On Top of the World – Bashing Out A Cricket Thriller Thanks to Road Builder Blind Jack Metcalf


Some find Baxenden Cricket Ground hard to reach - others revel in its lofty location.

Clitheroe still tops the Ribblesdale League after a dramatic tie against the 2009 champions, Baxenden, known in these parts as Bash.  Both sides may have felt disappointed with the result, but ‘at the end of the day cricket won’.

Clitheroe had made another solid start, not losing a wicket until 96, but could manage a total of only 154 which against a batting line up that included Babar Naeem and Ian  ‘Oscar’ Austin looked inadequate even on a wicket that seamed extravagantly throughout the day.  

But then Bash got off to a shocker when four of their batsmen were back in the shed for 15.

The village of Baxenden is high on the moors and those wishing to see any cricket must climb further along a steep lane to reach the ground at over 300 m above sea level.

It can be bleak here, but, on a relatively fine and warmish day like yesterday it is an airy perch with an open, stimulating ‘good to be alive’ feel.  To the north the view opens to the Yorkshire Dales and their Three Peaks; to the West, Pendle Hill and the Bowland Fells dominate; to the East, the Pennine uplands seem to go on forever, and to the south the great expanse that holds Manchester spreads into the distance.

Rain is never a surprise here.  It can be seen approaching from every quarter and it often does approach from every quarter … at once. Eventually this rain finds its way into Warmden Brook or Woodnook Water (left), which merge beneath Accrington before running into the River Hyndburn, that itself feeds the River Calder and in time joins the Ribble at Mitton.  

Brooks, streams, rivers must each in turn feel very proud of themselves until that is they turn in their beds and see the approaching oblivion into which their being is inevitably to be submerged.  Even the mighty Ribble, over-proud but naïve, is heading for the Irish Sea.

The old form of the village name, Bastanedenecloch, derives from bæc-stan meaning baking stone,  denu meaning valley and clōh meaning ravine.  And the village is the home of Holland Pies, which those taking tea in the club house will soon encounter.  There is no such thing as free sponsorship.

This is hill faming country but industry took a grip here when Blind Jack Metcalf o’ Knaresborough, the first of the professional road and turnpike builders to emerge during the industrial revolution, built one of his roads through the village in 1791.  Alongside this new road print works, mills and coal mines developed with their demands for housing for the growing workforce.  A cricket club was founded in 1868.

This is another tightly formed community with a loud, challenging and, by 7 o’clock when ‘Bash’ needed only three runs to win with four wickets remaining, well lubricated following. 

Their enthusiasm for dumping the league leaders was muted only slightly by a late fall of wickets and the linguistic assault on Clitheroe’s virtues continued, unabashed.

With one to win, two wickets in hand and seven balls remaining, number ten skied the ball and the inexperienced batsmen assayed a run, so that when the catch was taken the new batsman was left to face the last over and score the winning run. 

The first two balls from ‘Big Red’, Josh Marquet, once the fastest bowler in Australia, and still far too good for this Number 11, rapped the batsman’s pads.  As Clitheroe’s appeals resounded across the moorland, the home crowd’s contempt for these ‘cheating sons without fathers’ reached new heights of loathing.

But when the third ball smashed through the batsman’s feeble guard, leaving the match tied, the mood altered immediately to one of satisfaction that cricket had won and that they had all seen a good match which neither side deserved to win.

In such communities watching cricket is a pressure valve releasing tensions built over the week – and the months and years of structural economic decline.  It is not a pleasant sight (or sound) but to ignore it would be to turn ones back on reality.

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