The Coniston Round


Coniston Old ManThe Old Man above his Village

Before the restructuring of Local Government in 1974, the Lake District was divided between three of the ancient shires of England. These were Cumberland, which lent a variation of its name to the new integrated region, Westmorland, which was cleared from the map, and Lancashire, in the form of the Furness District, otherwise known as Lancashire-across-the-water, the water in question being Morecambe Bay.
The boundaries between the three counties met at the top of Wrynose Pass, as commemorated by The Three Shire Stone, with the county boundaries proceeding along the Duddon Valley to the south west, and the Brathay Valley in the east. Lancashire’s only range of fells was the Coniston Range, and their highest point, Coniston old Man, was thus the highest point in Lancashire.
But these days are long gone. The undistinguished Gragareth serves as Lancashire’s highest point now, a highest point impossible to detect on its flat and featureless top, whilst the Coniston Range remains among the most popular walking destinations in the Lakes.
Geographically, the Coniston group is built around a central, north-south ridge linking the two highest peaks, the Old Man in the south, and Swirl How in the north, with outliers to each side. Swirl How is the geographically significant fell in the range, with ridges spinning west, north and east from its neat, uncluttered top, to the south, an outlying spur to the west of the Old Man leads to the group’s finest cliff-face and its sharpest summit.
At first description, it would seem that to devise a walk that covers all the seven summits in the range in a single day would be an artificial thing, full of back-tracking. However, the proximity of the outliers at the northern end of the ridge, and the sheer bulk of that eastern outlier, Wetherlam, which runs to three southward ridges itself, enables the walk to be planned as a circuit of Coppermines Valley. In this manner, there is the barest minimum of walking over trodden ground during the day, and that towards its end.
The walk has to be based upon Coniston Village, where parking is easy to be had (and I am not going to reveal where free road parking can be found, in case you fill it up before I can get there).

The mouth of Coppermines Valley, surrounded by high fells

Coppermines Valley is reached along the lane at the side of the White Horse, which rapidly changes from tarmac to rough, land rover track, until the path begins to rise among trees, climbing to the mouth of the valley. Land Rovers, and cars with top notch shock absorbers can make it this far as the former miners cottages just inside the valley have been converted to holiday homes. The path turns away from them in disdain, climbing back upon itself to a platform from where the lake below first comes into sight. Here the path doubles back once more, and before long it can be seen angling across the rising fellside, making for a deep fold in the ridge a half mile distant.
Ahead, the deep trench of Coppermines Valley shows ample evidence of the mining and quarrying activity of centuries, and Wetherlam’s Black Sail ridge drops steeply into the valley, offering another potential route of ascent.
The current walk lies on the flanks of the Yewdale Fells, those splendid ramparts that look so impressive above the northern approaches to Coniston Village, but which are no more than a facade for the indefinite ground at the end of Wetherlam’s longest and loosest ridge.
Follow the path into the notch in the ridge. This, if followed, descends to Tilberthwaite, in its quiet valley, but when a track splits off left, crossing the little trench, transfer to this. In a short distance, it starts to climb upwards, onto the broad end of the Lad Stones ridge.
The ridge is primarily broad and grassy in its lower section, but there is a decided change in texture halfway up, as rock increasingly comes to litter the way, until the wide, untidy top comes underfoot, and the first north and westward views of the day come into sight, the Scafells being the centre of the picture. The unruly cairn is close to the steep edge overlooking Little Langdale and care should be taken approaching the lip of the summit to maximise the downward views.

Wetherlam, across Coppermines Valley

From here, the walk turns west, following a well-walked, surprisingly narrow in parts path, which crosses behind the subsidiary Black Sail summit. A short diversion can add this to the walk with a small expenditure of energy, but bear in mind there are many miles to go.
The path descends steeply to the narrow col of Levers Hause, from where an easy return to Coniston can be made, left, through Coppermines valley, if this were necessary. Ahead however is one of the highlights of the walk, the steep, hands on rock ascent of the Prison Band, a series of rocky towers leading almost the whole way to Swirl How’s top. There will have been ample opportunity to study this on the descent, together with the easier path to its right, which offers a steep ascent without undue excitement. Having done both on different occasions, I have to point you to the rock.

The Prison Band, and Swirl How beyond

Swirl How’s neat, uncrowded summit allows you to see the range almost in full, and to appreciate its geographical importance. The main ridge heads south, but Great Carrs and Grey Friar loom close at hand, and a simple study of the ground suggests that the next hour or so need not be a series of there and back again ridges.
Great Carrs, curving around the unfrequented valley of Greenburn Beck, looms close at hand. Wainwright describes the walk around the valley head as a seven minute stroll, and I am proud to have matched that timetable on two widely separated occasions. Admittedly, there is little sense of achievement associated with this crossing: the fell deserves an ascent across its own footprint at some point, to be properly enjoyed.
There is no need to return to Swirl How: from the lowest point of the depression, contour across right and down to join the long, straightforward downhill track onto the wide plateau of Fairfield, or just aim directly for it anyway, the ground being free from danger. Beyond, the track rises to approach the square top of Grey Friar. Apart from its spectacular view of the Scafell Range, there is little to commend the fell, though a decent walk can be made of the ridge from the Duddon Valley. Simply tick it, off, relish the view, and return to Fairfield.

