England were losing at cricket. A message alert arrived to tell us of gold in the men’s eights in distant Rio. And, under the hot Sussex sun, the Ryman South season got underway with Hastings coming from behind to dispose of South Park 4-1. A crowd of 322 looked on and, as the away team appeared to bring no travelling supporters, we can safely say that they all departed the Pilot Field happy.
At times the game was slightly tetchy. There were also times when it drifted, as if neither side could quite believe this wasn’t another pre-season run around. Hastings had, by far, the lion’s share of possession and half-chances as their visitors were content to stick to a solid approach and take whatever offerings came their way. They would have felt vindicated when they took the lead from tap-in midway through the first half. And if they’d held onto the lead until the break it could have been different. But just before the break James Wastell in the South Park goal fumbled a routine free kick into his net and from then on, with only the most moderate of scares, it was all Hastings.
Three more goals were added during a second half bright spell when everything began to click for the hosts. They still need a striker who wants to actually strike the ball though. This far down the pyramid is no place for a team filled with people who want to Portugal the ball into the net. But there was enough going on to ensure that the first day of the season ended with hope in Hastings’ hearts. South Park will need to want to play a bit more if they are to avoid this early-starting season feeling like a very, very long marathon to next Spring.
So, a pretty pleasing afternoon in non league country. Three generations (my dad and younger son joining me) watched together – and we managed to avoid the protestations from the junior member that not buying him a hot dog would be child abuse.
Sitting in twenty-six acres of West Sussex countryside the Cass Sculpture Foundation is a welcoming, accessible, explorable, mostly outdoor gallery of large-scale contemporary sculpture. You don’t have to follow the arrows and you don’t need to ‘get’ every piece to have a good time.
It probably helped that we had ideal conditions. Sunny but not too hot. Other people but not too busy. And a friendly, informative welcome from a knowledgeable woman determined to get through every Cass fact but without being overbearing. So now I know that they are a commissioner as well as presenter of sculpture, that the profit from every piece they sell is reinvested and that the display at Goodwood is constantly evolving. Whilst we were there the ‘permanent’ collection was complemented by works from modern Chinese artists under the banner of “A Beautiful Disorder”.
There’s a lot here to enjoy. I particularly liked “Folly (The Other Self)” by Sean Henry which is almost a physical reinterpretation of the voyeur-style paintings of Edward Hopper. The bright yellow swirling, interlocking shapes of Tony Cragg’s “Declination” are fun and eye-catching, whilst the playful “It Pays to Pray” from Rose Finn-Kelcey gave me no prayer for my 20p. I guess that says something. Diane Maclean’s “Encampment” uses shape and light to play with your perceptions but, for me, the eeriest and most striking work away from the Chinese selection is Peter Burke’s “Host”: shadowy faces emerge from tortured bodies like some forgotten, accusing army.
The “Beautiful Disorder” commissions are all interesting, in a good way. They show a China almost unsure of how to present itself both internally and externally as old meets new and the domestic becomes international. Most obviously in the whirling confusion of Wang Yuyang’s “Identity” monolith but recurring in works like Cui Jei’s silvery, twisted “Pigeon House”. It is an excellent show to catch.
To help you round you get a leaflet that handily (and pictorially) identifies the pieces, the artist and their inspiration. It feels delightfully old school in an age when everyone is sticking it all on an app. Rather like the simple pleasures of seeing art you might otherwise ignore presented so simply and so well.
Diesel the dog looked on and so did 219 humans of various motivations. Diesel is clear. She goes to every Tunbridge Wells (“The Wells”, never “Tunbridge”) home and way, provided they let her in. The man we met in the bar was less definite. He just needs new grounds to tick off. The Oval isn’t new but it can now be logged. But six matches in six days had left our explorer a little jaded. I hope he stuck around to the end of this FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round replay because after a slow start this game was worthy of that highest of praises: “a proper cup tie”.
