Saturday, 15 May 2010

Cricket - Back to the Roots

Earlier this week, I found myself deep in the heart of the Hampshire countryside, in the Meon Valley, on an arranged six-mile walk with my old man. The aim of the trip was to take in some fresh air on a pleasant May day, whilst revisiting some of the locations of the roots of cricket and its historical background.

However, as the afternoon drew to a close, with a pint in hand at a fine old pub called The Bat & Ball at Broadhalfpenny Down, I reflected on how the game has changed so dramatically, and not entirely to my liking.

I arrived in the village of West Meon at The Thomas Lord pub to meet my walking partner for some lunch, before the assault on the legs commenced. Thomas Lord (pictured above), whom the ground Lord's is named after, retired to this village in 1830 and died there shortly after in 1832. Lord is buried at the church in the village, which I visited some years earlier, shortly before my 11th birthday (see pic).

The pub is steeped in history. Scorecards on the walls, old cricket bats and boots and general memorabilia placed throughout. If you ever want to have a drink in an old English cricket-themed inn, which hasn't been tampered with by the likes of Harvester, this is the place for you. The one downfall perhaps, was that the menu (and prices) had been jigged around a bit by a chef who could only be described as hoity toity.

There was even an appearance put in by Wendy of West Meon, the village drunk. Due to the smoking ban, she was ousted to the benches outside, much to the delight of the pub's diners and your scribe.

Enough of the pub. Unfortunately, the pleasant sunny May weather (not Floyd) we had envisaged didn't grace us with its presence. Instead, we got soaked. If it wasn't for my good friend Peter Storm I could have been stumped, to put a good cricketing term to use.

Anyway, the weather didn't spoil the walk too badly at all and after we had dried off, it was off to Broadhalfpenny Down and the pub I mentioned earlier.

Broadhalfpenny Down (a real classic English place name which is up there with Nether Wallop and Lower Slaughter) is home to a cricket pitch dating back to 1756, and The Bat & Ball pub is nicknamed the 'Cradle of Cricket'. As you can imagine, this pub is also full of cricketing memorabilia, very popular and well worth a visit.

Many Englishmen have had deep and considered thoughts on life over a pint, and I the other day was one of them. I on the other hand, was thinking about the life of cricket and how I believe the game should be played, and more to the point, how the game's early developers thought it to be played.

Looking at the pictures on the walls of the pub, seeing gents wearing top hats and tails whilst playing, applauding the opposition generously when fielding, got me thinking. These chaps were playing competitively, getting paid to do so, but there was an air of respect for opponents and umpires. All this could be seen in those paintings. It is precisely that respect that I feel is sadly missing from cricket, not to mention other sports.

You'll be doing well to see a whole team of fielders applaud a batsman score a fifty or a hundred in a professional match today, let alone simply applauding a good shot. Furthermore, the etiquette of a fielding side clapping the opposing batsmen off the field of play first into the pavilion is fading too. If you watch a Test Match or shorter forms of the professional game, you will find the opening batsmen of the next innings charge off the field first to pad up, not waiting or clapping off the outgoing pair.

I agree that the idea of bringing back top hats and tails for today's cricket, seeing Steve Harmison charging in off his long run, looking like The Penguin escaping Batman, is a little far-fetched to say the least. But it is sad that today's professionals, who are meant to set a good example of how the game should be played, are the real culprits of showing a lack of respect for their opponents and umpires.

It stems down from their level to club cricket and youth cricket, meaning every level of the game has been affected.

After my empty pint glass was returned to the bar and I left the pub with the old man, an under 11s practice match had commenced on the famous old pitch across from the pub. We thought we'd do a circuit of the ground, where early forms of cricket were played all those years ago, before returning home.

The thoughts I had in the pub were confirmed, as deliveries watched whilst walking round the boundary just highlighted how the young have taken on the aggressive element of how cricket is now played, and that air of cockiness. One young spinner got down on his knees whilst appealing (which was more like a scream) for an LBW, another charged up the wicket to high five the wicket-keeper and the rest of his team as he ran past the batsman he just bowled. There were even remarks made against the batsman (known as sledging) in an attempt to talk the player out and put him off. And all this was from a group of eleven-year-olds who were a part of the same team having a practice. I dread to think of how they treat the lads from opposing clubs.

Measures have been taken by the cricketing authorities to try and sort some of this out, such as the 'Spirit of Cricket', but the people who really require a lesson in good manners and need to step back for a moment to watch themselves play, are the professionals. They need to be told it's just not cricket.

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