Centenary Committee
The Early Years
Turn of the Century
Between the Wars 1921-1939
The Middle Years
League Cricket
1975 Onwards
League Players
The Next Century

The Grass Roots
The First 100 Years
Our Own Ground and it's Amenities
Our Life Members
The Club Game
From Nairobi to Nottingham
West Country Tours
Youth Cricket
And Don't Forget the Groundsman


Club cricket can have its traumas at first for the young cricketer who knows his limitations but loves playing the game.More often than not it is as difficult for a boy who has recently left school to persuade the adult powers to give him a fair crack of the whip as it is for the aspiring professional at a higher level. Those who have played faithfully for the club over the years may have lost their speed in the field, their fire with the ball or their flair with the bat, but the game means much to them and they have no desire to lose their prime place in the batting order or their expectation of a regular bowl. Often, indeed, the immediate interests of the club are better served by the old-stagers, because it takes time for a young cricketer to adapt to adult cricket.Everything is very different from the school game. The humour is bawdy. Everyone has his leg pulled. The fast bowlers seem faster - often are faster-and are certainly larger and stronger. Pitches are seldom so reliable as a well-tended school pitch. Innocent-looking deliveries bowled by bald-headed men with large paunches turn out to possess hidden devils. Umpires are less predictable. It is not as safe as it looks to take a single to the old boy in the yellowing sweater with a limp: he turns out to have a throw like a rifle-shot. When an opportunity comes to bowl, the young fast bowler's nasty lifting deliveries are nudged away to the square-leg boundary with the greatest of ease by a batsman who looks as though he's never been taught any technique at all, and the young spinner's subtly flighted off-breaks are driven to all parts by a tall chap in a striped cap who also turns out to be a brilliant hooker and puller whenever the ball is pitched shorter. It is after the game is finished, however, that the differences are most marked. The school game ends with a rapid change back into uniform and resumption of schoolboy life. But for adults, the day has only just begun when stumps are drawn.

From the most bucolic village to the most sophisticated league, the drinks in the bar are what count. There it is that the swanky, loud-mouthed so-and-so of a fast bowler turns out to be a most charming solicitor of high repute, and the self-effacing batsman who never said a word when he was given out caught behind off the buckle of his pad emerges as a brilliant raconteur of blue stories. There it is that players who have not had much luck slowly drown the pain of failure, while those who have done well in the match discuss over and over again the three cover-driven fours .in one over which turned the game-"You can bat in your sleep on this pitch" -or the brilliant catch which was "just one of those ones which stuck". A marvellous camaraderie spreads around friend and foe. Two decades ago the cheerful swapping of stories, post-mortems on the game, discussions on why England's Test team was such a dead loss and sundry other meanderings round a cricket theme used invariably to take place in the pub. Nowadays even small village clubs raise money by fetes, whist-drives, raffles, donkey-derbies and celebrity matches, and perhaps a loan from the National Playing Fields Association in order to build themselves a bar. It isn't really quite the same, but the takings at the bar help to keep down match-fees to a feasible level. There are more women to be seen drinking with the cricketers these days, too, although they tend to be either starry-eyed fiancees who have not yet learned to be bitter about how much cricket their beloved plays, or more elderly wives whose children have left the nest and who long ago gave up trying to persuade the old man that there are other ways to spend a warm Saturday evening in summer than sinking pint after pint of bitter from the "jug".
The jug, filled up first by the home skipper, then by the opposing captain, circulates briskly. Traditionally, anyone who has got five wickets or fifty runs also pays for a jug, so it is a bad evening, or rather a bad match, if it doesn't get filled up at least six times.

To a temperate youth all this takes some getting used to, but playing club cricket at any level means accepting that it is a man's world. It is not - or not usually - a case of a cricket match being an excuse for lingering on after the match to talk about cricket. Perhaps there are indeed better things to do on summer evenings but there are worse things too, as any policeman will tell you, and drinks with the opposition after the game are a part of the ritual. They help to give cricket its unique character and friendliness. The tradition goes back to the earliest days: any student of Hambledon will know how important was the Bat and Ball Inn besides Broadhalfpenny Down to those larger-than-life characters who played in the club's great days of the 1770s and 1780s. Indeed the club's "head and right arm", Richard Nyren, was the innkeeper and the inn, in effect, was the clubhouse:

"Then fill up your glass, he's the best that drinks most.
Here's the Hambledon Club! - who refuses the toast?"

In more recent times fear of the breathalyzer has happily prevented many excesses, and the lure of television along with the emancipation of women, and in many cases the pressures of work, have cut down the time spent at the club bar. But cricket maintains its genuine social role: in James Pycroft's Victorian novel Elkerton Rectory, the Reverend Henry Austin records: "My cricket club was designed to encourage sympathy between man and man, however wide their ranks might be asunder, and most admirably did it conduce towards this end". It still does, although village cricket these days embraces a wider range of professions than it used to. It is many years now since a batsman walked out in a village match in Somerset with the club's only pad strapped to his right leg instead of his left. "Bert", said the opposing village's fast bowler when he saw one of his old adversaries thus clad, "you've got your pad on the wrong leg". "Ah", said Bert, in all seriousness. "So I 'ave. But t'will be on the right one when I get up t'other end".

Reproduced with the kind permission of J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.


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