There are some experienced and knowledgeable supporters of Leicestershire who frequent this site, so Third Man has to be very careful with this posting.
Some are purists who may not necessarily be celebrating the County’s victory over Chokerset in yesterday’s T20 finals, especially when they are bottom of the CountyChampionship2nd Division, forty points behind next best placed Kent.
Third Man’s insomnia is as bad as ever and the Squire has recommended he reads the series of novels by Charles Percy, Baron Snow of the City of Leicester, copies of which the novelist left behind following a visit with his wife, Pam, to the Great House to watch a game of cricket in the late 1970s.
These are known by the collective title of Strangers and Brothers and deal with power and powerlessness among the networks belonged to by the first person narrator, Lewis Eliot, also a native of Leicester (described in the novel’s entry in Wikipedia as a ‘small English town).
There are eleven novels in number which should see TM through the lengthening nights in the approaching season of autumn mists and even heavier rains.
The first novel, chronologically, Time of Hope, begins as Eliot, a boy of nearly nine in June 1914, returning from his school is suddenly seized with a sense of overwhelming dread.
Something is amiss in the household but the adults do not begin to tell him until, a fortnight later, he learns that his father an unenterprising owner of a small factory is about to petition for bankruptcy.
This happens when Mr Eliot asks young Eliot to go with him to the county cricket match next day, Saturday, at the Aylestone Road ground.
It is his father’s first match, but not his son’s, who ‘went regularly to the “county” whenever he could beg six pence’. It is now early July and Leicestershire are playing Sussex.
Eliot’s memory is that they watch the first balls of Leicestershire’s innings, but Snow reveals himself a cricketing tragic with access to some old Wisdens when he admits to researching the match later (the novel was published in 1949) and finding that it had begun on Thursday.
Sussex had batted and then taken two Leicestershire wickets. Friday had been lost to rain and they therefore had seen the continuation of the Leicestershire innings.
Thanks to Cricket Archive the scorecard is available here.
He confides that his hero is C.J.B. Wood who played 456 first class matches. He was a good choice for a hero, scoring 23,879 runs in his career at an average of 31.05 with 37 centuries and he took 172 wickets somewhat generously. He was not out 7 that morning and at 38 years of age was the county captain that season, a role he continued in for two seasons immediately after the Great War.
This photograph suggests he also had a more than decent moustache. Wood lived until 1960.
Eliot/Snow admits that Wood was not so spectacular as Jessop or Tyldesley. “But I told myself he was much sounder. In actual fact, my hero did not often let me down. On the occasions when he failed completely, I wanted to cry.”
Wood caused Eliot some concern that July morning especially when playing Relf (a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1914) with ‘a clumsy, stumbling shot that usually patted the ball safely to mid-off but which this time sent the ball knee high between first and second slip for four’.
Eliot is contemptuous with those around him who clapped and said fatuously, “Pretty shot”, and concerned for his hero who ‘was thoughtfully slapping the pitch with the back of his bat’.
Ah, those uncovered wickets and the trials of batting on the morning after a day of rain.
Wickets fell regularly according to the scorecard and the Leicestershire innings ended at 126 in reply toSussex’s 224. The visitors then made 100 and declared 7 wickets down.
Did the home side go for the victory or bat out time? [Anyone with a 1915 Wisden to hand?] Perhaps the wicket was playing more easily or perhaps Leicestershire clung on valiantly for they made 111 for 5 and saved the match.
‘After the last over the crowd round us drifted over the ground,’ wrote Eliot/Snow.
“Let’s wait until they’ve gone,” said his father.
‘The pavilion windows glinted in the evening sun, and the scoreboard threw a shadow half way to the wicket.’
It was then that his father told him the not very good news about filing his ‘petition’.
‘The phrase sounded ominous, deadly ominous, to me, but I did not understand.’
Mr Eliot’s First Match is the second chapter of the book. Third Man is not so crass as to think that Eliot is Snow, but the cricketing detail of this visit to the Aylestone Road ground suggests that Snow was there when he himself was eight or nine.
‘Any roads’, there are frequent references to visits to cricket matches throughout the series and they offer a constant sanctuary in times of stress and anxiety. ‘Power Vacuums’.