Third Man spent Sunday beneath the gaze of Belvoir Castle. The Chequers at Woolsthorpe by Belvoir was recommended as a pub with a cricket field ‘at the back’. In fact the ground is at the side and not in view from its pleasant south facing frontage.
“Cricket Being Played Today, Do Not Park on the Verge” a notice board warned patrons. An advanced guard of Woolsthorpe Cricket Club were struggling with a recalcitrant tractor that had given up the ghost thirty yards from the wicket, 20 minutes before the scheduled start of their match with Barkby.
Safely parked up, Third Man withdrew to the pub and, resisting Greene King’s Old Speckled Hen that had tasted so well the night before, ordered an Americano.
The outside of the inn is painted in the fashionable French Grey, a colour which is neither French nor grey. The planting also tries to bring the South of France to good old English Woolsthorpe. Thankfully the sun shone warmly enough to strengthen the Mediterranean illusion.
Another helpful sign notifies patrons that whereas any dog is welcome only well behaved children are.
So quiet were the home fielders and beguiling the September sun that TM missed the start of the match and Barkby were 35 for 0 from 5 overs when he began to climb the steep slope to the top of the ground to get this view of the match, the village and the Castle.
The charm of cricket is that it is played wherever it can be. Grounds have no pre-determined shape. They follow the contours and ancient land uses, in this case falling away heaving and swelling like the rolling Atlantic with an appealingly asymmetrical perimeter defined by lane, fence and berried hedges.
Probably an Anderton or a Mitchell, used to the perfection of Old Trafford or the SCG, would find it impossible to perform here, which may also excuse the difficulty the Woolsthorpe attack was having with the Barkby openers.
Earlier in the day during a circumnavigation of the Castle, Third Man had also spied the home of Belvoir Cricket Club just outside of the hamlet of Knipton. Now, leaving the Woolly bowlers to their toil and driving down the hill from Harston, he was delighted to see so late in the season not one match in progress but two.
Belvoir Colts were taking on The Stragglers and the youngsters were putting the old fellows to the sword with the catching of the wandering side letting down their large hearted (and large girthed) bowlers.
Over on the big pitch, the Belvoir Sunday 1stXI were dishing it out to their visitors from Barnstone with opener Tommy Neville planting the ball in the next-door stumble field with the monotonous regularity of a young Graham Hick.
Barnstone were rueing the fact that they had dropped Neville when he was in single figures. “I think I was standing too close. He hits it very hard,” a rather shamefaced Barnstone boundary fielder admitted to a sympathetic Third Man.
They rued some more shortly afterwards when genial John on the midwicket boundary put him down again when he was in the nineties and, in a reaction that must touch every cricketer who has ever spilled one in the deep (and that is all of us), tore off his cap, flung it on the ground and almost jumped on it in his rage and embarrassment.
At Headingley, England might have continued to ask questions of their supporters despite another win, but in the Vale of Belvoir the afternoon confirmed that the game is alive, well and continuing to tease us with its ability to frustrate and encourage in equal measure.
Well, you see after all they did get that tractor going, the Woollies did get rid of those openers, the Barnstones eventually did catch their man and young Olly of the Colts did make some runs he’ll never forget … and that’s why they’ll all be back for more of the same next year.
A SIDE DISH: Clitheroe CC ended the season Champions of the Ribblesdale League when their home match with Salesbury this weekend was washed out and Read lost to Great Harwood. Over the Hill, the Lancashire League was won by Ramsbottom.