Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Heaven is a cricket ground.

Photo by Selina Reid

For nearly 30 years between 1750-1780, Broadhalfpenny Down was the centre of the Cricketing world. The hospitable Richard Nyren, owner of the 'Bat & Ball' and one of the foremost players of the time, provided the headquarters for the Hambledon Club; a place of much feasting and carousing for the top cricketers of the day.
This happy brotherhood took on and beat the Rest of England in a series of matches for enormous wagers watched by huge crowds. The Hambledon Club established and refined the laws of cricket. It was also responsible for developments in the game, such as length bowling, a third stump, and improving techniques. As more cricket was being played in London, the centre of gravity inevitably moved from Hambledon and the Marylebone Cricket Club, formed in 1787, became the authority for the laws and the general governance of the game.

Photo by Selina Reid

The Broadhalfpenny Brigands CC was set up to restore the playing of cricket regularly on the historic Down. The Brigands have always sought to play their cricket in a spirit of jovial comradeship mixed with keen competition and to extend a warm welcome to the many visiting teams and spectators who come to enjoy sharing in the delights of cricket on Broadhalfpenny Down.

And it was Sunday pasted that I found myself driving up to enjoy the historical pastures of this most famous of cricketing grounds as a debutant for the Brigands CC. I have long been one of the many stopping on my countryside travels to enjoy the pleasure of watching the men in white dance across the living memoirs of crickets past. It was this Sunday after much chatting and finding links from a work collogue that I would get my chance to walk out of that pavilion.

The day itself could not have been nicer for the opening of the ground, a warming ray of sun greeted all in shorts and t-shirts, and by 13:45 the ground had already accepted many a picnic blanket on its boundary as well the greeting of the two sides. The changing rooms smelled of leather pads, cricket balls and my nerves had me changed into training shorts and shirt much earlier than required. I quick jog along the far side of the ground watching the cow’s shift much like clouds made me remember the simple reason for playing cricket was the joy of being outside in the warm glow of the summer sun.

Photo by Selina Reid

The pitch itself smelled like it had just been cut and the markings of the lines freshly painted in anticipation of the game to begin. The side itself (Brigands CC) a mixture of old hands and young terrors, public school boys mixed with those of naval importance as the applauding for the opening batsman continued to drift back towards the cows.

What happened next you half expect as you open in bowling in April, a little bit on the short side and cut away for 4. What happens after defines a bowler in terms of how they return, to have him hanging his bat in the sun lent an air of noise and a finger raised, and the mind relieved at my first wicket.

What was to happen in the next hour was nothing short of either the cricketing gods shining a light on a hopeful season or a dream coming true. As a 28 year old club cricketer of the average standard that most joy comes out of playing any cricket,  let alone that of a standard fit for boasting. Today was a five wicket day, you’re never sure when they will come about you’ll sometimes take 3 or maybe 2, but that perfect 5 wickets is always just an edge short or a dropped catch away.

Five wickets, I’m sure the trees that hide the ground from the road have heard many a rattle of stumps and bails hitting the turf. Today was my day to bask in that joy of the 5th wicket falling, and after my 7th over as I trotted back towards the rope, with no applause or adoring fans to meet, just a small hear d of Jersey cows with more thoughts on eating grass than that of the game played on it.

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