may be perplexed by the sight of the chap with the big beard stooping to pick up and replace the bail before taking guard again, but we may be straying into myth, not history.
If the cricket played on the field is cut loose from its context, I would argue that the results and the action from the past 100-130 years are clear enough to the modern viewer so as to not require the intervention of an historian. The argument is artificial, though, as the modern follower does not have access to footage of the game that would allow him or her to gain an appreciation of what “was goin’ off out there”. Having tried to show my younger son the wonder of Dennis Lillee, he would contend that the material available from 30 years ago is inadequate. Match reports would be the source material. Sampling extracts of Wisden from the last 120 years, I think the language with which the game is described would be accessible, without an interpretative gloss.
The game on the field is never loosed from the context of the sport it represents: who the teams are, why they are playing each other, what’s at stake, who gets selected. This is the second stratum of cricket for which I’ll seek an historical end point.
Cricket’s culture and structures can dominate discussion on non-playing and playing days. But how far back would a lay reader be liable to misunderstand this ever-present context of the game? In English domestic cricket, a couple of junctures stand out. There’s the abolition of the professional and amateur statuses in 1962. Later, the introduction of the mixed economy of cricket competitions, 3-day, limited overs league and knockout, starting in 1963, but only really re-shaping the season from 1972.
The third stratum that may have an historical endpoint is where cricket is seen fully in its social context. When cricket was a sport of popular working class interest, attracting thousands to its domestic matches, the spectators were watching men like themselves, brought up in rural and industrial landscapes. As great a paradox as the amateurs making more from the sport than the professionals, is that once the game became wholly professional it became a more middle-class sport to play and to follow. Cricket, as an activity for millions of men in post-war austerity England, is a leap from its early 21st Century appearance.
I am favouring a date in the late 1950s to early 1960s as the end-point of history for English cricket, taking account of the sporting and social context. Other countries – and indeed the international game – may, using my method, settle on different, probably more recent, dates. The acceleration of the Indian economy over the last twenty years may, for example, mean that the years that preceded it need to be treated as history. The international game, increasingly shaped by Indian money, may need to consider as historical all the eras where other countries held sway.
Cricket in England, a sport that often seems uncomfortable in the present, has less history than we commonly imagine. The game on the field has altered, but not fundamentally. The more malleable sporting and social context, is still recognisable a couple of generations ago.
By pushing back history, I do not deny there are great and complex stories that we understand better when an expert writes. Merely, that the expertise is in economics, finance, politics, the law, international relations, sports science, mass communications or simply the ability to sift evidence to present a coherent narrative. These play a part in helping us to understand cricket’s present and recent past. But they are not the distinctive skill of the historian: to bring clarity to the actions of people from a past who had different values, assumptions and constraints to our own.
England’s series loss to Sri Lanka in Leeds came to its dramatic crescendo while the England football team were in the closing minutes of their World Cup campaign. Being England’s second most popular team sport doesn’t mean that cricket comes anywhere close to football in popularity. And that provided Alastair Cook, Peter Moores and the ECB some protection when the mass media were deciding their targets the following day.
The media now is fragmented and specialised. Cricket-folk read cricinfo, their favourite cricket journalists on newspapers’ online outlets and debate the matters of the day on twitter and forums. This, you may have thought, was self-evident, but not to England’s Managing Director who was taken aback by the force of social media comment when he conspired to rid English cricket of Kevin Pietersen.
Until the 1980s saw an expansion in sports coverage, topical sports news was fitted into two or three broadsheet pages, maybe five or six tabloid. A Test series defeat during a World Cup would only get prominence relative to the other sports stories of the day. A specialist media, feeding off each other’s scoops, interviews and polemics, existed within the press box, but didn’t play out its jostling for position for the enthusiasts in the public to enjoy.
Cricket has been England’s summer sport, only insofar as World Cups, European Championships and Olympics don’t crowd it out of the spotlight. This post looks at cricket stories prior to the 1980s that today’s specialist media would have savoured, or feasted upon, but in the past were booted from the back page by reports, results and previews of the World Cup.
1954 World Cup in Switzerland
In the Final played on the 4 July, West Germany defeated the favourites Hungary, ending their 32 game unbeaten run. Hungary had beaten the Germans 8-3 two weeks earlier, but with their star, Puskas, not fully fit, and his late equaliser ruled out by a linesman for off-side, West Germany won the Final 3-2.
The Final fell on the rest day of Pakistan’s second Test match in England. Anticipation of the match in Berne would have displaced some of the reflection of an awesome innings played by Denis Compton at Trent Bridge. He amassed 278 in a little under five hours. Compton shared stands of 154 in 85 minutes with Graveney and 192 in under two hours with Bailey. “Compton sent the bowling to all parts of the field with a torrent of strokes, orthodox and improvised, crashing and delicate, against which Kardar could not set a field and the bowlers knew not where to pitch” (Wisden). Rain took the game into a fourth day, but Pakistan fell 129 runs short of making England bat again.
1962 World Cup in Chile
Brazil retained their world champion status, beating Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the Final on 17 June.