Swirl How, Great Carrs and Grey Friar

It may be thought that an ascent back to Swirl How is now needed, with the fell looking like a green wall, but a well-engineered path curves away from the plateau to the south, maintaining a level contour around the head of the valley containing Seathwaite Tarn. The path encourages striding out with no effort, with the Tarn slowly curving into view as the valley opens below. there’s a point at which the path suddenly disappears, overrun by a wet patch of indeterminate width, but simply walk up the fellside about fifteen feet and a parallel path enables progress to continue.
It looks like the level route will take you to Levers Hawse, the lowest point on the ridge, and if you wish, conserve energy by going all the way. A better option is, when the upthrust of Little Gowder Crag comes level on the skyline, and the Tarn is in full view, zigzag up the fellside in wide sweeps, and gain the ridge for the rest of the walk. The openness, and the scramble over LGC are worth it.
At Lever’s Hawse, the broad path starts to rise again, crossing the broad back of Brim Fell. There is a tiny cairn on its flat top, but otherwise nothing to hold the interest, so march on, crossing the shallow dip in the ridge and follow a similar path up the wide northern side of Coniston Old Man, the highest point, by the odd couple of feet, of the day.
Where Brim Fell offers nothing to delay the walker, the Old Man’s top is a place for rest, contemplation and, in amongst the crowds, perusal of the views, which extend south as far as Blackpool Tower, which the more tripper oriented among the crowds will be actively straining to see. The true walker’s eyes will be fixed due west, upon the magnificent cliffs of Dow Crag, the final summit of the day.

The Old Man of Coniston and Brim Fell

There is no direct route possible, thanks to the deep trench holding the invisible Goatswater between the two fells, but the walk around the hollow of the tarn is easy throughout. Tired walkers will no doubt debate the wisdom of walking westward when Coniston Village and the car lies due east. This is the wisdom of doing this walk anti-clockwise: the leg-weary walker will be infinitely more enthused at adding to the miles to cross Dow Crag than he or she will for Grey Friar.
Retrace steps a hundred yards or so and take a route curving down to the left, across the flank of the Old man and onto the wideness of Goat’s Hause. The ascent on the far side, swinging around behind the fearsome crags, is without difficulty, although the highest point is, like such fells as Helm Crag and Harter Fell in Eskdale, achievable only by a short rock climb. First time visitors will feel obliged to complete the walk: those who have already scaled Dow Crag have the liberty of conscience to stand as close as they can to the final upthrust and call the job done, in the interests of aching legs. Continue along the declining ridge, rising at intervals to cross the lower tops of Brown Pike and Buck Pike, before descending finally to the summit of Walna Scar Pass.

Dow Crag from the Old Man

There has been enough opportunity in the final stages of the descent to see that the summit of Walna Scar fell lies only a few steps above the short green slope south west of the Pass. Walna Scar is not part of the Coniston Range, nor even in the Southern Fells, but it does feature in the Outlying Fells, and indeed is the only top in that volume to exceed 2,000′. Peak baggers will be tempted, but anyone having the excess energy to spring up this final slope should be subjected to steroid tests on the return to the Village.
Instead, turn thankfully east, negotiating the initially steep and, when last walked, extremely eroded upper section of the Pass. Gradually, the slopes level out, to cross the wide expanse of Cove Moor, by Cove Bridge. Beyond, the way is crossed by a profusion of routes, on the popular walk from Torver to Goatswater and the Old Man. Banishead Quarry, with its spectacular waterfall, is only a short distance downhill, but most walkers will have their sights set on the long tramp back. The Walna Scar Road descends gently between a pair of rock gateways, passes the shy, reedy Boo Tarn, at the foot of Wainwright’s favourite ascent of the Old Man, long since buried under the expanding grounds of Bursting Stone Quarry, and culminates at the parking area at the top of the narrow fell road down into the Village.
Unless a lift can be hitched from a departing driver grateful for you holding the fell-gate open for them, march on in what will hopefully be early evening sun, lit by intimate views of the country below the Old Man, and the unusual rib of the Bell, before arriving in the Village by the road next to the long-closed station.
If the Coop is still open, grab an ice cream bar. If the day has been hot, grab two: the first won’t even touch the sides.

The Bell, from the road back to the Village

Red Roses, Go For It!


