Following On From Aggers

As the England players were quick to point out yesterday they won by 247 runs so what’s all the fuss about? The answer is that they might easily not have done and that, had they enforced the follow on, they might have completed the win on Monday. To older cricket watchers the conservatism of many modern captains is puzzling. Back in the day it was rare not to enforce the follow on, the only occasions when you wouldn’t being those where your opponents had made a score that, outside the context of the match was a large total, (400 say in reply to 600), and your bowlers needed a rest.  To bat again when you had a large lead and had not spent a long time bowling the opposition out (New Zealand’s’ first innings at Headingley lasted 43 overs)  was considered contrary to the spirit of cricket.   Nearly forty years ago Geoff Boycott, captaining Yorkshire, incurred much opprobrium for batting again against Oxford University and opting for batting practice rather than going for a win.   At least the students had the satisfaction of getting him out twice for singles figures. Viv Richard’s fury at not being asked to bat again in a County Championship game was hardly defused when the opposing captain said he just wanted to tire them out before the following day’s Nat West Trophy game against the same opponents. As Viv told him (forcefully), the game would be avenged for this disrespectful attitude.

When it comes to enforcing the follow on, or not, New Road has witnessed two of the more bizarre incidents, both against Northamptonshire. In 1979, after a lot of play had been lost to rain, Norman Gifford made an adventurous declaration, 148 runs behind, and was asked to bat again. Gifford had forgotten that, owing to the amount of play lost, the lead required to enforce the follow on was 100 runs rather than 150. Gifford, a rather prickly man despite his avuncular image, virtually accused his opposite number Jim Watts of cheating. Watts drily informed him that it wasn’t his job to tell the opposing captain the rules.

Nine years later it was Phil Neale and Geoff Cook who found themselves at loggerheads. Neale, wishing to enforce the follow on, looked up to the Northants balcony as he walked off the field, caught Cook’s eye and made a batting motion. Minutes later he almost choked on his tea as he saw Northants taking the field and ordered his team out to avoid a fait accompli. As Cook and Neale argued, with Cook claiming he hadn’t seen Neale’s hand signal, 22 players milled around in the outfield. The umpires had to phone Lords for a ruling and half a dozen overs were lost.

By all means bat the Aussies out of the game in the final Test of the Ashes are still at stake but please let’s see more of the follow on. It does add colour to the game!.

Erratic Memories

Yesterday we had a day out in the bit of Oxfordshire that was, until, 1974, part of the Royal County of Berkshire. Our main destination was Wallingford and a trip on the heritage railway to Cholsey. Looking for a venue for a pub lunch I saw the name North Moreton in the Good Beer Guide and was taken back to the summer of 1982.

One of the delights of being at Balliol College Oxford in the summer  was and is playing cricket for the College Second Eleven, the Erratics. The Erratics are a more of a social eleven than a true second eleven and the emphasis is very much on the Social. We used to play a number of away fixtures against village teams in the Oxford area and North Moreton was one of the regular fixtures. .

Memory sometimes plays tricks so it was reassuring to find that the cricket ground and the adjacent pub were pretty much as I remembered them. The score board, though, looked new and incongruously electronic. Back in 1982 its predecessor stood inside the boundary and the local rule was that you could be caught off the roof. We were told the tale of how, a few years earlier, Chris Tavare, playing for St John’s College, was caught off the roof but refused to walk evidently thinking that getting out to a village green trundler was too great an indignity for an Oxford Blue. As this was the time when Tavare was at the peak such as it was, of his Test career, boring the nation rigid in the process  we enjoyed the story, that is we enjoyed it once we had got over our shock at the idea of him playing an attacking stroke. My memory has erased most traces of the game itself but I have an idea I scored a battling 2 which would have been my top score for the Erratics  I doubt that I was asked to bowl. The evening in the pub was most enjoyable.

The great thing about social cricket is that the result is really unimportant. You do your best, you try to win, respect for your opponents demands it, but the setting and the occasion are more important, and the camaraderie more important still. Above all Erratics cricket was and is about us and not about me. That surely applied to the North Moreton team that day who had a whip round and put money behind the bar so that their student guests could enjoy the hospitality.

They were playing cricket at North Moreton yesterday, a mixed children’s game. It is days like this that stick in the memory as you get older and I am sure that long after the fine detail of the day has slipped away they will remember sun and mown grass, and , forgive the cliché, the thwack of bat on ball.  They will remember too what a wonderful thing it is to play cricket, however good you are.