Monthly Archives: May 2010

Now in Maytime

XVII

Twice a week the winter through
  Here stood I to keep the goal:
Football then was fighting sorrow
  For the young man's soul.

Now in Maytime to the wicket
  Out I march with bat and pad:
See the son of grief at cricket
  Trying to be glad.

Try I will; no harm in trying:
  Wonder 'tis how little mirth
Keeps the bones of man from lying
  On the bed of earth.

 From A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Housman 1887

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Besides Runs and Wickets

“There is an element of the heroic in cricket which is not found in other games, at least so it strikes me.  I can imagine Agamemnon, Achilles, and their peers not unbecomingly engaged in a cricket match.  Cricket is worth working at and thinking about … (We) should try of (ourselves) to find out what there is in cricket besides runs and wickets.  There is much indeed.  There is a charm that is too subtle to be thought out and expressed, though it can be felt and enjoyed.”

With a shirt of Indian Silk

Ranjitsinhji wrote these words in his Jubilee Book of Cricket a hundred years ago.  It was a book with which a keen young person and a parent or two without ever having played cricket themselves could learn the game from scratch.  Many bought it and did so.

Ranji had taken this path himself.  He was born in 1872 in the village of Sarodar, Nawanagar, the adopted son of His Highness Vibhaji, Maharaja Jam Saheb of Nawanagar and therefore ‘a scion of one of the oldest clans in the world’. 

He was educated at Rajkumar College which seems to have many parallels with Millfield – founded for the education of Indian Princes with an old Cambridge Blue for a Principal who, in 1888, took his pupil on a visit to England and in particular to the Oval to see an Australian team that included McDonnell, Turner and Trott.

At Cambridge, it took Ranji three seasons to get into his college XI and a further year to be accepted for a trial for the University side.  The fact that ‘having broken through’ he played in every subsequent match would indicate that he spent a good deal of the first few of those years learning to play (working and thinking about the game) and the remaining years discriminated against.

Shri Kumar Ranjitsinhji, Vibhaji Jadeja Maharaja of Nawanagar

His batting was considered unusual.  He played strange new strokes.  As G.F. McCleary, an eyewitness to this formative stage in Ranji’s career, remarks, “He played balls to leg as nobody had ever played balls to leg before.”

The profusion of runs that he had scored was put down to the poor ‘third class’ quality of the bowling, but the wealthy Ranji had paid some of the best English professionals to bowl to him.

Of Ranji in 1893 McClearly describes ‘a slim, lithe figure.  On the field he wore a shirt of fine Indian silk which rippled in a fascinating way when he moved.  He fielded at short slip and made wonderful catches.  (A sign of a great eye, TM) He was not then the powerful hitter he became in later years; he scored most of his runs by late cuts and his own exquisite leg glance; but the grace, ease and finish of his play were delightful to watch.’

He was a great run getter. In 1896 he headed the national averages, scoring 2,780 runs and breaking the record held by W.G..  In 1899 he scored over 3,000 runs and repeated this feat in 1900, in that year averaging 87 with five ‘doubles’ to his credit.

Yet in that record breaking year of 1896, the MCC selection committee failed to include him in the side for the first Test against the visiting Australians to be played at Lord’s on the grounds that it doubted whether an Indian could be properly included in an England representative team.

For the second Test at Manchester, the Lancashire selectors invited Ranji to play.  Ranji hesitated to accept before he could be assured that the Australians had no objection.  Trott replied that the Australians had no objection whatsoever and would be delighted to have Ranji play in that or any other Test.

The England side that played against Australia three years later in 1899 at Trent Bridge

England relied on only three front line bowlers. Australia won the toss and scored 412 on an excellent wicket for batting.  They then bowled England out for 231.  Ranji all but top scored with 62.  England were asked to follow on and had lost their fourth wicket at 109, by the close of play, still 72 runs adrift.

The third day looked no more than a formality for Australia and, when England’s sixth wicket fell at 179, they were still two runs behind.  But the 23 year old debutante was still in, having reached 50 in 85 minutes.  And on he went, whipping the straight ball to leg in a manner not seen in Test cricket before and describe as ‘amazing’.  All that work and thought having paid dividends.  Practice and think, practice and think.

Ranji’s second fifty took 45 minutes.    Not out 154, he had given England a 124 run lead and a chance, a small chance. 

Australia went in at 2.50pm needing 125 to win.  For just over three hours Richardson bowled unchanged, taking 6 for 76 in 42.3 overs before Australia limped over the line with three wickets to spare.  [85 overs in 190 minutes!]