Graham Lloyd with a pull to the leg side

For better or worse, a Roses match at Headingley was always an event: three days of daily trips from Manchester to Leeds and back along a road that became so familiar that I could almost have done it in my sleep and, on one occasion, returning from watching United at Newcastle on a horribly foggy Sunday evening, did do in five yard visibility fog, judging every twist, turn, dip and rise with my body and memory as much as my eyes.
I never considered staying in Leeds – what, in Yorkshire? – not with it being so easy to reach – ninety minutes from gate to door, or seventy-five if you tested the speed limits for their elasticity as I did on one memorable occasion where I had to be back quickly. I even bought my first car to avoid having to mess with buses and trains for three days, when I paid my first visit in August 1981.
That was an experience in itself. Saturday was fine. I discovered the Winter Shed, enjoyed the cricket, found my way there and back by a mixture of luck and judgement. Unfortunately, on Bank Holiday Monday, I had barely got half way up the Saddleworth Valley when my car overheated rapidly and I had to pull up.
Fortunately, there was a call-box not too far distant, so I phoned my Uncle in Droylsden, who was the car expert in our family, and half an hour of lovely, sunny, cricket conditions later, he and Grandad turned up to refill my radiator and lead me back home, where he patched up the hose leak that was draining the radiator and causing the overheating.
(A year later, it would have been very different, for both would be gone).
Emboldened, I set off again, only for the engine to overheat a second time. By then, I was across the Pennines and running downhill towards Huddersfield, so I topped the radiator up again, with the water canister my Uncle had given me, and carried on. I had to do that a second time, north of Huddersfield, but I got to Headingley by Lunch. In Yorkshire, it was growing overcast, so much so that play was abandoned for bad light before Tea.
The car was frustratingly worse going home: I could barely managed five miles at a time before having to pull over, and I was lucky to find a tap at which I could refill the water canister halfway.
On Tuesday, I wasted no time in taking the car back to the garage where I had bought it, only a fortnight ago. They reluctantly agreed to repair it free of charge, so I set off for Headingley again: bus to Piccadilly Station, train to Leeds, bus to Headingley. I walked into the ground at 12.30pm, just in time to see the fourth Yorkshire wicket falling.
By Lunch, half an hour later, the Tykes were eight down, and within fifteen minutes after Lunch, they had lost their last two wickets and we had won by an innings.
All that messing around, for about 45 minutes of cricket.
I made a day of it, coming home, wandering the centre of Leeds on the way back then, on a whim, taking a train home that went via Bradford to Victoria Station. It was older, slower, stopped everywhere, but reversing out of Bradford, I found myself alone in the back carriage, staring through the windows of an empty drivers cab, as the train climbed into and snaked its way through the Pennines, in soft, early evening sun, travelling backwards through strange, remote, narrow valleys that seemed to go on far longer than the map would allow. It lent a lustre to the day that made up for the paucity of the cricket I’d seen.
One of my favourite memories of Headingley was of the Roses Match of August 1990. I was on my third car by then, a very reliable Nissan Polo that carried me back and forth without the slightest issue. As for the cricket, there was a substantial Lancashire First Innings, with only Fairbrother out of the top eight failing to contribute runs, and two quick Yorkshire wickets before close of play.
On Monday, one of Mike Atherton’s best bowling performances – he took a career best 5 – 26, as well as two catches – forced Yorkshire into the follow on, in which a match-saving 146 by Ashley Metcalfe contributed to a substantial Second Innings score that was taking the game towards a tame draw, until Atherton snatched the last two wickets.
By then, we were in the Twenty Overs in the last Hour period. In fact, after the break between innings there would be fourteen overs left and a notional Lancashire target of 148 . At least, you’d have assumed it was notional.
But Lancashire in 1990 were a fast-scoring, attacking side, full of batsmen who were full of runs. We were very strong in One-Day cricket: we had won the Sunday League the previous summer, and would create history that year by becoming the first County to win both the Benson & Hedges cup and the national Westminster Bank Trophy in the same summer. And this was a one-day run-chase.
There wasn’t another County in the Championship that would have gone for it, but we expected it of our Club, and the batsmen fulfilled our hopes.
The target was 10 an over from the beginning, and it was very rapidly 12 an over, with Graeme Fowler and Gehan Mendis falling early victims, and Fairbrother not long after. That left the methodical, cautious, accumulating Atherton at the wicket with young Graham Lloyd, nicknamed Bumblebee, after his father, David Lloyd’s nickname of Bumble.
And, in glorious fashion, they went for it! And they were hitting the ball extraordinarily hard and accurate, and within a couple of minutes every Yorkshire fielder was on the boundary. Because it might have been a One-Day target, but it wasn’t a One-Day match. There were no fielding restrictions here and if Moxon wanted to stick everyone equidistant on the boundary, he could do so. The target rate was two a ball: we’d never maintain that with the field so widely spread.
So we didn’t try. Athers went for power, and placement, pulling, cutting and driving with such precision that the ball would be at the boundary before either fielder could reach it, accompanied by Lancashire roars every time. And Bumblebee went for power, murderously smashing the ball to all parts, high, hard and handsome, out of any fielder’s reach on boundaries that suddenly seemed too short.
It was glorious, it was astounding, and with every over, we were getting closer and closer to the amazing possibility that, from this unlikely position, we could very well win it!
But it didn’t last. First Atherton, then Lloyd, caught in the deep going for his sixth six, for 70 runs scored off only 35 balls, fell. With the first of them, the task became exponentially harder: with the second it became impossible.
We still tried, for a moment or two, but a sixth wicket turned the tide too much. Now it was Yorkshire who had the prospect of victory more clearly in their sights.
So we shut up shop. The Tykes were still using their opening bowlers, Paul Jarvis and Steven Fletcher, but De Freitas and Hegg were aiming to bat out time, and though Jarvis eventually broke through and got De Freitas out, with another eight balls left in which to try to snatch the last three wickets, the draw was offered and accepted, and the players left the field with honours even (except in bonus points, where we came out with 8 to Yorkshire’s 5).
But we’d gone for it. And we were making it. And it was glorious to watch, to hope and to dream. I’m very glad I was there.

