‘Cricket … was more than
play; it was a worship in the summer sun.’
are the words of Edmund Blunden (1886-1974) (Figure 108.1), one of England’s
greatest war poets, an Oxford professor, six times nominated for the Nobel
Prize in Literature. His book Cricket
Country (Figure 108.2), written long after his playing days had ended, is a
testament to his yearning to turn back time, to cricket matches gone but never
forgotten, memories of which fade against one’s will, and blissful summer days which
can never be recast. I wish I could have met the celebrated professor, preferably
beside a cricket field and sharing a decent bottle of wine. His cricket
recollections, coloured with humour and honest optimism, would have captivated
me for sure.
Figure 108.1: Christ’s Hospital
School XI. Edmund Blunden is seated on the left, in front of the umpire.
Copyright © 1914 The Edmund
Blunden Library Estate
Figure 108.2: Edmund Blunden’s Cricket
Country (1944) is, in my view, one of the
most evocative and beautifully-written books describing any subject. ‘They
vanish, these immortal players, and we suddenly realize with astonishment that
years have passed since we heard passing mention of them. At one point, they
seem as much a part of the permanent scheme of things as the sun which glows
upon their faces and attitudes and the grass which makes the background for
their portrait, and then, bless us, it is time for even them to go.’
I shall do what Blunden longed to do: travel back in time to revisit a childhood
Bridge is one of the world’s loveliest cricket grounds. Home to Nottinghamshire
County Cricket Club, it has staged international ‘Test’ matches since 1899
(Figure 108.3). In that time, the ground’s appearance has changed profoundly,
but its replacement architecture has, unlike at many other venues, never disrespected
the original aesthetic. Evolution has, sensibly, triumphed over revolution.
This makes my attempt at time travel just about possible.
108.3: Trent Bridge in 1890
Forty years ago, almost to the day, England played Australia in the Third ‘Ashes’
Test of the summer. It is one of the most famous contests ever to grace Trent
Bridge. I followed every ball bowled, mostly via the BBC, on television and on radio’s
iconic Test Match Special programme,
as an eleven-year-old with Blunden-esque devotion.
pivotal incident, which took place on the second day, remains a talking point
among cricket-lovers old enough to remember it – and, also, those too young,
but who have studied the video footage online.
I sit with my two sons in the newest section of the ground, the farthest corner
looks more or less as it did when I was a boy (Figure 108.4).
Figure 108.4: The
ground, as it would have appeared in 1977.
Copyright © 1998
that immortal tableau, I can imagine the rest.
is 1977 – Friday, 29th July. Australian fast bowler Jeff Thomson runs to the
wicket at the Radcliffe Road End, to my left. He bowls, from wide of the
crease, a 90-mph delivery angling in at the body of England’s opening batsman,
Geoff Boycott. Boycott plays the ball solidly, in orthodox fashion, back along
the pitch and sets off for a run. Thomson is alert. He leaps across the pitch
and attempts to field the ball with his right hand. His momentum is too great.
He fumbles the ball and stops in his tracks. Thomson then turns 180 degrees and
this time successfully picks it up. Boycott, however, keeps running. Derek
Randall, the non-striking batsman, dare not leave his ground, as it would be
easy for Thomson, with ball in hand, to run him out. As Boycott completes the
run, Thomson, with a clever flick of his right hand, tosses the ball in the
direction of wicket-keeper Rod Marsh. Randall, stranded, is left with no choice
but to race the ball over 22 yards. Thomson’s throw is sharp and accurate.
Marsh collects and demolishes the wicket (Figure 108.5). Randall, well short,
knows he is run out – beaten by a combination of Boycott’s hasty judgement and
Thomson’s quick thinking. It all happens in less than ten seconds. I glance at
the old scoreboard: England are in trouble at 52 for 3. I have just relived
history, in real time, forty years on.
Figure 108.5: One
of the most infamous run outs in cricket history
Copyright © 1977 Getty Images
explain the controversial event to my boys. They pose the usual questions. Why
did Boycott even set off? Did he call for a run? Was there a fieldsman at
mid-on? Why did Randall hesitate? Whose fault was it? Did England’s innings
run out Randall – a Nottinghamshire player and local hero – Boycott made amends
by scoring a watchful century and England a creditable 364. By the following
Monday, England’s victory was complete, the winning runs scored by none other
than Boycott and Randall in their second innings. Boycott had batted on all
five days of the match, only the second player ever to have done so. The match
also witnessed the Test debut of a raw 21-year-old, and fellow Wirralian, Ian
Bridge has been renovated extensively since the glory days of Boycott, Randall
and Botham. A £7.2-million cricket centre and new stand, situated at the
Radcliffe Road End, was opened, by another Notts alumnus, the legendary West
Indian, Sir Garfield Sobers, in the summer of 1998 (Figure 108.6). Four years
later, a new £1.9-million Fox Road Stand was opened, by Ian Botham, and won the
prestigious Civic Trust Award for its innovative design. The new Bridgford Road
Stand, where we currently await this evening’s Twenty20 match between Notts and Worcestershire, opened in 2008.
Figure 108.6: The
Trent Bridge Cricket Centre can be seen on this aerial photograph on the top
right side of the ground.
Copyright © 2017 Experience Nottinghamshire
a clear blue, late afternoon sky, wisps of cirrus cloud are now drifting
eastward from over my left shoulder, across the wide expanse of green, high
above the new scoreboard, beyond Fox Road and along the meandering course of
the River Trent.
Notts faithful, male and female, young and old, soak up both the sunshine and
the English summer game in its latest embodiment. An elderly gentleman, wearing
sensible navy-blue trousers and a crazy, bright-yellow hat, walks past,
carrying a pint of beer in each hand. My elder son remarks about
field-placings, batsmen’s strokes and bowlers’ run-ups and actions. His younger
brother bashes me over the head with an inflatable bat every time the ball
reaches the boundary. He hits me harder still whenever a wicket falls. I watch
the play and, at the end of each over, scan the panorama from left to right and
back again, seeing action from cherished matches played long ago. The unique
charm of Trent Bridge remains sublimely intact.
score an impressive 208 for 8 (Figure 108.7). The sun descends behind the
Radcliffe Road Stand. Six magnificent new floodlights compensate for the dimming of the evening light. Notts make a valiant attempt to chase victory,
England international Alex Hales striking a rapid 63, but they fall, thirteen
runs short, at 9:16 p.m.
Figure 108.7: In
addition to the new Fox Road Stand (pictured right), a hi-tech scoreboard has
replaced the famous old one (pictured in Figure 108.4), in front of the same T-shaped office block.
Copyright © 2017
three of us leave the ground, cross the bridge and walk back, under the bright
city lights, to our hotel in Nottingham’s historic Lace Market.
As Blunden himself once reflected:
‘The game which made me write at all, is
not terminated at the boundary, but is reflected beyond, is echoed and varied
out there among the gardens and the barns, the dells and the thickets, and
belongs to some wider field.’
It really does – in both space and
Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery