“Westward Ho! Third Man” yelled the Squire last Saturday. “We are off to see our friends from the North (West), Messers Parry and Keedy. They’re playing at home for Formby today. One o’clock kick-off. I don’t want to be late.”
It’s August and the Squire is on his Bowland estate. It had been raining incessantly on the moors.
“We must seek sun and good spin bowling, TM. We are enthusiasts starved of drift, dip and turn. I’ve been told by our old companion Cockbain, now the captain of Formby in the Lancashire Premier League, that we’ll find what we are looking for at the end of the rainbow yonder on the coast.”
They arrived at Formby five minutes late and found that the visitors, New Brighton, had already lost a wicket. “I told you were driving too slowly, TM. You were listening to that damn Boycott and not concentrating on the task in hand.”
Here was Boycs on the benign Edgbaston wicket. “Will this wicket turn eventually on the fifth day? Of course it will. So, why don’t we ask the groundsman to leave the wicket open to the elements during preparation to produce his ‘fifth day wicket’ on the third day?”
Abrasion and grip can produce enthralling, skillful cricket, with batsman challenged by and responding early in the match to conventional swing and seam, and later to reverse swing and spin.
Cricket at Formby began on a day five wicket, as dry and textured as Third Man’s bowl of Flahavan’s porridge oats.
Cockbain turned to Parry and Keedy in the 9th and 10th overs. Parry, initially stiff and wayward to leg after a fortnight out of the Lancashire side, and Keedy, feeling his way towards the optimum pace at which to bowl. Early doors, both experienced the indignity for left-armers of being lapped by right-handers. But old pros like Pazza and Gazza are not put off by that, even when New Brighton’s 50 had arrived with no further loss of wicket.
Then Parry, who bowls straighter and quicker than Keedy, hit the stumps. And Keedy, tossing the ball high and ripping it across the face of the bat, found the edge.
Here on view were two very different approaches to the art of left arm bowling: Keedy intimidating the amateur batsmen with prodigious turn and bounce before striking with an arm ball or a delivery of less excessive flight and turn; whilst Parry bowled bullet straight. Four LBWs, two for each on a ‘Bunsen’.
A good partnership for the ninth wicket, with some fearless hitting, transferred the pressure from batsman to bowler and took the New Brighton score to a very respectable 165 all out – Parry 5 for 44, Keedy 4 for 68 – “More than we planned for,” said Cockburn.
There is no such thing as a ‘natural’ wicket – not even a terroir – when there is marl or loam, or even dust to be added; watering and covering or uncovering to be varied, length and extent or absence of grass to be gauged, and, on first class grounds, heaters and varying rollers to be chosen.
Every strip is a contrivance: In the first Test between England and Pakistan this summer, the public were provided with conditions that entertained them with the excitement of late movement from reverse swing and the ingenuity of classic wrist spin. Old Trafford contrived to avoid the conditions of the previous Test, and Edgbaston provided the drama of attrition and brought forward the narrative of perseverance overcoming the odds.
Formby had contrived conditions that Boycott would have enjoyed; conditions in which batsman, in the highest level below county cricket, had to battle with flight and turn and fierce bounce not from pace but from the spinner’s science – the keeper often taking the ball above shoulder height standing up.
And New Brighton had three spinners in their armoury who could and would monopolise their bowling.
The Formby openers refused to allow these three to settle and took the score to 100 without loss. But once those spinners had tasted success, the scales moved against Formby with three wickets falling without the score moving on. In a blink it was 125 for 5 and 144 for 6 before Cockbain, with years of experience, sent out two lefties to neutralise the two left-armers.
This is as good as cricket gets – spinners bowling 87% of the overs in helpful conditions. Metaphorically and literally gripping stuff.
These conditions can be contrived anywhere in the country at almost any time of the season. Don’t be fooled into believing that seaming tracks are God given, they are not. More ‘Bunsen burners’ will see counties and England Test sides bringing on and using the spin talents that dominate Under 11 and under 12 county cricket.
Above – Thanks to the Grosvenor Estate in Bowland where the Giants have pitched their wickets