Tag Archives: Hampshire County Cricket Club

What Could He Say About Cricket?

Yesterday Third Man began a two dayer recounting how he and the Squire were drawn to The Rose Bowl on the first day of the season for a reunion of cricketers nurtured in the Nineteen Sixties by the then County Coach, Arthur Holt of whom John Arlott wrote,

“Go to the County Ground on any day in the cricket season – or, for that matter, on a good many days outside it – and somewhere between the indoor school and the pavilion you are likely to meet a comfortable, well-fed-looking man going in one direction when he obviously wants to go in several. He has a rosy face, a quizzical look in his blue eyes and one eyebrow goes up as he asks you wistfully, out of the side of his mouth, “Have you seen so-and-so?”  This is ‘The Coach’.  Arthur Holt finds that title convenient: it saves him the embarrassment of telling ground staff boys that they must call him Mister Holt and not Arthur.”

It was no surprise to the assembled and aging audience that Alan Castel selected himself to open the post lunch story session, “Fellow Athletes …” he began.  “Anyone under the age of 65 may as well leave now.”  No-one moved.

For a decade Castel, the last English-born leg spinner to play for Hampshire was the club’s Lord of Misrule – the permanent irritant in the otherwise measured life of that urbane County Secretary and former Captain, Desmond Eager

Authority was to ‘Cas’ as a red rag is to a bull and this cricketing roustabout spent as much time outside the door of Eager’s office awaiting admonishment as ‘The Fat Owl of the Remove’ spent outside Quelch’s study awaiting the cane.  Floreat Hampshire!

With Danny Livingstone he held and for that matter may still hold the county’s ninth wicket 230 run record partnership.  In 122 first class matches he took 5 wickets in an innings eight times but was never capped, an injustice remedied later in the day when the current Chairman Rod Bransgrove presented him with Holty’s County Cap forty years on.  Eager could be heard spinning in his grave.

 “We have come to celebrate the life of our County Coach,” bellowed the old pro.  “Today there is a Cricket Development Manager, a Head Coach,  a Batting Coach, a Fast Bowling Coach, a Spin Bowling Coach, a Wicket Keeping Coach, a Nutritionist, a Head Psychologist, a Fitness Coach, and a coach to drive all the bloody Coaches round in.”  

In Arthur’s day there was just the one man to do it all.

Second into bat was Keith Wheatley who told the assembled of his first match for the Second XI against Sussex at Southampton possibly in 1965.  In the fourth and final innings Hampshire needed 140 to win.  He entered the fray at 65 for 3 and proceeded to glove one to the wicket keeper. He was so dismayed that he simply ‘froze’.  The umpire, a pre-war cricketer who no doubt had served in the artillery and was as deaf as a post and as blind as a bat, gave him not out.  He sallied on and despite the pre-sledging but incisive invective of his opponents scored 50 to help guide the IIs to victory.

At the top of the rickety steps to the wooden shack-on-stilts that did for the First Team dressing room at the old County Ground, “Coach” was waiting for him. 

“Did you hit that?”

“Yes Coach, but I was so upset I just couldn’t seem to move.”

“Well, if you do that again, you’ll never play for me again.”

Wheatley then produced a framed manuscript of notes Holt had written under the title, ‘What can I say about cricket?’  

Cricket when played in the right spirit there is no sport more capable of developing man’s finest qualities.

In no other game is the individual and his team more closely integrated that one man alone may win you a match not necessarily by technical skill, but by intelligence CONCENTRATION and CHARACTER and one man can loose you a game by the failure of one of those qualities.

To play it keenly, generously, honourably and self sacrificially is a moral lesson in itself, and the classroom is God’s fresh air and sunshine.

The game may now have reverse swing and reverse sweeps but that is not all that has been reversed since Arthur played and coached and communicated to talented young cricketers how the game should be played.

“Alas,” does Third Man hear you say?

N.B.  The pieces on Arthur Holt began three posts ago here with Would You Like to Join the Nursery Staff?

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Would You Like to Join the Nursery Staff?

 

No, Down At Third Man has not started to take Google adverts and this is not an invitation to join an NVQ course in Child Care, so it’s safe for you to read on.

Later today, Third Man will be cranking up the Type III Time Machine, leaving the sunshine of Lancashire for the uncertain climes of his home county, Hampshire, and tomorrow paying his first visit to the Rose Bowl where not only will Hampshire take on Durham in the season’s opener, but 100 or so will gather to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Arthur Holt (1911 – 1994)

“Who he?”  TM hears you ask.

Arthur was a Saint.  In fact he was a Saint twice over.  He was a fine footballer for Southampton with a powerful dead-ball kick, with a little bow-leggedness left over from the experience as football pros often had in those days when stretching was confined to storytelling.