Neither Eastbourne United AFC nor Tunbridge Wells have begun their league seasons with their drawn game on Saturday opening both of their campaigns. All agreed that the match in Kent was hard fought with a fair result. For much of this evening it looked like we were going to witness another tight one. The ball was often in midfield with defensive smarts stifling any go-forward from either team. When Eastbourne did take the lead, around the half hour mark, it came via a pounce on an error. They did the same again after the break to take what looked to be a fairly comfortable 2-0 lead. But Wells ploughed forward. It looked like they wouldn’t get the breaks but with about twenty minutes left they pulled one back. And then it all broke loose.
Defensive resilience, even common sense, seemed to fly out the window. Half chances were there for both sides. Eastbourne fired a one-on-one break well wide and Wells got goal shy even when they pushed through into the box. Somehow seven minutes of injury time were found – and during it a red card was brandished as an Eastbourne player lunged though from behind.
So it ended 2-1. For the winners, a home tie against either Newhaven or Rochester United. For the losers, the knowledge that they came so close. For everyone watching: some pretty decent entertainment as the football juggernaut fires up once more.
Sussex 30 for 1 v Glamorgan 101 (Garton 4-16) – No Result
T20 cricket is, like much about our Article 50 awaiting country, living in interesting times. The counties who launched the brave new world of Twenty20 cricket nearly a decade and a half ago now find themselves on the wrong side of modern. The media and ECB (sometimes you can tell them apart) eye the city-based franchise world of the IPL and Big Bash, and decide they want some of that. They will have found much in Hove to support their world view, as perversely because that is cricket, would those who believe the past is the foundation for the future and that the 18 counties of varying size and debt should continue to be the spine of cricket here.
We got less than 18 official overs although many more balls were bowled but, surely, nobody could feel shortchanged as the play we did see was as compelling as it was bizarre. George Garton took an amazing 4/16 as Glamorgan were bowled out inside their allotted 14 overs (the match start being delayed by 80 frustrating minutes) for 101. 26 of those were extras as Sussex took wickets regularly and spectacularly but also coughed up wides and no-balls for fun. Tymal Mills being particularly guilty – but then he also took two wickets at critical moments. In reply, Sussex reached 30/1 off 4.1 overs – technically behind the run rate, about level with Duckworth Lewis – but,despite valiant efforts from the ground staff as the drizzle became rain then stopped then started then stopped then half started then, the game fell five agonising balls from becoming official. No result.
Rain will fall on city-based franchises of course. This is England (and Wales). Cricket being cricket, umpires will continue to communicate in huddled whispers with only occasional nods to the crowd. We only knew this game had been called off because the players began shaking hands on the balcony. But, maybe, at the football grounds the ECB is dreaming of there will be magic ways of restarting quickly and, rather like Corbynites believe in untapped reservoirs of eager non voters, there will be tens of thousands not single digits of thousands cheering the groundsmen as they sweep the outfield with their tractors. Who knows?
What we do know is that tonight two teams gave their all for a match that, ultimately, couldn’t even do them the courtesy of generating a result. That’s cricket. Long may it continue.
“I thought it was tomorrow”, the voice on More Radio said as the car splashed through another puddle. She meant the summer solstice and the official first day of summer which is, apparently, today and not, as it appears we were both taught at school, tomorrow. The rain continued to fall hard regardless.
This is Bexhill. It was very wet in Bexhill. It was so wet that a group of European students who had walked along the seafront were taking refuge in the De La Warr Pavilion and using the dryers in the toilets in a forlorn attempt to return their clothes to wearable. At least they seemed to be enjoying themselves. What with jokes about the weather and then forming an orderly queue they’re well on their way to passing any current or future British citizenship test.
To read Emma John’s Following On is to willingly send yourself to a time when England’s cricket team were, as nobody got tired of saying, terrible. Cricket was on the TV all the time – every test, every one day international, every kind of county game – and yet with the biggest audience the game would ever have looking on its national side slumped again and again … and again. And yet Following On is not a chore. It is a loving, and lovely, homage to the time, to the game of cricket, and to the people who play it and support it.
