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Life without cricket would have me stumped, says Keith Skipper

PUBLISHED: 19:03 26 July 2020 | UPDATED: 19:03 26 July 2020

Mileham Cricket Club, probably augmented by players from next-door Stanfield, landed a proud double exactly 100 summers ago. They won the Mid-Norfolk League Challenge Shield and Boyle Cup in 1920. Here they are on parade with the shield

Mileham Cricket Club, probably augmented by players from next-door Stanfield, landed a proud double exactly 100 summers ago. They won the Mid-Norfolk League Challenge Shield and Boyle Cup in 1920. Here they are on parade with the shield

Archant

Keith Skipper is never happier than when he’s watching cricket. Here’s why...

Sports enthusiasts in general, and cricket lovers in particular, must be feeling short-changed or even downright cheated as this phantom summer drifts on its wispy way towards August.

Big-time fixtures are still being staged without spectators as if to underline an obvious truth about rich sponsors, owners and performers, plus all-powerful television moguls, caring next to nothing about paying customers,

It’s a cynical hollow exercise orchestrated by greed rather than any reasonable attempt to coax one football campaign into another while allowing Test Match cricket, classic horse races like the Derby and various other regular calendar events to carry on regardless.

Sport without passionate supporters is a soulless charade. I would have come to that same verdict even if Norwich City managed to muster enough bravado and points to retain Premier League status. Their demise will long carry a haunting cry of “pointless exercise”.

Cricket, of course, remains the great summer game for those of us still clinging to a semblance of belief in an old maxim “to each its season”. Listening to Test cricket without applause, cheers, gentle hum of expectant crowd or occasional Barmy Army rendition leaves me about as joyful as shivering on Cromer Pier in a December snowstorm.

So, time to switch from the current ridiculous to the time-honoured sublime with a heart-lifting picture drawn by Sir James Barrie, creator of Peter Pan and a world so hard to leave:

“A rural cricket match in buttercup time, seen and heard through the trees, is surely the loveliest scene in England and the most disarming sound. From the ranks of the unseen dead for ever passing along our country lanes on their eternal journey, the Englishmen fall out for a moment to look over the gate of the cricket field and smile”.

I can hear Neville Cardus and John Arlott cogitating stylishly over such an evocative little page of poetic tribute to a game that has inspired more literary innings of sheer class than any other.

Perhaps, like me, they still frown on too many one-day and limited over carnivals while accepting with a gentle shrug how the first-class scene has stolen from the village green to revive its financial fortunes and attract new interest.

I can’t imagine life without cricket simply because it’s been there from the start. Crackling commentaries on the old wireless with father demanding hush at the table as the 1948 Australians, especially that Bradman genius, took away much of the taste.

Release from chapel on a Sunday afternoon and immediate charge towards our village pitch near the war memorial. Beeston versus Longham - just as important as any Test Match and worthy of my budding Arlott impression as I pedalled furiously to our shrine of rural combat.

These games often lured entire families out to play. Uncles and older brothers in the team. Father umpiring. Mother and sisters doing the teas. I made my mark as village scorer. The pen was always mightier than the willow in my hand.

There was always a chance that someone’s bike would break down or a cow would start calving at an awkward time. “Put the boy down at number 11”. Excitement and dread make a potent cocktail as the ball hurtles towards you through nettles and cowpats.

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I steal back regularly to the boundary edge to relive exciting fixtures and recall colourful characters from the 1950s, my golden chapter in any attempt to capture full flavours of a time of rebuilding both in family and community. Village sporting rivalry provided a grandstand seat.

Armed with lists of Mid-Norfolk Cricket League Challenge Shield and Boyle Cup winners since these competitions started in the early 1900s, I revel in a few Beeston successes and reflect on a number of outstanding records run up by clubs in their cluster of local derby opponents.

My home village’s purple patch in Shield action had to wait for the “modern” era when they were victors four seasons out of five in the 1990s. Rougham, Foulsham, Beetley and Brisley dominated honours during my years close to the action as scorer and emergency player. I biked regularly to Dereham for Shield finals on August Bank Holiday Mondays.

The Boyle Cup was presented to the league in 1911 by William Boyle, Liberal Unionist MP for Mid Norfolk. Beeston triumphs in 1927 and 1938 came too early to coincide with summers of pitching in for my native patch.

Skip’s Aside: Here are a few talking points to ponder when rain stops play and teas are being prepared:

Norfolk cricket authorities have contacted England Test selectors with an offer of “a home-grown cricket team capable of stretching the Aussies” – Bale, Bylaugh, Clippesby, Edgefield, Overstrand, Outwell, Runhall, Testerton, Three Holes, Pulham Market and Swardeston.

What do Old Trafford in 1887 and Shropham in 1982 have in common? Press your buzzer if you know both grounds saw play held up by swarms of bees. At Lancashire headquarters so many flew on during the match against Surrey players were forced to take refuge in the pavilion. In the more recent Norfolk epic between Shropham and Hales, the little creatures delayed play five minutes either side of the tea interval.

The first Australian cricketers to tour England, a team of Aborigines from Victoria, met the Carrow Club in Norwich in 1868. The visitors won by an innings and 52 runs. It would be a decade before white cricketers toured England and another 14 years before the Ashes were first contested.

Extract from Narborough Cricket Club’s minute book for 1948: “August 3rd .. Fund-raising fete. Swaffham Town Band was to be engaged to supply music, if not too expensive. Otherwise an Electric Reproducer was to be found”.

Charles Wright, a Dereham solicitor who died in 1886, played for Norfolk. He was celebrated as a bowler and a story is told that he once dismissed King Edward VII, when Prince of Wales, first ball. This incident was severely criticised and it was said he should have given HRH a chance by sending up an easy one.

The worst cricket captain is the one who sends you out to bat in the middle of a hat-trick.

Did you hear about the Norfolk cricketer whose answerphone boasted he was not out?

Norfolk village cricketer: “Howzat!”. Norfolk village umpire: “Sorry, I wunt a’ lookin’. But if he dew it again, he’s owt!”

Rudyard Kipling said cricket was “casting a ball at three straight sticks and defending the same with a fourth”. George Bernard Shaw, on being told England had been unsuccessful in Australian Tests, asked what they had been testing


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