But he was also a Saint on, off and around the cricket fields, nets and pavillions of Hampshire and beyond where his friends were numerous and their friendships lasting, deep and affectionate.  He was a natural story teller and cricket, with its characters and life on the road, was a treasure trove awaiting his ever so slightly mischievous interpretations of events.

At Hampshire Cricket History and now below you can read the letter sent by the then County Secretary inviting Arthur to join the Ground Staff.

“Would you like to join the nursery staff … the Committee are prepared to pay you £2:0:0 a week from when you are free from football … and in addition you will get 10s every time you play for the Club and Ground.  Please let me know whether you accept this offer.  Yours sincerely G.H. Mills.”

At his death, Arthur's collection of memorabilia, including this letter, passed into the safe keeping of Peter Haslop, a Holt Colt, who in turn has made them available to Dave Allen the Hon. Hampshire Archivist who is assembling a wonderful collection off treasures, which may soon have a home at the Rose Bowl.

Thankfully for Hampshire but also for a number of young cricketers not then born he did so, because after his 79 match playing career either side of WWII, Arthur moved naturally into coaching and developed, as the County Coach, a string of fine players in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, most notably Peter Sainsbury, Bob Cottam and Trevor Jesty.  Dave Allen’s blog has photographs of a number of ‘his’ teams including the Championship Side of 1961.

When the manager of the Under 15s Hants Schools side saw an extraordinary innings by a youngster from Berkshire, wearing one pad and no gloves, he was on the phone immediately to Arthur and a contract was taken round as a matter of some urgency to a Mrs Greenidge of Reading.

Gordon’s earliest matches at Hampshire were with Holt’s Colts as the County Colts were called and his batting style owed much to Arthur’s classical style allied to free expression – as did that other wonderful driver and fierce puller, Trevor Jesty, in whom you probably would have seen the full expression of the Holt cricketing manual.

This was the way Hampshire batted – the Holt way.  No wonder it was such a home from home for the likes of Roy Marshall and Barry Richards.  Now batting is all about expressing ‘oneself’.  Then, Arthur, in advocating such an approach, was almost a lone voice.  Happy Hants was not the sole creation of A.C.D. I-M. whose genius was to give his side permission to follow ‘Coach’ Holt.

But his influence was considerable outside of Hampshire.  He was a frequent visitor to Lilleshall where he coached the coaches and so his approach to cricket, and especially to batting, was spread through the game, often against the prevailing current of caution and limitation.

For those young cricketers whom he guided and for whom he opened up the great vista of their own skill, he enjoyed their successes and sustained them with his deep and genuine affection when things did not go quite so well, as is often the way with bloody cricket.

When his sports shop in Shirley had closed for the day he would frequently make his way down to the old County Ground at Northlands.  He might have a bat that he’d repaired under his arm as an excuse, but his real purpose was to have a quiet look at one of his protégés, however old and seasoned they might be.  

So it is not surprising to glimpse him centre right in the photograph below applauding Roy Marshall as he carried his bat off the field for Hampshire for the last time in 1972.  His respect for a great cricketer is palpable in this tiny fragment of the image.  That’s what coaches did.  Always keeping an eye on your game.  He’ll probably be there tomorrow.

Dear Arthur, Hampshire are playing Durham, yes Durham, at a place called The Rose Bowl.  Somewhere near Botley. Would you believe it?  Hover close and hear some of your stories.  Best.  TM.

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Old and in the Way* Part I

This morning Third Man welcomes a guest.  Dr Dave Allen is an Executive Member and Vice President of Hampshire Cricket. He is their Hon Curator, an author of histories of the county and the editor of their annual Handbook and probably still bowls carefully flighted off-spin.

Dave has been watching county cricket for over fifty years.  He is one of the thousands of people who, through their support at the gate and their membership of the Counties, are the bedrock of the first class game.   

Today and tomorrow he assesses the future of the English County Cricket Championship.  By comparing first class cricket fifty years ago with how it is now, he scrutinizes the arguments for change and challenges some of the facts used by administrators and players in 2010.

On the eve of the 1959 season, John Arlott wrote of “feeling almost childishly excited at the prospect of the cricket season”. I understand those feelings of a fellow Hampshire man entirely, but I no longer share them.

It’s a comment of particular poignancy for me as 1959 was the first season that I watched a county cricket match  – a marvellous drawn game in the old Portsmouth week, that ended with Surrey 12 runs short with one wicket remaining. It has been difficult to feel so excited at the start of the 2010 season as the media carried a number of stories about the likelihood that the ECB would reduce the number of Championship matches yet again from 2011. To a large extent this was a response to the wishes of the players – there was no evidence that supporters wanted to see less. There were reports in the Sunday Times and Observer, while the BBC Website carried the views of Mark Robinson, the Sussex coach (6th April) and reported (1st April) that David Collier the England and Wales Cricket Board Chief Executive had already undertaken research into ways of reducing the amount of domestic first-class cricket.