The aristocrats of world football managed to overshadow one of the aristocrats of English cricket. In a county game at Tunbridge Wells (16-19 June), Ted Dexter had a near faultless all-round performance. On the first day, he took six wickets in dismissing Kent for 187. Sussex lost three early wickets, before Dexter added 205 in 125 minutes with Ken Suttle. Dexter scored a century; Suttle made a maiden double-hundred. Two hundred runs ahead, Dexter took another four wickets and the game was won before lunch on day three.
The 1966 World Cup in England
England’s campaign began on 11 July with a 0-0 draw with Uruguay, prompting much discussion about how far the home team could progress in the tournament.
England’s Test series with West Indies was put on hold for 30 days so that the main event of the cricket season would not compete directly with a force greater than it could muster. The West Indies continued their tour and played a three day match at Canterbury while the England football team were getting their tournament under way at Wembley. Late on the 11 July, Sobers took two wickets bowling fast at the start of Kent’s second innings. The next morning, he switched to left-arm wrist-spin and dismissed the county for 124, taking 9-49, and securing an innings victory.
The 1970 World Cup in Mexico
Brazil defeated Italy 4-1 on 21 July, to achieve a third World Cup victory and become the permanent holders of the Jules Rimet Trophy. Their team, supported by the results and playing style, is recognised as one of the greatest World Cup teams ever.
Across the Atlantic, another all-time great team was assembled. The Rest of the World took on England in the first of the five Test series, that had been scheduled for South Africa. The First Test at Lord’s (17-22 July) was a triumph for a cricketer as iconic to his sport as Pele was to football: Garry Sobers. Swing bowling in England’s first innings brought him 6-21. He top-scored, with 183, in the only innings the Rest of the World would need in this game. Switching again to slow bowling, Sobers picked up two second innings wickets.
1974 World Cup in West Germany
Dutch Total Football, exemplified by Johan Cruyff, lost to West Germany in the Final held on 7 July. Two controversial penalties awarded by referee, Jack Taylor, meant that one Englishman had an influence on a tournament for which the England team had not qualified.
The England cricket team found no barriers to their progress that summer. The third Test against India was played at Edgbaston on 4-8 July. England became the third side in Test history to win a match losing only two wickets. Their first innings of 459-2d featured a century from Mike Denness and 214* by David Lloyd.
The meaning of the term, ‘Mankading’ is well understood in cricket (running out the non-striker backing up too far). Vinoo Mankad’s son, Ashok, could have been the source of an alternative sense. He was dismissed in the second innings hit wicket when playing a short ball from Chris Old, his cap fell backwards onto his stumps knocking off a bail.
1978 World Cup in Argentina
Scotland’s inflated expectations bumped up against unexpected defeat, a red card and a drugs test failure before a 3-2 victory over Netherlands on on 11 July left them eliminated on goal difference.
While the UK digested this news, an odd and very nearly tragic incident in county cricket took place. By 1978, batsmen were routinely wearing helmets for protection. Close fielders were also crouching under hard-hats. Phillip Russell of Derbyshire, fielding at short-leg took a blow on the visor from a fiercely hit shot by Malcolm Nash at Chesterfield, fracturing his cheek bone. The ball lodged in the helmet and an appeal for a catch made. Dickie Bird called ‘dead ball’, a decision endorsed afterwards by the authorities.
The first item in this list was to have been England’s World Cup Finals debut in Brazil in 1950. England, strongly fancied for the title, lost 1-0 to the part-timers of the USA. That same day, 29 June 1950, the West Indies won their first Test match in England, defeating the hosts at Lord’s by 326 runs.18 wickets were taken by the 20 year old spin bowlers Ramadhin (11) and Valentine (8). The three Ws accumulated 97, 125 and 182 runs each in the match (Walcott scoring an unbeaten 168).
In background reading for this post, I was surprised to find that few reporters had travelled to Brazil from Europe, let alone England. In this instance, it was the England Test team’s defeat that provided cover to their humbled football brothers. A rare case of football being driven from the back page.
The rain drops that didn’t soak us on their way down splashed up at our ankles. England’s Ashes defeat was a bruise on our recent memory, the ongoing ODI series a succession of painful pokes and jars. But my parents and I were minutes from an experience that chased away the staleness and ill-humour of the wettest, most unrewarding winter of following the England cricket team.
We stepped inside the museum entrance, stamping our damp feet, paid for three inexpensive tickets and were led upstairs, past pictures and figures, teasers for the images and objects of the main display. An hour and half later we left the Cotswold Cricket Museum, enthused by this unique collection of the sport’s history and made so welcome by the owner, director and curator, Andy Collier.
Following this visit in February, I got back in touch with the man behind the world’s only privately owned cricket museum, found in Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire. Andy agreed to answer some questions about his life, his museum and his mission.
I started with a topical question:
DG: England’s ‘solar red’ shirts worn at the World T20 came in for a lot of comment and criticism. Would you welcome one into your collection?
AC: T20 cricket is not something that floats my boat! I have never been a great lover of coloured clothing so the ‘solar red’ shirt grates a bit. As for putting one in the museum, well, I’m trying to promote the history of our great game and I feel England’s performance in the T20 world cup should be forgotten! So, no, I won’t be putting a shirt in.
