PACE & SPIN

Tom Hol­land pays tribute to the tra­di­tions of English sum­mer cricket, a sport rich in va­ri­ety, from the fre­netic short-form game to lan­guorous af­ter­noons spent on sun-dap­pled grounds

Town & Country (UK) - - THE SEASON -

For as long as there has been an English Sea­son, there has been cricket. Matches were be­ing played on vil­lage greens un­der the Tu­dors. In 1751, when the Prince of Wales dropped dead of a burst abcess, it was re­li­ably re­ported that the in­jury had been sus­tained two years ear­lier, cour­tesy of a blow to the ribs from a cricket ball. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, near the Hamp­shire vil­lage of Ham­ble­don, a club was be­ing founded that would set the tem­plate for all the great venues of the English sum­mer Sea­son: Wim­ble­don, As­cot, Glas­ton­bury. Matches at Ham­ble­don at­tracted the best play­ers, big-spend­ing spec­ta­tors and no­to­ri­ously ex­trav­a­gant gam­blers. Huge ex­panses of tents would sprout up around the boundary. Punch was sold strong enough ‘to make hair curl’. A thor­oughly good time was had by all. To­day, although the fes­ti­vals held at Ham­ble­don are long gone, cricket con­tin­ues to pro­vide the English sum­mer with an inim­itable di­ver­sity of rhythms. For those who want to pop cham­pagne corks while mar­vel­ling at the sheer beauty of which a sports ground is ca­pable, the an­nual Test match at Lord’s is un­beat­able. The ground it­self – a fu­sion of ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal am­bi­ence with oc­ca­sion­ally space-age architecture – per­fectly sums up a game that is at once deeply tra­di­tional and ready to embrace change. If you can only spare a few hours, rather than five days, there is the poly­chrome glitz of the T20 tour­na­ment: a swag­ger­ing, cock­sure round of matches in grounds across the coun­try, com­plete with coloured uni­forms and gy­rat­ing cheer­lead­ers. And then, of course – for those who know that to sam­ple cricket at its ab­so­lute, glo­ri­ous best it is nec­es­sary to play it – there is the sum­mer-long de­light that comes from turn­ing up to fixtures week­end in, week­end out.

For my team, the Au­thors XI, the sea­son be­gins as it al­ways be­gins, in a scrubby cor­ner of north Lon­don. Noth­ing speaks more ro­man­ti­cally to us of April than ar­riv­ing in Vic­to­ria Park, greet­ing the same op­po­si­tion we have been play­ing for years, and then, against the back­drop of dis­tant Ca­nary Wharf, get­ting soundly thrashed. Every match that fol­lows through­out the sum­mer has a sim­i­larly dis­tinc­tive feel. Some games are played in the heart of the city, and some in the wilds of the coun­try­side; some are played on the parched wick­ets of Au­gust, and some amid the fall­ing dew of Oc­to­ber. All, though, of­fer the same com­fort­ing re­as­sur­ance that the fes­ti­vals of the church would surely have pro­vided a me­di­ae­val peas­ant. The years go round; but the sea­sons en­dure.

TENTS WOULD SPROUT UP AROUND THE BOUNDARY; PUNCH WAS SOLD STRONG ENOUGH ‘TO MAKE HAIR CURL’

Tom Hol­land bowl­ing for the Au­thors XI at Stour­head. Above: the aris­to­cratic teams of Kent ver­sus Sur­rey in 1775. Right: a trading card from 1905

Above right: a straw-hat tower dur­ing a Test at Old Traf­ford in 1938. Right: a match in progress in the Lake District

The Queen meet­ing the Eng­land team at Lord’s in 1956. Above: an illustration show­ing the 1937 match played to mark the 150th an­niver­sary of the Maryle­bone Cricket Club

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