OPINION: No boundaries when it comes to my cricket memories

5:00 PM July 3, 2022

I like the story of a Norfolk vicar who left his faithful flock for pastures new. One of the farewell gifts was a large bottle of cherries soaked in brandy. In his letter of thanks he wrote: “My sincere gratitude to the entire congregation for this wonderful present – not so much for the cherries as for the spirit in which they were sent.”

That heart-warming little yarn suggested itself as I relished England’s thrilling revival as a proper Test Match cricket team with a 3-0 whitewash of New Zealand in a madcap series crammed with so many exciting personal exploits in a welcome climate of mutual respect and sportsmanship.

The high-flying Kiwis offered a commendable example of how to stay stoic and dignified in stunning defeat, perfectly exemplified by their delightfully erudite and scrupulously fair former captain Jeremy Coney in his role as good-natured summariser in the Test Match Special radio line-up.

He pointed firmly to his country’s selection and tactical mistakes while lauding opponents under new management of a daredevil New Zealander with a licence to entertain … even if it means spilling over from excitingly positive into ridiculously reckless now and again.

It hardly bears contemplating how some other international rivals – Australia, for instance – might have reacted to such challenging and chastening treatment. Perhaps extreme sledging with a reverse scoop will be on the scene by the time the next Ashes battles unfold.

This fresh England approach built on freedom of personal expression within a flexible team framework could owe much to the old village green philosophy of striking an attacking note from the start to upset all carefully-laid plans arriving with opponents good, bad and indifferent.

Chancing your arm and trusting your eye should come off enough times in a season to justify such a formula despite inevitable murmurs of distaste from the purists. And it seems a reasonable method of getting to the pub just before opening time.

Any cricket bag of Norfolk memories must include a big pile of newspaper cuttings revealing outstanding matches and characters who fashioned them. I dip in for two little chapters from the past – the very first article I wrote for the EDP sports pages and a yellowed column from The Norwich Mercury of 1906, passed to me by Ethel Battelley, mother of talented boys, Martin, Ian, Barry and Chris, who lit up so many local cricket grounds and other sporting arenas.

She cleared up behind me and other reporters at the Dereham & Fakenham Times office in the mid-1960s and proved a lively source of information about goings-on worthy of our investigation. Mrs B found the cutting in the lining of an old trunk – and immediately thought of me. The old, brown and withered connection, I suppose.

I went to see Arthur Cason at the end of the 1963 cricket season. He was 85 and last of the Norfolk underarm bowlers. He played for Mileham, starting as a lad of 16 in the mid-1890s. Mileham were top dogs in those days, winning the Mid-Norfolk Shield four years running just before end of that century.

“I remember the old village parson dong his bit to keep us boys keen by coming up to the practice ground and offering sixpence to anyone who could knock a single wicket back.”

A few more puffs of his pipe and Arthur had rediscovered the Bank Holiday atmosphere of Lexham Park in early years of the 20th century. “We always went there for our annual August Monday match and had a right good time with slap-up meals and all the trimmings. When old Major Keppel died his son moved to Norwich, but, do you know, he still came down to play with us, arriving in his horse and buggy.”

All social barriers were flattened for a time on the cricket field. There was Arthur the yardman bowling to the Major’s son. Even so, there were still players who thought they were entitled to certain privileges not mentioned in the rule book.

“We were playing at Weasenham Park when they had a county wicket-keeper behind the stumps. He was really good but thought he could take the ball in front of the wicket. Nothing was said until I went into bat. I had a quiet word explaining he just couldn’t do that. He was right nasty and so I complained to the umpire, schoolmaster Wigg” . Evidently, the ‘keeper’s reputation outweighed the schoolmaster’s ideas of fair play. The only comment was a nervous ‘Be quiet, Arthur. Be quiet”

But if anything just wasn’t cricket on the field of play, Arthur Cason was not afraid to point it out.

My other fading souvenir carries a Norwich Mercury report and scorecard of the 1906 clash between a Mid-Norfolk Village Shield team and Norfolk Club & Ground at Lexham Park.The Shield line-up had to do without Billingford bowler F .Bales who had met with considerable success in the corresponding fixture of 1905. He was ruled out this time after slipping on a rail at Wymondham station and breaking a bone in his left wrist.

Club & Ground won by 65 runs in a low-scoring match. The Shield lads went in for a second time and had reached 14 for the loss of Pope’s wicket when a thunderstorm put paid to play for the day.

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