382-0


I’m something of a rarity among Lancastrians in that I actually like Headingley.
There are plenty of reasons not to, not least the preponderance of Tykes around the place. The playing area is surrounding by a concrete track, around which, throughout the day, endless numbers of folk of the White Rose County perambulate perpetually, halted only by stewards closing the barriers at alternate ends to keep them from walking behind the bowler’s arm.
So, if you want a view of the cricket uninterrupted by Yorkshire bodies, you must either take one of the glorified school-type chairs ringing the boundary boards, or must seek somewhere to sit with a little height.
Unfortunately, in the glory days of my regular visits to Headingley, this was limited to three places, the Football Stand, the Western Terrace and the top deck of the Winter Shed. And the Football Stand (which was named for how it was two-faced, backing onto the Rugby ground), was inside that half of the ground that was only accessible by Members, Yorkshire or Visiting.
(There was, I discovered by chance, a way around that restriction, as described in my novel Tempus Infinitive (https://mbc1955.wordpress.com/2012/10/03/tempus-infinitive-the-tempus-trilogy-book-2/), though becoming a Lancashire member in 1986 removed the need to sneak about).
The Football Stand was superb, and you could get yourself a seat directly behind the bowler’s arm at that end. As for the Western Terrace, which now rings with controversy at Test level, lies 90 degrees to the pitch, and is of such a low camber that, by the time you reach the highest row of seats, you are nearer to Bradford than to Leeds.
Which left me, at first, with the Winter Shed, high, exposed, with a glorious view, albeit from a widish long on/long leg position vis-à-vis the wicket.
Mind you, as the photo above demonstrates, it’s all changed now.
I’ve had a variety of experiences at Headingley, but one in particular stands out as especially outstanding. Given Headingley’s reputation as a bowler’s wicket, it seems utterly improbable that I should spend a day there during which 382 runs would be scored, in three successive unbroken century partnerships. Yes, 382 runs, in a single day of County Cricket, without a single wicket being taken. At Headingley! How did this come about?
This was, of course, taking place during a Roses Match, there being no other game below Test Matches that could lure me to Headingley. It took place over the 1st, 3rd and 4th August 1987, in the days when County Cricket was still all three day games. Lancashire scored 356 all out in their first innings and Yorkshire, beginning their reply on Monday, had reached 125 when the second wicket went down in the middle of the afternoon session.
I was sat on the top deck of the Winter Shed, as usual, enjoying the sun, and a good, exposed tree-top level view towards the centre of Leeds. That’s how I picked up early on the clouds beginning to mass.
The ground was still in sunshine, but the clouds in the distance were merging into an increasingly dark mass, and they were drawing slowly nearer. The combination of approaching dark clouds and a clear, sunny sky overhead is a definite sign of trouble, and I decided to gather my things together and make a break for the Football Stand and the only realistic shelter in the ground if it started to pelt down, which I was convinced was going to happen with at most the next thirty minutes.
I walked around the concrete track, mingling with the Tykes, diverted to the Gents down the side of the Football Stand, quickly exercised the facilities and emerged out the other end into the Rugby Ground. I’d been here often enough to know what to aim for so it was a simple case of across and up, through the door (once the ongoing over at this end finished) and slip into a seat. Once you were in the charmed half-circle reserved for members, you were never challenged for a member’s card.
From here, I could no longer see the advancing cloud, but the sky above the cricket ground was getting increasingly dull, and I was congratulating myself on my fore-sightedness. And then it started. Big, heavy, single drops, splattering on the walkway, quickly turning into a continuous rain that had the Umpires halting play and signalling for the covers to come on, whilst the players started to disperse, rapidly, in the direction of the old Pavilion.
For this season only, the MCC were carrying out an experiment with leaving pitches uncovered during breaks in play. This had been the old way of things, and it had led to tense situations were the breaks were extended whilst the pitch dried sufficiently for play to resume, but came back as a ‘sticky dog’, a pitch on which spinners could work marvels, making the ball rear, spit, turn and misbehave in a way only possible on a drying-out pitch.
But for many years, breaks in play resulted in groundstaff racing out to cover everything in sight on the square: pitch, run-ups, the works. The result was play resuming much quicker after rain, but on blander pitches.
This season’s experiment was a hybrid. Run-ups etc. would still be covered, permitting play to resume quickly, but the wicket was left uncovered, to try to give the bowlers an old-fashioned chance.
And the rain came down, There was no thunder or lightning, not any that I recall, but the rain came down in a solid, unbroken wave, hard, heavy, sluicing, solid. I watched it in awe, as with horrible speed it took over the walkway, water rushing along it, one, two inches deep, as the fall far exceeded the capacity of Headingley’s drainage. Those supporters who had not been able to take shelter like me were trying to hunch under raincoats, with the rain turning the seats beside them slick with water. Others huddled in the limited shelter of overhangs, or under the Winter Shed stairs. It was a good, old-fashioned deluge.
And it ended after about thirty minutes, the rain abruptly turning to a trickle, as the storm cleared Headingley and moved away north. No longer swamped, the drains eventually conveyed away the copious surface water. The next question was when would play resume?
There was half the day left but, without even a halt for Tea, the Umpires took one look at the pitch and called play off for the day.
Thus we returned for the final day of the match, with Yorkshire on 168-2, Richard Blakeley and Kevin Sharp having already added 43. They batted on until declaring, having extended the score to 250. The undefeated Third Wicket partnership had added 125 runs
Lancashire started their Second Innings 106 runs ahead. With two full innings to play, the chance of a result was very slight, but with some fast scoring, it might be possible to engineer a target for a run-chase. The young Mike Atherton, still FEC, was promoted to open with Geehan Mendis and the pair ran up 180, exactly 100 to Mendis, runs before declaring without a wicket loss.
This set Yorkshire a notional target of 287 to win, but there hadn’t been the remotest sniff of a wicket in the day, everybody knew the game was heading to a draw as soon as the Laws permitted the acknowledgement, and at least one member of the crowd would have been bitterly disappointed if a Lancashire breakthrough had interrupted this quite unique spectacle.
And so batsmen’s averages continued to prosper whilst bowlers’ averages continued to be dumped on from a great height as this astonishingly blanded-out pitch performed to the last. Yorkshire duly racked up 102 runs for no wicket before the game was ended as soon as decently possible. To think that thirty minutes of rain should produce such a devastating effect.
Full days of First Class Cricket in which no wicket falls are very rare (except when it’s raining) and  those instances I can recall have been when two batsmen have resisted, or commanded, the whole day. That one innings might conclude without a wicket on the day and the next remain wicketless until the close seems at least possible, but three? Each celebrating century partnerships? Even cricket’s equivalent of Roy of the Rovers would jib at trying that one on.
It’s my only experience of a wicketless day, and it added a layer of charm and fascination to a day that would otherwise have been an exercise in tedium: pure cricket, played for the sake of delivering the ball, with no aim or end in sight but the eventual entropy of time: not that much fun to watch, to be honest. Instead, I watched an unlikely feat unfold.
And, as I said at the outset, for it to happen at the Batsman’s nightmare that was Headingley was the icing on an improbable cake for me.
It’s never happened since. When it did, I was there.

