“One does not simply walk into Mordor. Its black gates are guarded by more than just Orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep. The great Eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire, ash, and dust. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume.” Boromir at the Council of Elrond.
There were dragons in the Radcliffe Road, their roaring and flame throwing glimpsed through cleaves in the mountainous stands of the Trent Bridge Cricket Ground.
The Squire had decided to watch Nottingham v Yorkshire in the T20 Blast. “How Larwood would have loved it, TM. How this crowd would have loved him; wickets tumbling, batsmen slaughtered.”
Both visitors remembered their own playing days here, when Willie Clarke married the landlady of the Trent Bridge Inn and staged a contest between Nottingham and All England* in the field where the London Road crossed the great river Anduin.
It was too much for Third Man. He left the Squire to carnival and passing the dragons’ lairs walked north to the old Boot’s Ground, by Lady Bay Bridge. Here Notts have created a second team ground as much to train its groundsmen as its Novitiates.
It was indeed weather befitting of Mordor; low scudding clouds and distant lights from the mighty towers illuminating the battle plain a few hundred yards away. Here young Esquires learnt their thrusts and parries under the eye of old magicians. One such lad sat beside his ashen haired, bearded, battle-scared Gandalf.
“Eee, that were some of the worst I’ve see you bowl this season.”
Third Man was not deliberately eaves dropping; their conversation came to him on the wind. Indeed the Great Ear is ever alert. It would have been ill-mannered not to have recorded the event.
It seemed that the young opening bowler for the Academy had had great trouble with a swinging ball.
Readers will be familiar with the quandary. Bowl at middle-and-off on such a day and the pill swings late and wide. Ah swing, so seductive, like the Ring itself!
Greedily you picture in your mind’s eye the next ball sent out to leg, curving like a Mamluk’s scimitar through the air, beating the batsman all-ends-up and pinging back the off pole. But try to put it into practice and the cursed ball goes straight on as if in Outer and not Middle Earth, wide of leg, to be clipped to the boundary by a batsman enjoying this feast of bread and butter.
Cricket is a moralistic game; greed is a sin for bowlers and batsmen.
“Better bowlers than me in all the history of the game have tried to do that and failed,” said the old-timer. “I can’t explain why, but it won’t be done. If it’s swinging that much on the off line, you’ll never control it by aiming further to leg. Just won’t happen.”
“Better bowlers than me.” The phrase echoed in TM’s head as he flew in time to the 1970s when Mike Hendrick, a six-foot-three pillar of Derbyshire Gritstone beat the blades of the best the world had to offer, took whatever scraps fate gave him, turned and walked back to his mark.
“So when that happens to you again, remember this, just bowl from a little wider of the crease. That’ll do the trick. Take it from me.”
“Take it from me.” Who is this telling me to take it from him? He’s the county bowling coach, but here I am in my prime with promise before me; he bent below the six foot mark by time and bowling for a living; me immortal?
But a young batsman told Third Man how, yes, he had feasted on the offerings. How he’d bowled the odd good ‘seed’, but, yes, when it had started to swing he’d got a bit greedy. “I pinged one off the back foot through cover, cut another, and took the straight one off my hip. End of.”
“Now don’t fret on it,” advised Hendrick. “Put that lesson away somewhere in your head and, then, when it happens again you may remember what to do.”
Did anyone forty and more years ago tell a young Hendrick this secret of the craft? Or did he have to learn it for himself. No ‘bowling coaches’ in those days. Just jealous pros worried about whether that young fellow would be the one to take his job.
Will this young man remember the advice when next it swings too much?
Third Man took a walk around the boundary. By the time he’d reached the far side and looked back towards the pavilion, the old bowler had vanished. His job was done. The Academy were batting.
* A brief history of Trent Bridge Cricket Ground is given by Peter Wynne-Thomas (secretary of the Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians and Honorary Librarian at Trent Bridge.):- ‘Cricket in Nottingham had formerly been played on the grassed, levelled area inside the town’s oval race-course, on a large acreage of land called ‘The Forest’ about one mile north of the town. The first bona fide inter-county Nottinghamshire game was staged, against Sussex, on The Forest in 1835. The cricketers were unable to charge admission to watch this, and other major games, because The Forest was owned by the Town Council. In December 1837, the captain and self-appointed manager of the Nottinghamshire team, William Clarke, married the landlady of the inn situated to the south of the bridge over the Trent, and generally known as the Trent Bridge Inn. The following spring he laid a cricket ground in the meadow attached to the inn. The meadow was bordered on one side by the road to Radcliffe on Trent and Grantham and on the adjacent side by the lane to West Bridgford church. The other two sides were bounded by hedges separating the meadow from the land belonging to West Bridgford Hall, which could be seen across the fields. Clarke erected a close-boarded fence round his ground and using the inn as accommodation for the cricketers, arranged that all major matches involving Nottinghamshire should use his ground, rather than The Forest. He found however that the number of games which drew crowds to his Trent Bridge Ground was very limited. He tried a variety of non-cricketing spectacles with luke-warm results and in 1845 left the Inn, which he gave over to his step-son, John Chapman, and went to London. Here he formed the subsequently famous All England Eleven and at last made a substantial living from organising matches all over Britain for his All England Eleven.