Cricket in the Parks – The Better Versus The Good

Approaching Oxford from the East, Third Man drove the black Fresian stallions named Nyren and Small up the slight incline into Headington.  It was here that out of the corner of his eye he caught a passing glimpse of a huge fibreglass shark embedded head-first in the roof of a common terraced cottage.

The Squire, whose knowledge of art is as celebrated as his collection (much of it now on permanent loan to the Ashmolean Museum), explained that in 1986 a local wireless presenter, Bill Heine, had stuck this 25 foot representation of a giant ‘white pointer’, designed by the artist John Buckley, through the roof of his home at No 2 New High Street, Headington.

The powers that be, acting pro bono publico, came down hard on the poor presenter with his fish-like representation of the-thing-itself-out-of-water and demanded its removal unimaginatively to a nearby swimming pool.

Toujours de l’audace,” cried the locals, expressing their solidarity with Mr. Heine and battling for its preservation. 

Government decided to get in on the action and after some reflection decreed that “any system of local [planning] control must make some small space for the dynamic, the unexpected, the downright quirky.”

And so Bill’s shark, its teeth as sharp as ever, survives a quarter of a century later to  trouble the minds of unwary urban swimmers.

The travelers arrived soon after at the Parks and, passing through the South Lodge, left Nyren and Small to graze on the excellent Oxford turf while they made their way in the footsteps of Fry and Jardine towards the pavilion, the rear windows of which  provide it with a suitably pious profile.

Making their way via the groundsman’s quarters and a mug of tea, the Squire and TM found themselves standing to the west of the pavilion, behind the blue and red dressed bowler from St Hilda’s who was making life difficult for a batsman from New College garbed in black and yellow who in turn was intent on chasing down a target of 150 or so to become the Cuppers Champions.

Idiosyncratic caps surviving from the great age of public school cricket and  spliced into garish quarters or hoops clashed with the modernity of the pajamas.  But neither the modern nor the outdated could disguise the disheartening fact that the cricket was anything but distinguished. 

Gradually, like peacocks displaying their tails, Blues assembled to exercise their droit du jambage,  sporting on their sweaters and training suits the twin coronets and initials of the Oxford University Cricket Club.

On the east side gathered the lowly men from Brookes University, here to provide the elite with their daughters’ virginity practice for their Twenty20 contest with Cambridge next week. 

Brookes, like the shark, has established itself in Headington and like the shark its emergence has won acceptance with time.  Its attachment to the older Varsity as one of six MCC backed university centres for cricketing excellence has made it a magnate for better players able to satisfy its less demanding entry requirements and deemed to have possible futures in first class cricket.  

To the west the increasing academic competitiveness of Oxford University has made it harder and harder for cricketers to find a refuge there.  These days it is a liability to be known as a good cricketer and a keenness for sport is an amber warning light to the dons in charge of admissions. 

This process was evident when the University took the field.  Cricketers now are chunky human specimens with thick necks and solid shoulders.  The University side looked small to the seasoned eye, more like a team of schoolboys.

The Brookes batsmen proceeded to confirm the impression of one sidedness by bullying the University bowling like men against boys, posting a score just shy of 160 for the loss of only three wickets.

The batting by OUCC was naïve and betrayed a technical immaturity matching the physical. Wickets fell unremittingly to ill judged shots that made the earlier peacock display appear all the more vainglorious. 

The home side were clearly embarrassed by their inadequacies, but the crowd seemed oblivious, inured by privilege. 

There may be no welcome for the talented cricketer with the good but not excellent mind, but neither is there a home here for very many who have not been privately educated.  The banter was unconsciously divisive.

This is the home of privilege. This is what happens when unequal competition applies.  Cricket never for long indulges the pretentious.  Soon the real thing is encountered.

The lucky few, not really deserving, have this wonderful ground, this splendid heritage, this chance to indulge in reverie – until the boys from Brookes with whom they now share this patch of cricketing history arrive and, like sharks let into their private bathing beach, turn the waters from blue to red.

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