Good Company and Chance Encounters

10th August 2017

For such as me, traditionalists – or conservatives or old fogies (delete as appropriate) – of English cricket, it is a source of some concern that the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have hollowed out the CountyChampionship season so that, in Yorkshire’s case, only one 4-day match is being played this year between 6th July and 5th September. Of the 14 Championship fixtures (reduced from 16 last year), no fewer than 8 are being played before the end of May or from the beginning of September. The days of mid-summer are largely allocated to the powerful beast that is Twenty-20 cricket.

There was a certain inevitability, therefore, that George Farrow – a near(ish) neighbour (though resident in the wilds of Strathblane) – and I should plan to attend the four days of the Essex fixture at Scarborough. We had pencilled in the engagement some time ago, given George’s allegiance to the visitors, and the decision had been notably prescient, as Essex had established a healthy (29 point) lead at the top of Division 1. Yorkshire started the match in 4th position, 38 points behind the leaders, though perhaps equally relevantly only 36 points above the Somerset side occupying the second relegation place (and having played one more game).

We were joined for the Monday’s play – the second and, as it turned out, final day – by Andrew Carter, an old schoolfriend, whose co-presence following Yorkshire’s fortunes was a nice throwback to many a yesterday, as noted in An Ordinary Spectator. On the Tuesday evening, in the hotel, George and I had a drink with Dick Davies – the respected cricket correspondent of BBC Radio Essex – and his wife Sarah, the latter also an expert on her county’s side.

Good company.

Amongst the other spectators (around 5½ thousand on both days), there was a supporting cast of new faces who became increasingly (and eerily) familiar. On the outward train journey from York to Scarborough, George and I fell into conversation with two Essex supporters (one living in Hove and the other a native of Dundee!) and a Yorkshire member from Redcar. The latter was pessimistic, not only about the form of the home side’s batting line-up, but about the likely quality of the B&B to which the Hove man had committed. Towards the end of Sunday’s play, we met a Derbyshire supporter and his elderly father in the Scarborough ground’s tea room, whilst watching the closing overs and being fortified by the thick slices of a rather good fruit loaf. On the Monday afternoon, on the front row of the raised stand opposite the Scarborough ground’s entrance, my neighbour to the left was middle-aged man explaining the finer points of the game – in a locally prep-schooled accent (as I later learned) – to his wife.

The Redcar man’s pessimism was (partly) justified. Yorkshire’s batsmen couldn’t cope with the speed and control – and general excellence – of the Pakistani left-arm pace bowler Mohammad Amir, who took 10 wickets in the match and was ably supported by Jamie Porter who claimed 7 victims. (It is a sign of trouble when, 40 minutes into a 4-day match, the score stands at 25 for 5). Yorkshire’s totals of 113 and 150 all out rested heavily on an outstanding first innings 68 by Adam Lyth and an impressive 70 on the last afternoon by Jack Leaning. Aside from these two efforts, the runs scored in the 10 innings played by Yorkshire’s top six batsmen totalled exactly 31.

By contrast, when Essex batted, all of the top six made double figures and, batting at number 6, the captain Ryan ten Doeschate scored a well-constructed 88 to earn his side a decisive first innings lead of 118. If Essex do win this year’s CountyChampionship – and their lead at the top of the table at the end of this round of fixtures has stretched to 41 points – they will undoubtedly look back on ten Doeschate’s innings as one of the season’s defining contributions. On this occasion, Essex duly knocked off the 33 runs required for victory for the loss of two second innings wickets.

It’s a small world. As George and I walked to the ground down North Marine Drive on the second morning, we met the Hove-based Essex supporter and his mate. They had been suitably impressed by the welcome given by the Scarborough club (and by their B&B) as well as the performance of their side. Later in the evening, we also met the Derbyshire man and his father in the dining room of the hotel. The following morning – the game having finished and our plans now revised to take in a visit to Beverley Minister – we met the Hove man for a third time on our way to Scarborough railway station.

It poured with rain in Beverley and it was with some relief that we completed the short walk from the station to the Minster. The first people we met on entering the church were the pleasant prep-schooled man and his wife.

The visit to the Minster completed, George and I went for a long walk through the driving rain out to Beverley racecourse and then returned, about an hour later, to the centre of the town. There seemed to be about 25 tea rooms in which to find suitable refreshment and to dry out. We chose one on Ladygate where, seated at an upper-floor table, were Mr and Mrs Prep-School. Almost inevitably, after George and I had rested for another hour and decided to take the long sweep past the Minster on the way back to the station, we met the same couple coming in the opposite direction.

It goes without saying that, back at the hotel, the man from Derbyshire was sitting in the hotel lobby with his parents.

Perhaps these opportunities for acquaintance and re-acquaintance take place all the time and we simply don’t notice them. (I reported in Still An Ordinary Spectator of a similar experience with a neighbouring spectator at a Leeds Rhinos/Castleford Tigers Super League match in 2014, who on the following lunchtime sat down at the adjoining table in the café at LeedsCityArtGallery). It could be that the element of chance is not in the encounter itself, but in the ability to recognise it when it occurs.

For the county cricketers of Yorkshire and Essex, the opportunities for re-acquaintance are already mapped out. At present, the respective directions of travel are clearly evident: for one, the look over the shoulder to the relegation places; for the other the progress towards a Championship pennant. The final 4-day match of the season is Essex versus Yorkshire at Chelmsford.

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