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Spinning tales of Suffolk village cricket

PUBLISHED: 17:43 30 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:28 20 February 2013

Spinning tales of Suffolk village cricket

Spinning tales of Suffolk village cricket

Richard Bryson reflects on his days playing village cricket in Suffolk while Malcom Grubb picks out his favourite grounds

The state of play


Richard Bryson reflects on his days playing village cricket in Suffolk while Malcom Grubb picks out his favourite grounds



It can be difficult explaining the appeal of village cricket to non-believers. For a start, and depending on where you are playing, there might be the indignity of changing in a dilapidated garden shed and the possibility of standing on something distinctly unsavoury in the outfield.


Then theres that sense of foreboding that hangs over every average player this could be the afternoon when you are out for a duck, dont get a chance to bowl and drop an important catch.


On top of all this you could stand as an impartial umpire until you are asked to rule on a tricky lbw, find in favour of your sides batsman and suffer the expletive-peppered mutterings of the fielding side.


Now if this was a record we would have reached the bit where the needle is yanked away from the vinyl (older readers will be familiar with this latter-day means of listening to music) and a voiceover would pipe up: but there is another side to cricket.


Yes, you can languish in the misery of the aforementioned but the summer game can just as easily entrance and revitalise.


There is something rather rewarding about being out in the sunshine on a picturesque ground playing a very English game with like-minded colleagues. Comfort can also be found in the knowledge you are not surrounded by super-fit athletes. The elderly player at fine leg could make the turning speed of the QE2 seem Schumacher-like quick.


With a bit of luck, allied to a modicum of skill, you might get some runs, not all as snicks through the slips but the result of a textbook cover drive or meaty pull through midwicket.


In years gone by I have stood on many a cricket field in Suffolk and Essex and either relished being part of an exciting, evenly-poised game or privately wished the opposition would put us out of our misery so we could get to the pub for the extra curricular part of cricket players of all standards can enjoy.


Though the teams I played for Great Cornard, Long Melford, Stansfield, Horringer (and the town side Sudbury) won and lost some close-run matches, its the characters and incidents that live on in the memory.


For instance, I recall coming up against a 70-year-old Barbraham player who took an age walking to the wicket before stonewalling his team to a draw. Only an MCC tie wrapped around his ample waist prevented his trousers from falling down. On another occasion, I took guard in a pool of blood. Our captain had forgotten that the Ipswich Caribbeans third change bowlers could be even faster than their opening attack and a mistimed hook had given him a cut earlobe.


Other memories come to mind. Sadly Edwardstone no longer play at the country park ground near the village but they had a player with a tin leg. Over at Sudbury a slow bowler, Doc Thorogood, used to lob the ball comically high in the air to bamboozle normally big-hitting batsman.


There was also the occasion Great Cornards Dave Street, a mighty all-rounder who should have played cricket at a much higher level, shoved a lit cigarette in his pocket while fielding at slip.


Smoke began puffing from his flannels before this minor, but potentially very nasty conflagration, was extinguished.


I have seen six hits go on to car roofs, break pavilion tiles, disappear into ponds, scoreboxes, cow pats and a passing van. One boundary even went down a rabbit hole and another struck a cow on its backside.


But back to the games aesthetic appeal. This county and its surrounding borders has more than a sprinkling of atmospheric grounds. Some are included in the forthcoming pages but my favourite lies a mile or two into north Essex. From what I can recall of Twinstead CCs headquarters, it ticks the boxes for your quintessential English village cricket ground. Tucked away behind an orchard, this cricketing oasis has a massive ancient oak or cedar tree in one corner and a pond in another.


The gardens of an impressive looking country pile back onto another corner of the pitch. No wonder touring teams like playing here.


A side of BBC technicians, the Bushmen, used to like playing at Amptons lovely ground with its wonderful old pavilion.


Spend a balmy summer afternoon at these tucked away places where birdsong and the quiet conversation of spectators mix with the crack of willow on leather (or exposed shin) and youll wonder why they call football the beautiful game.



Easton


Another club to have benefited from a Lottery grant, and now boasting a superb pavilion. Its appeal also includes the wibbly-wobbly wall along one boundary. There are a number of these Serpentine walls in East Anglia, but Eastons is one of the best and remains in good order. Before Fred Mitchell was able to extend the boundary, the wickets were pitched so that straight hits cleared the wall into a thicket beyond. The Keebles dog used to earn his keep by never failing to sniff it out and retrieve the ball before many more overs had been bowled. The dramatic rise of the club through local leagues has seen them reach Division Two of the Two Counties Championship, giving cricketers from north Essex and west Suffolk the chance to play on a lovely ground.



Sudbourne Hall


Another lovely ground surrounded by fields near Orford. I understand that the Australian tourists played on the ground in the 30s when the Lyon family lived at the Hall, but the big house is now split into flats, and the opposition seen on the cricket ground is more modest.


The majestic avenue of trees leading to the Hall and those alongside the ground have gone, as has the original pavilion, burnt down on the eve of the Woodbridge Cup final a few years ago.


Fortunately a Lottery grant has helped provide a brand new pavilion in similar style to the old one but with a much-improved kitchen and showers.


For many years players cursed the local farmer for planting sugar beet alongside the ground retrieving the ball often meant returning with muddy knees and boots. When acres of turf was ground instead it was far more attractive although every ball hit over the boundary seemed to roll for ever across the clipped surface and required a long chase to retrieve. Bring back the sugar beet!



Exning Park


A lovely setting for a cricket ground in parkland near Newmarket in West Suffolk.


In the late 60s there were a series of charity matches between the racing fraternity and various All-Star line-ups. Huge crowds were attracted and Test and County stars rubbed shoulders with local club cricketers as well as trainers and jockeys. Garry Sobers and Ted Dexter were awesome, Terry Biddlecombe and Co entertaining and Exning wicket-keeper John King and others kept them company. There were magical occasions and the setting was just perfect.


In those days the pavilion was fronted by a white picket fence, with a little gate onto the playing field. The ground was smaller then, with spectators completely ringing the perimeter fence and those marvellous mature trees in the park beyond.


It is still a great place to play, with a really good batting wicket and smooth outfield a credit to Tony Catley and Co and a perfect venue for the Suffolk Federation Cup final each August Bank Holiday. The new pavilion now boasts modern facilities and the ground itself is larger, but a few well-loved trees on the boundary are gone.



Ampton


Before the days of league cricket, it was traditional for leading players in West Suffolk to turn out for Bury or Westgate Brewery on Saturdays and play at Ampton in a series of high-class friendlies


The vast thatched pavilion was and is a great sight and although it may be a little past its prime it opens a window on what cricket might have been like between the wars. Now it is the venue for village matches but with a marvellous history behind it.

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