Blown Away by Chappie


The late Don Mosey, one of the great Test Match Special Team of the Seventies through to the Nineties, used to describe Cricket as a situation game: if the situation was exciting, the cricket was exciting, and vice versa. He was correct, of course, but I would extend his maxim to suggest that one of the glories of cricket is that, even in Limited-Over (One-Day) Matches, the game is big enough and long enough for a succession of situations to arise.
Sometimes, those situation develop out of nowhere, and a side gains a sudden ascendence that tips the game their way, and the supporters shift forward in their seats, concentrating on every ball, awakened to a moment that might break at any delivery, but whilst it lasts is rushing you along on a current that you want to last forever.
I was a Member at Lancashire CCC for almost fifteen years, which meant that I got to know Headquarters – Lord’s Cricket Ground, that is – quite well, because in the early Nineties we were playing there in one One-Day Final or another almost every year. In 1990, we became the first Club to win the Benson & Hedges Cup and the NatWest Bank Trophy in the same season, and six years later – the same year I had seen United become the first team to do the Double Double – we were on course to become the second team to win both trophies in the same season.
Like all such days, it started early, at Piccadilly Station at about 6.30am, blearily surveying the platform as we waited for the special commissioned train always put on for Lancy supporters on these occasions. By 9.30am we were gathering our bags, debouching from the train at Euston, and pouring onto the coaches for the short drive to St John’s wood.
The first omen was our driver, who looked like he could have been the younger brother of Graham Gooch, the England opener and Captain and, more pertinently, the leading batsman for Essex, our opponents in this year’s final.
I don’t know the St John’s Wood area at all, and no matter how often I’ve sat on a coach from Euston, I couldn’t navigate the route. Half the time, the coach goes a different route, though there are some landmarks I can normally recognise. This time there were none. The average coach journey to Lord’s is about twenty minutes, which was ample for Start of Play at 10.30am. But I didn’t recognise any of this journey, because the driver got lost. Seriously lost. Going All Around the Houses and Going to be Late for Start of Play lost. We passed signs for Islington, we passed London Zoo, after half an hour, two guys who, fortunately, had a London A-Z on them were sat in the door well, directing the driver so that we could get to the ground and sit down in time.
It was 10.25am before we pulled out and positively sprinted to settle ourselves down before the first ball was bowled. And no sooner were we in than we learned the dreadful news that Paul Prichard, the Essex Captain, had won the toss and invited Lancashire to bat first.
Those who are not cricket aficionados may not understand the significance of this piece of information, especially as it is now a relic of the past. The NatWest Trophy Final (and the Gillette Cup Final that preceded it) was traditionally played on the first Saturday in September, and was a sixty-over a side game. That’s 120 overs to be bowled in the day, in September, when the light is starting to recede in the evenings, and therefore the game has to start at 10.30am, the earliest start of any match during the English cricket season. And a 10.30am start, especially when the sun is starting to rise later, means a diminished amount of time for said sun to burn the dew from the wicket. Which, in turn, means an extremely lively wicket for the first hour, during which it is perfectly possible, and indeed monotonously regular, to take the game away from the batting side for good.
So: Essex had put us in to bat, and accordingly we were fucked.
I mean, six years earlier, in the 1990 Final against Northamptonshire, we won the toss, they batted and after an hour they were 35-5.
Lancashire weren’t that bad in 1996, but wickets fell with the regularity that runs were not scored, and although we managed to bat out the full sixty overs, courtesy of a fighting innings from John Crawley, who top-scored with 66 before being out to a freak stumping, we had only scored 186, though we had stretched the innings out to the very last ball, Gary Yates run out off one of those desperate, even one more run might count attempts.
This set Essex a target, on a pitch ten times more docile, of just a tiny fraction above three an over or, to put it another way, having to score off no more than every other ball.
