Meetings > North East and Durham Branch
Michael Gauntlett reports:
Norman Harris (Reporting Cricket) - Michael Gauntlett reports:
Welcomed as the Society's first speaker of the new season - also at the first meeting in the recently opened Cathedral suite at Riverside, Norman Harris began by saying that he came from a humble cricket - playing country ....12,000 miles away.
Norman was brought up in Hamilton, New Zealand where among his earliest memories was assisting on the Seddon Park scoreboard and removing Colin Cowdrey's name - bowled by their off-spinner for a duck. Years later he spoke at a Sussex Colts annual dinner, at which Sir Colin was also a guest, recalling his sadness at having so to do. A ripple of laughter ran round the room for the young audience disbelieved him. He would talk more about these worldly wise Sussex colts later....
Norman recalled that he listened in those days to cricket commentaries on the local radio station - delivered by a certain Bill Cassidy, that were vivid in their own way having a an amazingly flat delivery. He cited two examples - one involving Fred Trueman, fielding in the slips - who had been overheard describing a particular delivery by Frank Tyson: 'That were fooking fast'.
He now turned to his more recent experience as a journalist. Norman imagined that all would be aware that the cricket reporting they used to depend on every day in the Telegraph, the Guardian, the Times and the Independent is not as it used to be. Today you might get one or two full reports, but a lot of it is frequently wrapped up in the summary of all games - what in the trade is called The Roundup. Norman said when he would phone in some time after the tea-break, asking for 'space', the dreaded words came back: 'Tight for space today I'm afraid, just a hundred words for the Round-up' plus - increasingly, 'and 400 for on-line.'
While Test cricket is given star treatment, county cricket cannot compete for interest with football. Sadly, although there are quite a few more sports pages in total than there used to be, there is much less room for county cricket. Also, most national newspapers are losing money - it's a trend that is coursing them to shut down in the USA and elsewhere, and Norman was sure that closures will soon start here.
But a final stay of execution comes with newspaper websites. The on-line, constantly updated editions provide ample scope for cricket records, or 'blogs'.& However, is it working? Norman described his and other correspondents' experiences in running blogs - which started this summer - with the instruction from head-office that they provide anything that catches the writer's interest - and at the start all the writers were trying to outdo each other. He recalled writing about how the intrepid Mustard dealt with a ball that was rebounding close to his stumps by 'heading' it away off his helmet.
This and other examples attracted considerable interest of on-line readers. However, the novelty seems to have worn almost completely away. Very few questions are now being asked.
What of the future? Norman believes that anything could happen, including county cricket reports just disappearing. But, of course, all media is rapidly evolving. If we can make a mobile phone also access e-mails and the internet, who knows where we may eventually get to? He hopes that good writing and intelligent observation doesn't disappear in a blizzard of routine detail.
And so on to international cricket - Norman considered the canvas to be such a big one and the focus on central players so intense that writers like Michael Atherton of his paper - the Times, or Vic Marks of the Observer, will have plenty to offer....on the question, for example, of whether Jonathon Trott stays too long in second gear, or how Swann copes with being attacked.
He admits he used to be sceptical about former players picking up the pen, but he now appreciates that some of them can write very well, and with an appreciation of events that even extends to the spectators and the needs of the game in general.
An understanding of the heart and soul of cricket is, Norman thinks, essential. It's been said before, but surely no other game has such a strong thread of humanity woven through it. He recalled his time managing the Richmond (Surrey) Colts and writing the history of that club.
Finally, Norman referred to his recent book 'What Are You Doing Out Here?' which deals with humanity in cricket on an altogether bigger scale. It is a distressing and heroic story involving the South Africa v. New Zealand Test match played at Ellis Park, Johannesburg , beginning Christmas Eve 1953. The same day a big railway disaster occurred in New Zealand and, of the 151 victims, one was the fiancée of the New Zealand fast bowler, Bob Blair. The whole crowd present at Ellis Park changed their support to the Kiwis for the rest of the match.
Paul Murphy thanked Norman for his excellent talk and members present were in full agreement.