At a live BBC Radio Solent/Hampshire Cricket Forum (29th March) from the Rose Bowl, Hampshire’s Manager Giles White and Dimitri Mascarenhas supported a reduction, although there was a certain irony that Mascarenhas was only there because he had returned prematurely from the IPL with a serious injury. On the same evening, and despite this view, Hampshire presented the news to their supporters that their innovative international franchise would hope to add a ‘Royals Tournament’ to the English season. Reporter and former player Kevan James asked the audience (circa 200) whether they wanted a reduction in the Championship but not one person did.

ACTION this Day, as Churchill wrote on his memos

In the pieces that follow I will contest some of the reasons put forward to support this reduction and argue that supporters and members like me whose principal (but not sole) love is the county championship are poorly served by what is on offer and by what is threatened. If I thought I was alone I would keep quiet but I’m not, and so I shall argue against the threat at least until it becomes reality.

It is interesting looking back over half-a-century. Had I known enough to do the same on my first visit I would have found little difference between 1909 and 1959. Through those years the counties had contested a three-day Championship on uncovered wickets with teams of amateurs and professionals over a season that ran from early May to the end of August (followed by the Festivals). There had also been a gradually expanding rota of overseas Test sides with Australia visiting in 1909. Hampshire (Mead, CB Fry, Kennedy etc) finished eighth in 1909 and with Marshall, Shackleton, Ingleby-Mackenzie (etc.) eighth again in 1959.

Perhaps the major difference was that by 1959, fixtures had been regularised and increased to 28, plus first-class matches against the tourists and Universities. The differences with today are so marked and obvious that I will not list them in detail – change now seems endemic. The fact that the first match I watched ended as an exciting draw is not unimportant for what I have to say about the way that county cricket has changed in the past fifty years. There are some other key points to make. The weather in 1959 was marvellous and the Hampshire batsmen enjoyed themselves by scoring over 14,000 runs – a record for the county. Nonetheless Shackleton took 100 wickets, halfway through a unique run of 100(+) wickets in 20 consecutive seasons. He also bowled 1373 overs – unsurprisingly perhaps a record for Hampshire. Fifty years later, no one reached 500 first-class overs for the county and nothing approaching 1000 overall.

This is the United Services Ground in 1964. Doctor Dave is either sitting cross legged just over the boundary rope down by the Nuffield Club or he's off-picture to the left behind the seating playing county cricket with a tennis ball. Note the field. The US was the fastest track in the country - a thrill to bat and bowl fast on.

One interesting comparison is in the number of drawn matches. I have indicated from my first visit that the draw is an essential part of first-class cricket and can be captivating, but in the modern Championship too few are. In the years from 1895 when Hampshire first entered the County Championship, until the end of the 1958 season, over 20,000 matches were played by the counties and almost 65% of those finished in victory for one of the sides. By comparison, in the county First Division of 2009, 60% of matches were drawn – even allowing for Worcestershire’s appalling record of losing ten and winning none. Very few of those matches were exciting despite the addition of an extra day. Hampshire drew ten matches in the Championship of 2009 and only one of those went to a fourth innings when, on 30 August, Hampshire faced a meaningless one over and five balls to conclude the drawn match against Somerset.

Perhaps this is because the ‘extra’ day is something of an illusion. In my first match in 1959, the two sides averaged almost 110 overs in the day whereas now players are required to bowl around 15 fewer – and at modern over rates that saves more than an hour each day. However, there isn’t much mileage in trying to prove that modern championship cricket is better or worse than the game of years ago – such discussions are always enjoyable but too many contextual or arbitrary factors come into play. It is not difficult for me to consider the first few years of watching Hampshire as a Golden Age since they began it as runners-up for the first time and two years later won their first Championship but that doesn’t prove anything more general about ‘standards’, although there are some interesting facts and figures to contribute.

When Hampshire won their title in 1961 they played every county twice (32 matches) and played at least once against 15 of the 16 men who represented England in that season’s Ashes series**. In 1973 when they won it again, they still competed against England’s cricketers plus some of the world’s leading players including Procter, Asif Iqbal, Bedi, Imran and Majid Khan, Turner, Intikhab Alam, Kallicharran and McKenzie. It’s different today of course because many of the leading overseas players play elsewhere during the English summer and partly because central contracts have removed the leading English players from most county games. Kevin Pietersen has played in one Championship match for Hampshire in the past four seasons – and that was away from Hampshire. So, while it is impossible to offer any conclusive proof that today’s county cricket is better or worse than it was fifty years ago, we might offer some evidence that it provides fewer potential riches for spectators.

 * “Old and in the Way” is taken from a side project of Jerry Garcia, once lead guitarist of the San Francisco psychedelic band the Grateful Dead, in which Garcia returned to the banjo and his bluegrass roots.

** The exception was my namesake, who missed both matches for Gloucestershire.

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