After ten minutes Innings break, Essex started their pursuit of their Mickey Mouse target. Lancashire opened with Peter ‘Digger’ Martin from the Pavilion End and Ian ‘Bully’ Austin from the Nursery End. They were a good pair of opening bowlers. Digger was, tall, blonde, honest, pounding out a tight line with a pace fast enough to win him a dozen England caps, whilst being a very skilful water-colourist.
Bully, in contrast, was dark, solid, slightly round, approaching the wicket with a short, bustling, shoulder-rolling action, pace not much above medium, strength generated entirely from his shoulders and mean as can be, pounding it in hard, on a line, cramping the batsman and preventing him scoring.
And it was good, tight stuff to begin with, as the two started with opening spells of seven overs each, fourteen bowled and Essex scoring only 31 runs. Nothing to base too many hopes on, given the sheer number of overs available for runs to be scored, but Digger had been hammering away at their upper order, and had winkled out Grayson, Hussain and Prichard for only 25 on the Board. The accuracy of his bowling was measured by the fact that two were catches by the keeper, Warren ‘Chuckie’ Hegg, and the other by Neil Fairbrother at slip.
This last wicket had brought all-rounder Ronnie Irani out of the Pavilion, just as the first bowling change occurred, with the young and eager 22 year old Glen Chapple replacing Bully at the Nursery End. I can’t speak for the majority of the Lancashire contingent, but I will have been far from the only one to recognise the inevitable about to unfold.
The NatWest Trophy Final is the last show-piece of the Cricket Season, and it takes place a week before the Selectors announce the touring party for the winter. It’s ideal for that hotshot performance that attracts the Selector’s eyes, and Irani was a young all-rounder with a couple of caps, on the fringe of the England team. Steady the ship, score a half-century, win the game and book his place overseas. Worse than that, he was a former Lancashire player, who’d left the County during the winter, in search of a better chance. So: steady the ship, score a half-century against your old club, win the game and book his place overseas.
And four balls into Chappie’s first over, Irani launched into a flashing cover point drive that had the ball crossing the boundary before Chappie had finished his follow-through. It had started.
Then the next ball burst through Irani, splattered his wicket and sent middle and off stumps a dozen yards back towards Chuckie.
We were on our feet and roaring, as much because the Story had been abruptly overturned. There is a tremendous difference between 25-3 and 31-4, especially when that additional wicket is a tipping point moment. Essex, from a position of security, were suddenly thrown onto the back foot, against a Lancashire side – and crowd – suddenly energised beyond belief.
His next over, Chapple took two more wickets with the score on 33, bowling Rollins and trapping Ilott leg before. There was a hushed awe at the disintegration before our eyes, as impossible took its clothes off and was revealed as almost bloody certain. And when Watkinson took off Digger and introduced the gentle medium pace of Jason Gallian, he promptly trapped Graham Gooch – a shell-shocked onlooker at the carnage going on at the other end of the pitch – leg before with his first ball.
In what seemed no more time than it took to tell it, Essex had gone from 31-3 to 33-7, and Chappie had not finished because here he was inducing Robinson to nick one to Fairbrother and at 34-8, Essex had unbelievably lost five wickets for three runs.
If the welter of wickets had continued at that pace, the Final would have been wrapped up before Tea, and the resultant Lancy roar would probably have rolled the Thames back halfway to Reading, but Essex managed to fend us off until the Interval. But they were a broken team, and two more stump-shattering deliveries by Chapple after Tea left him with new career-best figures of 6 for 18 of 6 overs and 2 balls.
Essex were out for 57, by far and away the lowest score ever in a Sixty Over Final, which was a nice plus point since the previous record of 118 had been scored in the 1974 Gillette Cup Final by our beloved Red Rose County. We had won by 129 runs, with over half the overs left to bowl, and Chappie had won the Man of the Match.
But, most of all, we had had that glorious rush of blood, when our raw young red-headed first change bowler had blown the middle of the Essex order apart, and I was thrilled because I was there.