Yes, there is more to be found in cricket besides runs and wickets.  In the life and play of Ranjitsinhji we find ‘a charm that is too subtle to be thought out and expressed, though it can be felt and enjoyed’.

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The Waggoner’s Tale

Dick Carter was nearing the end of a long day.  It was his last load into Andover.  Ahead was a pint or two at the Collage Inn and a mattress in the stable, a few jobs on the morrow and after that a load to take back to Farnham.  He’d sleep at home tomorrow night.

Making his way by Batchelor’s Barn he spied men playing at cricket and halted his team to take a look.  Like many before and since it was not possible for Dick to pass a game of cricket without checking the score.

“How be on Lumpy?” he shouted to a sweating player fielding at Third Man.

“Ney s’ bad, Dick.  We notched 166.”

“Who be we?”

“His Grace the Duke of Dorset.  I’m England today.  And they be the ‘Dons.

“Hambledon? You hav’em by the throat?”

“Not yet.  Sueter, Nyren and Taylor have swiped a few.  And Francis and Small.”

“Who’s that in now?”

“Tis Great Aylward, tenth man today.”

“You’ll not be in the field much longer.”

Dick watched a while as Lumpy took his turn to bowl.

“Bullen, cover the middle wicket and point”

“What – out, to save two runs?

“Why, you would not play to save one on this ground.”

“I would when you bowls, Lumpy.”

The evening passed well for Dick, kept company by old waggoning friends from Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire, and a few from Wessex on their way to Town.   Talk of the Revolutionary War was heated and one Foxite up from the West Country had to be dunked in the Anton before the night was over.

The morning loads took longer than he’d hoped and its was late in the day when the team passed Bachelor’s Barn on their way back to Farnham.

Here he again pulled up his team to check the score.

“Why, Lumpy, you still in the field!”

“That b***er Aylward batted all nite and all this fore noon.  He’s on 167 and the ‘Dons are 403.”

“That’s one more than you lot got together.”

“Aye, no one never seen the like.”

“Tis a year to fear.  Too many sevens.”

“1777’s lucky for Jim Aylward though.”

***********

Some say that Aylward’s record score, which stood unsurpassed for over forty years, was made in Sevenoaks Vine.  But Third Man believes the Farnham Waggoner’s Tale.

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Wessex Cricket – Past and Future

In his comment here two days ago Chunter asked, “Zaheer Abbas, Itchen Abbas … Where will it end?” 

Composition VII - Three Grace by Theo van Doesgurg. Its companion piece Composition VIII - Five Abbases is missing. We can only speculate.

Indeed in the 1860s the Abbas family were strong enough to take on the Graces and the Pococks.  Among others from the family they could count on the very fine opener Milton Abbas, the controversially straight playing Melbury Abbas, the left arm lob bowler Cerne Abbas, whose rugged style seemed carved out of rock,  the inclement Winterbourne Abbas and of course Sherton Abbas, whose steepling catch that day was immortalized by Thomas Hardy in Far From the Maddening Crowd.

The fierce borderlands where it is difficult for the lone horseman to know whether he is in Dorset or Somerset or Wiltshire have always produced their share of celebrated cricketers.

Third Man still has vivid dreams of the time when the Squire took we rustics cricketers by “char-à-banc” to play a game of London cricket at Nether Bockhampton –  he and the gentlemen of our band insisting on the extra stumps and other unfamiliar ‘laws’ of the metropolitan form of the game.

Setting off! The by then Old Squire's char-à-banc still in use at the turn of the century ignites so many memories of journies to and from distant cricketing challenges

The side we encountered, led by the All England player, Tarrant Crawford, included Melcombe Bingham; Alton Pancras; the very quick round arm blacksmith, Toller Fratrum; the wicket keeper Caundle Marsh whose great grandson went on to keep for the Antipodeans; the poet and aesthete Hazelbury Bryan; Bradford Peverell; the suitably nicknamed Beer Hackett; the newspaper correspondents Sandford Orcas and Preston Plucknett – the later with an action suspected by many; Lychett Matravers recently returned from the East Indies; the philosopher Kingston Russell and their notcher, none other than Winfrith Newburgh.

If certain Radicals have their way at the ECB and five cricketing regions are created, Wessex cricket may yet have its best days before it.

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Taking it on the chin.

