President's Piece

In each of our regular New Bulletins the President, John Barclay, writes his observations on cricket. You can read the latest edition below.

CRICKET & RIVERS

It is a pleasure to write a few words in the bulletin, although you may think that cricket and rivers don’t sit together all that easily in the great scheme of things. I love both with an equal passion, despite having suffered more than most at the hands of flowing water and fearsome bowling attacks.

Of the County grounds only two, so far as I’m aware, have cricket squares within a pitching wedge of rivers: at Chelmsford and Taunton, the rivers Chelmer and Tone are, or at least were, very much in striking range. Way back in the early seventies, twice Keith Pont deposited my bowling into the river at Chelmsford long before the stands grew up and acted as a barrier to such misfortune. The balls floated off downstream before there was time to retrieve them. Grudgingly the umpire would toss me another one and, at the same time, encouraged Pont to keep the ball on the ground as money was tight in those days.

Taunton, though, was a different kettle of fish. On this occasion, probably in the early eighties, we’re talking about a Sunday league match between Somerset and Sussex. I rather foolishly brought myself on to bowl (I was Captain) at the pavilion end soon after Viv Richards had come in to bat. Imran Khan, now Pakistan’s Prime Minister, had earlier suggested, somewhat mischievously I think, that, if anything, Viv was susceptible to spin early in his innings – ‘could be careless, might make a mistake’, that sort of talk. Well, I took the bait, flattered to get the nod from the then Pakistan Captain, and prepared to bowl forgetting that behind the ground, concealed by the pavilion, flowed quite gently the murky waters of the River Tone.

I only bowled the one over that day. Although it did concede 28 runs, it was perfectly respectable of length and line, as indeed was Malcolm Nash’s over to Gary Sobers at Swansea a decade or more earlier, but the ground was just not big enough. What made the Tone even worse than the Chelmer and Richards’ savagery all the more potent was that the river bank was lined with Sunday afternoon fishermen who didn’t take kindly to being bombarded with missiles which disrupted their casting rhythm and presumably frightened the fish as well. Three times the ball landed in the river with a splash and on each occasion was netted out by an angry fisherman and lobbed back over the wall and onto the field of play – wet and soggy. It could have happened to anyone, you may generously be thinking, but the fact is it happened to me and somewhat spoilt my Sunday afternoon. It didn’t exactly make me question Imran’s judgement at the time but possibly his Ministers in Pakistan might just pause for a moment’s thought when taking counsel from their new Prime Minister.

While on the subject of Imran and, although not a fisherman himself so far as I’m aware, he did write the text to the most beautiful book charting the course of the River Indus which provides the backbone to Pakistan and is indeed its lifeblood. From the rushing torrents of the Himalayas, through Kashmir, the North-West Frontier, the Punjab and Sindh it flows south feeding the cities of Peshawar, Islamabad and Rawalpindi, Lahore, Multan, Hyderabad and Karachi where, ten miles wide in places, it empties into the Arabian Sea. The river and its tributaries give life to this vast region and its people whose passion for cricket, despite all the troubles inflicted upon them, knows no bounds and is so important for their well-being and culture.

And of course the same applies to this country. There must be many rivers in range of a good hit, village or club ground, with water or canal perhaps lurking nearby to play havoc with the analysis of some unsuspecting and enthusiastic bowler. I would love to hear of them. 

Of the major grounds, perhaps Worcester and Nottingham come most quickly to mind; the Oval too is not far distant from the Thames but none of them within firing range even with a modern cricket bat. The influence of the River Severn upon Worcester’s lovely ground has, over the years, been most profound. Flooding has, most winters, engulfed the ground seeping through from behind the pavilion with muddy waters leaving behind them the silt from which the grass has thrived – Surrey loam and its binding qualities neither needed nor wanted. Pitches with pace upon which Jack Flavell and Len Coldwell thrived and, later, Vanburn Holder were the order of the day and have played an important part in the County’s championship successes. While the silt ensured good cricket pitches, it was the river I loved. Overlooked by the Cathedral marked on its outer walls with the heights of record floods, there is something spiritual and timeless about the place. Prayers in the morning, ‘Dear Lord, it would be so helpful if Glenn Turner could have an off-day’, followed by a walk down to the weir and its giant pool lined with fishermen hurling their spinners into the bubbling foam in quest of an elusive salmon. The fish in May, all the way from their feeding grounds around Greenland, would swim and jump through the waterfall with an athleticism and strength that no cricketer could possibly match on their way to breeding in shallows far beyond Shrewsbury and on into the hills of Wales. A walk by the Severn with its healing powers served as a strong antidote to being bamboozled by Gifford’s spin or D’Oliveira’s craft.

And so to Nottingham whose ground of course takes its name from perhaps this country’s most important river. ‘A stone’s throw away’, as they say, although it would take a mighty good arm to get there in one. Paul Parker on a good day might do it with two good throws but relays would be needed for me. The Trent in flood is a fearsome sight and to stand on the famous bridge is not for the faint-hearted with powerful torrents swirling through the heart of England providing millions with sustenance and employment. It’s a great river whose impact is probably greater than Severn or indeed Thames whose tributaries I try to recall when I can’t sleep starting at its source and working my way down beyond the River Roding and Greenwich.

I may be wrong but, whilst I don’t feel conditions at the Oval are much affected by the Thames, I have always wondered why the ball would tend to swing so much and so consistently at Trent Bridge. Hadlee and Rice were always a handful but it was Barry Stead, left-arm fast medium and stocky of build, who did for me. Sunny day, good batting pitch, all in my favour but Stead would spoil the day with a late in-ducker, not as fast as Sobers, but just as deadly. In those days I was young and rarely did the umpire spare me when hit on the pad. When I became Captain I had a few extra innings which, frankly, I felt I deserved to make up for the traumas of my early career. So not only did the Trent feed and nurture the Midlands but it also appeared to influence the flight of the ball which, at the time, was of far more significance so far as I was concerned and has been of much assistance to Nottinghamshire’s cricket.

So far I have only touched upon the mighty Severn, Trent and Thames alongside the Chelmer and Tone and not forgetting the mighty Indus, but there must be many rivers whose influence upon the game has been profound. Rumour has it that the River Taff at Cardiff has also been well peppered over the years; perhaps our Welsh members will enlighten me.

 

John Barclay