When Flintoff hit it very hard


What’s the highest number of runs ever scored in a single First Class Cricket over?
Leaving aside joke instances or tactical blunders that have involved deliberately bowling serial no balls to encourage scoring, the answer ought to be simple to anyone with a casual knowledge of cricket and arithmetic: it’s got to be 36, right?
And those of a certain age will dig into their memory and ask something along the lines of, “Wasn’t it that guy, Gary Sobers, did something like that long ago?”.
It’s very true that on a sunny August afternoon, when Nottinghamshire were playing away to Glamorgan on one of their out grounds, Sobers put himself and the unlucky bowler, poor Malcolm Nash, into the record books by becoming the first First Class player ever to hit six sixes in a single over, a feat improbably captured by a fortuitous and timely piece of outside broadcasting from BBC Wales, and immortalising the commentator’s words on the final ball as he yelled, “My Goodness! And that one’s gone clean down to Swansea.”
And the dedicated cricket fan may even recall that, two decades later, the great Indian all-rounder Ravi Shastri replicated Sobers’ feat, on the Sub-Continent.
But 36 is no longer the highest score from a single over. A new record was set on 21 June 1998, on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Old Trafford, in front of a crowd of a few hundred, lazing around and watching a four day County Cricket Match between Lancashire and Surrey moving towards a home victory. I was one of the privileged few hundred.
It was the penultimate year that I was a Lancashire member, happy to mosey over to the ground on a sunny day, even for just a couple of hours. It was  a rare example of County Cricket on a Sunday, though why the Sunday League wasn’t in action at the time I can no longer recall.
Alex Tudor was bowling from the Stretford End, and Andy Flintoff was on strike. This was at a time when both were up and coming players, long before Flintoff’s heroics with bat and ball for England. Tudor was a genuinely fast bowler, who would go on to win a handful of caps without ever ultimately convincing. But he was genuinely fast.
His first ball was a no ball, and Flintoff gleefully smashed it over the boundary for six. This loosened him up because he smashed the next delivery, which was legitimate,for a four. The third ball was again a no ball, and again hit for four, by which time the crowd was sitting up, facing front and preparing to enjoy the fun. Fourteen runs scored, eighteen once you added in the new no ball rule: two runs for a no ball in addition to any runs scored from the bat. And five legitimate deliveries to come, the next of which Flintoff again hammered for four, bringing his total from the over to 18, and still with four balls to face.
Everybody’s attention was focussed on the middle. If Flintoff were to continue in this fashion, it would add up to the highest score any of us had ever seen off a single over. If he started hitting more sixes, anything was possible.
He hit the fifth delivery for four, high in the air. The bat exploded on it with the heaviest thump I had ever heard, the ball soared towards long on and bounced a yard or so short of the boundary in front of the near deserted Wilson Stand (it had the sun at its back at that hour, and the few hundreds in the ground wanted a bit of sunshine).
The ball was returned to Tudor, who came haring in again. Flintoff hit a six. It went higher, the bat boomed louder than before. The crowd were on their feet, roaring but Flintoff’s bat was greater than the noise we could generate. 28 now, and two more to come.
We returned to our seats, a watchful tension, rising as Tudor ran in and flung the ball down. Another strike, the sound cannoning around the ground, the loudest sound I have ever heard produced by a cricket bat. And the ball rising immensely high, no point in chasing that, no-one inside the boundary could see it, another six, that’s 34 runs from Flintoff and still one more ball to play.
One more ball into history. One more desperate delivery from Tudor, who could not possibly imagine that someone could launch such an attack on him, on a player of his pace. And Flintoff wound up and hurled the bat at the ball, intent on driving it over the stand, out of the ground, into orbit if he’d connected – but the ball flashed past the outside edge and was taken by Alec Stewart. The tension broke, history was not made, the over was over.
But history had been made, for we few to watch. To Flintoff’s 34 from the bat (equalling a record for a Lancashire batsman set in the mid Seventies by Frank Hayes, off, of all people, poor bloody Malcolm Nash again) were added the 4 no balls, making it 38 off the over: a new world record.
We waited to see if the magic would be repeated. Flintoff was away from the strike the following over, and we all got worked up again when Tudor ran into the wicket again, looking for the high hitting to resume, for Flintoff to hurtle towards an absurdly fast century. And it went high again, but this time everyone could see, because cricket fans are invariably fast to calculate angles and distances, that it was dropping down the throat of the guy at long on, and Flintoff was out for 61.
And Lancashire went on to a four wicket victory with just under nine overs to spare. A nice win at any time. But for a few minutes of extraordinarily powerful and clean hitting a few hundred people lived through a special moment, and I was there.