DG: Which was the first historical cricket item you collected and how did you come to own it?
AC: The first thing I collected was not necessarily historical, it was a cold cast porcelain statue of Don Bradman.
DG: When did you realise you were hooked on collecting cricket memorabilia?
AC: The realisation of being hooked on collecting and learning about the history of the great game came when I found a signed photo of Don Bradman when clearing a friend’s shed out. I had already collected about 12-15 other statues of great players by then.
DG: How and when did it develop from a passion to an occupation?
AC: The museum came about after we had an exhibition in my home town of Guildford. I had purchased a lovely photo of the 1911/12 MCC team to Australia which was formerly the property of Hampshire player Phil Mead who went on the tour. After I had cleaned the original frame and put a new mount on it and hung it on the wall, it looked fantastic. I thought to myself, I’m the only person going to see this! So that was when the light bulb moment came for the exhibition in Guildford.
The thing with collectors and collecting is that you are generally the only person who gets to enjoy what you have. I was always keen to let people see the collection.
DG: One of the most striking things for me about your museum is its informality – by which I mean I could hold bats used by Hobbs and Grace. How do you strike a balance between giving a hands-on experience and protecting the valuable exhibits?
AC: When visiting other museums it was always frustrating that things were behind glass, in cabinets etc. So it was always my idea to let the visitor get close up and personal with things. It’s been great to see the reaction of people when they hold W.G.’s bat, or I can let people try on Hobbs’s cap. It makes them feel part of the history and gives a different kind of museum experience.
DG: I coach at a club with a thriving junior section. I do notice, though, that most of the kids don’t seem to follow the county or even international game. Do you get many children visiting the museum?
AC: I am always trying to get the kids involved and try and tell them about the history of the great game. We are certainly getting more kids in now that the museum is getting more established.
That is one of the ideas of the quiz – it makes you read things on the wall, bats, pictures etc and takes you through some of the major parts of the development of the game. It is proving very popular with all ages and can actually end up with people staying all-day, then saying “what a good idea – a great quiz – it really encouraged us to look at all the things on display”.
DG: As a private owner of a cricket museum, you are unique. Are you in touch with the curators at other museums, such as the one at Lord’s and, if so, have they been supportive?
AC: When I first started the museum I contacted Lord’s and told them what I was doing. They actually offered me for display the Patrick Eagar photo exhibition which they still had, but it was just too much to fit in the space I have. Also the curators of the museums at Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and a few more have been in and loved it. So, all have been very encouraging.
DG: In the last 20 years, cricket has become heavily packaged and commercialised. Do you think in generations time there will be the same interest in 2014 T20 shirts that we have in artefacts from, say, the 1920s?
AC: Will new things be as collectable in the future? There’s a question! One problem with, say today’s autographs, is that it is impossible to read who they are without the name being printed by the side. So, I think they won’t be so collectable, plus the players sign so much there are plenty about. Shirts, etc need quite a lot of space, especially if they are framed so that limits their value. But the vintage pieces I think will always hold their value because of the rarity and significance to the past, plus, you can read the autographs.
But I suppose we will never really know! We are only custodians of all these lovely things so we can only hope that museums like the Cotswold Cricket Museum will inspire the younger generation to collect and keep the history alive.
DG: You have managed to acquire some personal effects – shirts, boots, blazers, and also letters. I was particularly interested in Sir Alec Bedser’s letter to the Lancs Chairman with suggestions on improving Jimmy Anderson’s bowling action. How have such private items come into your hands? How do you judge which to display?
AC: Most of the significant items have been purchased at specialised auctions which I have, on occasions, had to bid hard to purchase. But I find that if the item is interesting to me then it will probably be interesting to other people, especially if I can tell them the history to that item, which always adds to things. Many people who come to the museum have happy memories of watching the players that are featured in the museum such as Fred Trueman, Denis Compton or Ian Botham.
DG: I think the museum is a ‘must’ to visit for all cricket followers – the opportunity to hold a bat used by Jack Hobbs is worth the visit alone. Which one item in your collection would you say is the biggest draw?
AC: There are so many things in the museum that amaze people so to pick one item is difficult. But the letter from Alec Bedser to Jack Simmons, which is giving a young Jimmy Anderson a few tips to improve his action and foot position, is mentioned by most people.
My personal favourites are the letters written to the 19th century Kent cricketer, Alfred Mynn and his wife, by their daughters in 1840-44. The girls are between 10 – 14 years old and the hand writing is just immaculate, very different from today when we all send text messages and hardly ever write a letter! Perhaps a note in a Christmas card is our limit.
Cricket inspires activity beyond simply playing or watching the game. It sustains writers, photographers, artists and statisticians. Andy Collier might have invested more than anyone in his cricket-inspired occupation and we are fortunate to be able to share it. I really do recommend you pay a visit to the Cotswold Cricket Museum.
The museum’s official site: http://www.cotswoldcricketmuseum.co.uk/
Follow the museum or Andy Collier on twitter: @Cricket_Museum @CotswoldColly
Disclosure: I have received no payment for this piece and where I express an opinion, it is my own.