By my rough maths I’m probably about two years ahead of the author. I also went to a substantially crapper university and am not female. So whilst there’s a staggeringly high tally of shared experiences there’s more than enough beyond that to turn it from one of those “Heh, remember when …” type talking head experiences. I’ve also not got in touch with 11 cricketers and asked them about the past. It’s these conversations which form the spine of the book, from which the memories and up-to-date analysis of life and cricket follow.
It’d be a bit of an unfair spoiler to say which players and which matches get the in depth treatment – beyond the obvious that Michael Atherton and that day in South Africa. I remember watching he and Jack Russell defend like heroes via the medium of a small set in the university’s TV room. A bunch of us roaring (and I suspect though have forgotten, roaring drunk) by the end. That and other occasions are well observed and enriched by the anecdotes of players from the time.
What also comes through is family. Cricket is not a game you can instinctively follow. I remember, many moons ago, staying with an American family (I was so cool I’d travelled by myself to watch Chicago Cubs baseball) and I said that I’d picked up enough about baseball inside a game and a half just by watching and listening to the commentators. But that’s impossible with cricket. Baseball may have a complex set of stats to boggle the noobs but it has nobody standing at Silly Mid Off. Emma’s mum, the introducer and explainer, features often – the bond of cricket keeping them going. I had a bit of a gulp at it all. My grandad used to perch the portable TV set up in the kitchen and it was he who started me on my understanding of the game – beginning with England’s extraordinary failure in the 1989 Ashes. But he died within 18 months and I never got to experience being at a game with him. I think he’d have liked that I spent yesterday with my own son vaguely trying to explain Duckworth Lewis – a concept which didn’t even exist back then, but which is as fiddly and incomprehensible as anything the evil gods of cricket have created since Thomas Lord laid out his field in Marylebone.
There is so much here to like. Emma John is an engaging and charming companion with the right eye for the whimsical – and Following On is as good a personal fan’s eye perspective on sport as I’ve read since the much copied, sometimes derided, but not really ever bettered Fever Pitch which, worryingly for how old I feel, must be getting on for more than 20 years old itself. Possibly 30. I’m not sure that Following On makes me want to go back and relive all those middle order collapses but it does make the memories bearable – and certainly makes me feel kinder to the players who were part of them.
“How can a nineteen year old play cricket?” asked my incredulous eight year old as Phil Salt came out to bat. He was so curious he made me look up on my phone (the 21st century answer to consulting the Playfair guide) the Sussex player’s vital statistics. Yes, he is 19. Yes, this was only his second ‘List A’ game. And, yes, seventy-odd balls later he’d pounded 81 runs and, as part of a score of 222 in a rain-shortened 32 over contest, put the match out of reach of Middlesex and set up Sussex’s first one-day win since 2014. Not bad going.
The Royal London One Day Cup is hard-to-love competition. It’s not the joyous explosion of T20 and it’s not the real thing, unlike the Championship. It’s not even the real heir to the old days of Benson & Hedges and NatWest Trophies. It’s just there. But on days like today it can feel just about perfect. Sussex and Middlesex served up a genuinely exciting contest – even if the final score implies a relatively comfortable home win.
There was much to enjoy. Not just Phil Salt’s headline-grabbing performance. Ross Taylor, aided by a runner, added 54 off 44 balls and got himself out by deciding to go forth only in maximums. And then in Middlesex’s chase we had some beautiful stroke-play from Brendan McCullum and Eoin Morgan before both departed and left Middlesex floundering. Even then there was the return of injured bowler Tom Helm (another runner required) defiantly staying in as the Sussex attack sought the final wicket. That wicket fell to Chris Jordan who returned career best figures of 5-28.
I’m willing to bet that everyone here enjoyed themselves and the beauty of the English cricket season is that there will be plenty more opportunities for everyone to do so again in all formats of the game as what passes for our summer rolls on. My incredulous eight year old is desperate to see more and, you know what, I might just be persuaded to take him – even if all that’s on offer is the good old, hard-to-love, Royal London One Day Cup.