It is high summer in Leicestershire and it is a glorious early evening. For someone who played his schoolboy cricket in Hampshire, Sussex and Somerset, and now watches his son play on the league grounds of Lancashire which are utterly urban, Leicestershire takes on the character of an unsought dream. The fields are in stubble and dotted with neat hay stacks, like chip towers served in some affected restaurant*.
The village pub that Third Man is staying in has at 8pm and without warning told him that no food is served on a Monday and he sets off irritated and intemperate in search of a pub that will serve him. Three disappointing attempts later he is driving down a country road between the villages of Church Langton and Thorpe Langton when hunger finally sends him into delirium.
On the roadside, in the gloaming, between high trees, he spots the spectre of an enchanted cricket ground. Passing by in an instant he is certain that he has seen the mythic cricket ground that all lovers of the game believe one day they will stumble on.
It cannot be, so he drives on; his need for food and the lateness of the hour getting the better of his cricketing instincts. But a mile or so down the road by the village sign of Thorpe Langton he finds his senses, turns the car, follows his nose and, not really expecting actually to find a cricket ground behind those trees, drives west cheating the evening.
But here it is** Exactly where he glimpsed it. A small country cricket ground surrounded by trees, and easily missed from the road. With good sight screens and a set of expensive covers. He turns left down a lane to the corner of the ground, parks the car and walks in through a short track. The groundsman is watering a wicket used that day. Four or five players still in their whites are sitting outside the pavilion, finishing their beer and talking of the day.
Third Man stands in awe. Still disbelieving. Pinching himself. Hunger and thirst have gone. He is in a special place. He waits while the light entirely dies and only the painted skeleton of the pavilion can be seen by mortal eyes. The players have drifted home. With care, the groundsman has coiled his hose and locked away the roller in its shed. All but Third Man have amble down that short track to the village.
He turns to follow them. Half in jest – the moment has been so utterly entrancing – he says out loud, “Naturally there’ll be the perfect pub just through there.”
And there is! The Bell Inn. Because this is East Langton Cricket Club. It’s players are so fortunate.
And once, a few years back, Dexter played here. Now that would have been a vision.
* The peerless Peter Ashley of Unmitigated England fame photographed these towers at about the same time that Third Man was visiting Leicestershire.
** The excellent Liberal England has kindly posted a photograph of the ground and allowed TM to link to it here.