Recently Peter Roebuck recalled captaining Somerset when Neil Mallender bowled the last over of a match, much reduced by rain, to Glamorgan’s Ravi Shastri.  Usually Mallender landed his yorkers well, but on this occasion two of the deliveries were lifted over the long-on boundary. 

‘As we trooped disconsolate from the arena, the cover fieldsman came across and remarked how interesting it had been that Shastri had taken his stance a foot inside his crease. Suffice it to say that captain and bowler pointed out how much more helpful this comment would have been two minutes earlier,’ writes Roebuck.

Another helpful thing to be told by those with a little more knowledge than you was that Andy Roberts had a very quick bouncer and then … an even quicker bouncer.  The first you hit for four, the second hit you for six.

At Southampton in June 1974 either no-one thought to share this information with the young Somerset cricketer playing up in the 1st Team from the IIs or the old pros were having a laugh at his expense.  Whichever, the eighteen year old’s eyes duly lit up (briefly) when he saw the second short ball from Andy Roberts coming towards him.

The ever affable Peter Sainsbury helping a slim Ian Botham back to the dressing room for treatment after he had failed to pick Andy Robert's wrong 'un

At the fall of a wicket, Botham bravely returned to the field and by doing so initiated Somerset’s love affair with him.

This fate also fell to Vijay Madhavji Merchant  forty years before.  Merchant was playing for Bombay Presidency against Douglas Jardine’s M.C.C side and facing Nichols, the Essex fast bowler, when he was struck by a ball that badly split his chin and he too had to be led from the field.

In the dressing room a doctor patched him up and, refusing to let him look at a mirror (still called a looking glass in those days), sent him back out to resume his innings.  He stayed three hours and, to borrow the period expression used by Wisden in its 1938 Cricketer of the Year citation, ‘took out his bat’ for 67 not out.

Wisden goes on, ‘Prior to that game Merchant, as he himself admits, felt a slight apprehension in facing fast bowling.  Since, he has feared no bowler, and this is how the transition occurred.’

A thoroughly modern Merchant driving chest on

Merchant played in only 10 Test matches all against England but in his eleven innings he scored 859 runs at an average of 47.72 with a top score of 154.  In first class cricket he scored over 13,000 runs at an average of 71.64 with a highest score of 359 not out a performance that comes closer to Bradman’s than anyone else.

Overcoming slight apprehension, Merchant seems to have learnt to appreciate chin music.  Not knowling any apprehension in the first place,  Botham became a rock and roller.

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Challenging Cricket

Ever since the enthusiasts of Itchen Abbas, looking round them for some opponents, sent out an invitation to those from Slindon to meet them literally ‘half way’ on the perfect natural wicket at Broadhalfpenny Down,  Hambledon, the challenge has lain at the heart of cricket.

Yesterday, in a time honoured tradition, the final year pupils of Stonyhurst College, known in Roman fashion as the Rhetoricians sent out their challenge written in Latin to the ten year olds of the Hodder Playroom, the Hoddericians, who valiantly replied again in Latin accepting the challenge and inviting their opponents to meet them on their awesome ground at St Mary’s Hall, watched over by Pendle Hill.

“Stuff and nonsense,” the Modernists cry.

But Post-Modernists may sagely nod approvingly.

Upholding another tradition, Hodder toppled their foe by a single run.

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Cricket in Full Flower

Congratulations to the England squad.  Theirs was a highly impressive performance.  

Third Man has always regarded the difference between professional and other cricket as a matter of the degree of preparation.  Full-time cricketers leave as little as possible un-thought-through and unrehearsed.  

Their job is to think, predict, plan, prepare, train and practice cricket.

Some suggest that over preparation can ossify, but adaptability and responsiveness are made easier when solid ground work is in place and independence of thought and action ingrained.

It seems clear that Andy Flower has brought a high level of preparation to England’s campaigning in the ICC’s T20 competition.  He has created an environment in which nothing is left to chance but, then, he has used this to create a culture in which each player who accepts responsibility is set free to play their way.

Paul Collingwood is the ideal person for this culture.  He leads by taking responsibility himself, as he did at the end of yesterday’s match, and by guarding the independence of his players to express themselves freely.

Good culture, good cricket, good result.

But if you yearn for quieter and more modest cricket …

 … then, Third Man recommends a Cricinfo interview by Nagraj Gollapudi  with Arthur Morris, the invisible man who in 1948 scored 196 at the other end in Bradman’s final Test at the Oval.

As different as Impressionism is to Expressionism.

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