Apparently, later that season, whilst batting at the Stretford End wicket, Flintoff hit a straight six out of Old Trafford and into Kellogg’s car park. I wish I’d seen that: I used to park in Kellogg’s car park for Test Matches, so I know the carry. But I saw what I saw.

When the Pit of Hate rose to applaud


The Pavilion at Old Trafford

In writing about Viv Richards yesterday, I almost overlooked the example it provided of one of the reasons I love cricket.
Remember the context: an International match, played in England, in front of a mainly English crowd (though with the large West Indian contingent who used to make such games so enjoyable, before the EBC more or less priced them out), at possibly the most partizan Test ground in the country. The West Indies were the dominant force in World Cricket, with their brilliant cavalier batsmen and their battery of fast bowlers, and here was England sweeping them away in a glorious rush of wickets: batsman after batsman falling in single figures. Even after the hold-up when Baptiste joined Richards, we were on course to dismiss them for less than 200 runs, and with as many as ten overs unused. Everything was going England’s way.
Then, in the space of an hour, Viv Richards took it away. That last wicket partnership that we couldn’t break, took the momentum, the lead and the game away from England, turning the match into a damp squib, in which England could only play out time until certain defeat.
And I would confidently bet you that not a single England supporter in that crowd, no matter how buoyed up by the thrill of easy wickets, would have changed a single moment of it.
Let me make the point more starkly.
Move forward a matter of four years, to 30 August 1988. It’s once again Old Trafford, but this is County Cricket. More than that, it’s the Roses Match, Lancashire vs Yorkshire, the age-old rivalry, more determined even than England and Australia.
By this time. I’d become a Lancashire member. The County Championship was still a single Division on 17 clubs, it being four years before Durham will be accorded First Class status. The season consists of 24 matches: sixteen three-day games against each of the other Counties, eight four-day games against eight of them. Lancashire and Yorkshire still clash twice a season, at Headingley and Old Trafford. The Headingley game has been played in May and Lancashire have been humiliated, going down to defeat in only two days. We wanted revenge, and in the Yorkshire first innings, it looked like we were getting it.
Those of us of a certain generation known this game as Dexter Fitton’s match, Fitton being a young off-spinner who failed to make a long-term impact in the Lancashire team, but who had his day in the Yorkshire Second Innings, bamboozling the Tykes, and ending up with 6 wickets for 59 runs, his best ever figures.
But this was the First Innings, on the First day, a mild Tuesday, and we were rushing them out for a low total, looking at immediate revenge for what had happened three months earlier.
There was just one snag, and that was Peter Hartley. Hartley, batting at 8, was putting up a determined resistance. Hartley, who would go on to win a handful of caps for England, was a fast bowler, a good, honest, county pro, who’d been leading the Yorkshire attack for something like six years. He wasn’t noted as a batsman, but here he was, doggedly holding us up, advancing the score, past his fifty, sixty… Yes, it was another last-wicket partnership.
I was sat in my usual spot in front of the Pavilion, though none of my usual ‘crew’ were around me, this being midweek (I used to take holidays to go to things like the Roses Matches and the Old Trafford Test). And because of its generally hostile approach to opponents, the Pavilion had been nicknamed the ‘Pit of Hate’.
And someone a few yards away asked out loud, “has he ever got a ton?”. Needless to say, someone had the ubiquitous Playfair Cricket annual, and a quick consultation revealed that, no, P. J. Hartley’s personal best at the start of that season was 87.
The atmosphere changed in a moment. Hartley was in sight of a tremendous personal landmark, a maiden century. And everybody was willing him on. Out loud too. Not particularly loudly, except when he scored another boundary, and the applause was generous. But little, not-quite-under-the-breath encouragements. ‘Come on, lad’ ‘ ‘Keep it steady.’ ‘Don’t throw it away.’ All through the eighties, into the nineties, fervently concentrating upon every ball he faced, until he reached his century off a boundary, and everyone was on their feet, applauding Hartley’s achievement as whole-heartedly as if it had been a Lancashire batsman reaching his first ton.
Hartley acknowledged the applause from all corners of the ground, the potential landmark having spread to all corners (cricket fans think about these things!), and it must have had a certain sweetness for him that he’d done this on the enemy’s ground (this was when Yorkshire still only accepted players born within the County boundaries).
And then we all sat down, and he prepared to face the next delivery and it was all ‘right, get this bloody Tyke out now!’.
And the sod carried on for another 27 runs, undefeated, before we finally got that last wicket, 224 all out, after we’d had them at 133 for 9.
But that’s the point, just as it was with Viv Richards in 1984. An opponent achieved an individual feat, taking away the prospect of success, or of early success (the Roses Match was eventually drawn, rain preventing play for the last day and a half). And we as fans not merely applauded his achievement at our expense, but positively willed him on to do better and better. To confound us, to throw his skill in our faces.
You’ll never get that in Football. But the fact that this happens time and again, that cricket fans respond to great feats irrespective of team loyalties, that they relish, understand, approve and are enthralled by the pure aesthetics of great players and great performances.
Hell’s bells, why else would the Pit of Hate cheer on a bloody Tyke to score a ton on our patch? I should know. I was there.