Henry Blofeld once described The Saffrons as being the quintessential English venue. He was in Eastbourne for the cricket, as indeed Sussex will be later this summer, but, today, whilst there was cricket (and bowls) to see at the Saffrons the noise, colour and crowd were here for the final day of the Southern Combination season.
To the sound of almost constant drumming and the sight of flags and the occasional flare, two sides with only pride to play for did a pretty good job of creating a match worth giving a damn about. Eastbourne took the lead with a neat lob before being pegged back by an absolute scorcher of a shot early in the second half. After a fair bit of nip and tuck a smart header from a corner sealed the deal. Although some of the tackles had a feel of a pre-season friendly (obviously no one wants to be damaged heading into the holiday season), overall it was a pretty enjoyable game. My younger was pleased with his burger and only occasionally complained about how long 45 minutes takes to pass so all was definitely good.
And whilst Blowers quintessential Englishness probably didn’t include ‘Still Hate Thatcher’ t-shirts I like to think there’s something defiantly and wonderfully welcomingly English about the knowing and knowledgeable inclusive passion that sport, even this far down the pyramid, can generate.
Welcome to rugby union in Sussex Division Four (East). We’re so far down what passes for a pyramid here that it’s hard to work out what level we’re talking about. At a rough guess it would take something like eleven direct promotions and a thousand pages of red tape for a team down here to make it all the way to the top. Today, all anyone was really bothered about was whether the visitors would make it all the way to fifteen. They didn’t have even enough men and relied on a fair few (estimates varied) from the Hastings areas to get up to strength – and even then needed the Cinque Ports touch judge to step up to the plate when fatigue meant more numbers were required. It is to everyone’s credit that whilst it was expectedly ragged at times, there was a pretty decent game of rugby to watch at all.
St Leonards Cinque Ports won 31-10. I know this because the twitter feed told me. I lost count when I didn’t see the indications following a couple of conversions. The man who runs the twitter feed also runs the line, leads the training, takes match notes and, today, gets to play some rugby for his club’s opponents. There are hundreds like him in all sports up and down the country every weekend. That doesn’t diminish the individual effort – rather, to me, it shows what an under appreciated army we have sustaining sport in this country.
The match was a bit odd. Lewes probably had the majority of possession, almost certainly had the majority of territory, and yet were never really that close on the scoreboard. Ports had a well organised defence (although a team who’d met each other before would have stretched them more) and some excellent quick breakers. That was the difference.
It was a lovely day to watch some rugby. Obviously my solution to the numbers problem would have been to get them to drop to 13 a side and cap the phases allowed before losing possession at six but even allowing for the obvious deficiencies of insisting on too many flankers there was some good football on display at times. The sun shone brightly and it was pleasantly warm. The match was hosted by Hastings & Bexhill and it’s the first time I’ve been up there and not immediately been afraid that I was about to blown from Kansas into Oz.
All in all, a very nice afternoon. I took some photos (here). I may be back. After all, someone has to be there to see St Leonards Cinque Ports make all those promotions until they can face Wasps on equal terms. Just so long as they never ask me to make up the numbers …
The rain relented enough to allow a soft pitch to play host to a hard match. League-leaders Bosham, the visitors to the Parish Field, came away with all the spoils but only after a tough encounter that required a somewhat dubious penalty to separate the two sides. Aye, it was a good day.
At the end, the Westfield players slumped as if they’d lost a semi-final and missed out on Wembley. Bosham didn’t quite dance for delight but their reaction betrayed that they knew they’d passed a bloody tough examination. The men in yellow had had most of the ball, rattled the crossbar, forced saves and sent shots just wide. But then, with their smaller amount of possession, Bosham had threatened, shaken the woodwork and pressured the goal. Whilst Westfield had their first-half penalty turned down (rightly, it was outside the box), Bosham had theirs given (possibly correct but very soft). That was the difference.
This was, as ever, a very enjoyable visit to Westfield. The chat around the pitch alternated between acknowledgement that Chelsea have wrapped up the Premier League title and discussion about whether Bosham, a dozen levels below, have enough of a ground to see them promoted. That’s football for you.
Such was the conversation when, after having had chance after chance after chance, Westfield found themselves still in a goalless encounter and with Alfold about to take a penalty. There was fifty minutes of the game gone. The penalty was well struck, the visitors went a goal up and for a few minutes, with Westfield unsettled, it seemed that the gods of fate were going to chuckle their way to full time. But then the hosts scored a goal and then they scored another … and by the end of the match it was Westfied 6 Alfold 1. That’s football, as they say.
If football was won on possession and chances this would have been stopped at half time. Saying Alfold were leading a charmed life would be unfair. They defended well and their ‘keeper made some superb stops. But they had few chances of their own despite some decent probing runs, particularly from their tireless #7. 6-1 may not be an easy pill to swallow but it’s hard, on the balance of play, to say it wasn’t a fair result.
As ever, it was a pleasant visit to Westfield. Around feeding my younger son the world’s biggest hot dog I found some time to take some blurry photos. They are here.
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.
“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.
The glorious sun gave way to cloud and intermittent rain but, in spite of the disappointing weather, those who made their way to the Parish Field had themselves an entertaining game of football, one that both sides will be annoyed with themselves with not winning and which ended with honours even and a 3-3 draw.
This was a topsy-turvy game that never actually really settled. The ball spent a lot of time in the air and neither side seemed able to put their foot down and control the match. If Sky were here they would almost certainly have 50/50 possession and 33/33/33 territory. Westfield led 1-0 and 3-2 and the visitors held the advantage at 2-1. The woodwork was rattled. The referee had to calm uncool heads. In the end hands were shaken with rueful smiles.
All in all, an enjoyable afternoon. I took some photos: they are here.