Club Cricket Conference

Sunday, 9th August 2020

Championship cricket regains soul in 2019

Personal View: Charles Randall

23 January 2019

Club cricket should receive a major boost in 2019. This will be through the public eye, because more outgrounds have been reserved for county championship cricket than for many years due to commitment required for the summer's World Cup at various headquarters.

This means three clubs will be hosting four-day cricket for the first time. Radlett, in Hertfordshire, Newclose (Isle of Wight) and York, the lions of the north, will find themselves in focus for a brief period as a major event in their local area.

Apart from these club newcomers, championship cricket returns to  Newport, Wales, for the first time in 54 years when Glamorgan play neighbouring Gloucestershire at Spytty Park, starting May 14.

While the accountants and chief executives at county clubs need convincing about the viability of outground cricket generally, four-day cricket at club grounds provides a marvellous opportunity for the cricket public. Enthusiasts can watch high quality play in a non-stadium venue, knowing that this is the soul of the game.

There is always the chance of witnessing cricket history being made.  Venues where bowlers have taken all 10 wickets feature many outgrounds such as Pontypridd, Leyton,  Tonbridge, Southend, Blackheath, Dover and Stroud. At Wardown Park in Luton, Mark Ilott took 9-19 for Essex, including an lbw hat-trick,  against Northamptonshire in 1994 on an opening day when 30 wickets fell. Humid conditions took the blame, and Ilott finished on the losing side.

Batsmen have had their day too, as Craig Spearman would confirm when he hit 341 against Middlesex at King's School Gloucester in 2004. The New Zealander's innings was a higher score than any previous Gloucestershire batsman had made, including Dr W G Grace.

Outgrounds have a chance to stamp their personality in all sorts of different ways. They might be lucky with extraordinary on-field feats, but spectators could enjoy the unique character of a cricket ground. Steep terracing plus fish and chips (Scarborough), passing ships (Swansea), woodland views (Arundel Castle), the crooked spire of St Mary & All Saints church (Chesterfield), rhododendrons when in bloom (Tunbridge Wells). 

In the past there were other grounds now no longer in use. Memories include the holm oaks at Clarence Park, Weston-super-Mare, the  succulent roast meat baps at Abbeydale Park, Sheffield, glorious hill views at Abergavenny or simply an evocative tourist town such as Stratford-upon-Avon, Bath, Buxton or Bournemouth.

Radlett, my own club where Douglas  Jardine  played his last  games of club cricket, has a charming ground with a fast pitch with bounce, well up to first class standard. Plenty of parking space and an easy walk from the railway station should guarantee good attendances at Cobden Hill.

Newclose in the Isle of Wight was opened as recently as 2009, thanks to a £260,000 legacy. Hampshire used to play some county matches at Cowes, but that stopped in 1962. Next summer the rival town of Newport will be taking over, hoping to attract a good holiday crowd.

Yorkshire will be returning to York for the first time since 1890 for their match against Warwickshire in June.  York  have turned themselves into one of England's strongest clubs in recent times, and the arrival of championship cricket is a good reward for years of upgrading their Clifton Park ground.

Glamorgan championship cricket is not new to Newport in Wales, but an absence of 54 years will end when neighbouring Gloucestershire visit Spytty Park in May. Rodney Parade was used previously until 1965. The Newport locals saw Wally Hammond score 302 for Gloucestershire in 1939. Emrys Davies replied with 287, Glamorgan's highest individual  score until Steve James hit 309 at another outground, Colwyn Bay, in 2000.

School grounds have played their part since The War. Crowds continue to flock to Cheltenham College for the festival. Merchant Taylor's Northwood is still on the Middlesex rosta, though King's Gloucester, Oakham, Wellingborough and Millfield have fallen out of favour. Professional cricket at Clifton ceased in 1932.

OUTGROUND FIXTURES in the Championship 2019

Division One
May 20 Newclose, Newport IoW: Hampshire v Notts
May 20 Beckenham:  Kent v Surrey
June 3  Guildford: Surrey v Somerset,
June 9 Welbeck Colliery, Nettleworth: Notts v Hants
June 10 Guildford: Surrey v Yorks
June 17 Tunbridge Wells: Kent v Notts
June 17  York: Yorkshire v Warwicks 
June 30 Scarborough: Yorkshire v Surrey  
August 18 Scarborough: Yorkshire v Notts

Division Two
May 14 Spytty Park, Newport:  Glamorgan v Gloucs
May 27 Cheltenham College: Gloucestershire v Lancs
June 3 Aigburth: Lancashire v Leics
June 10 Swansea: Glamorgan v Derbyshire
June 11 Arundel Castle: Sussex v Gloucs
June 17 Radlett: Middlesex v Glamorgan 
July 7 Merchant Taylors School: Middlesex v Gloucestershire
July 14 Chesterfield: Derbyshire v Northampltonshire
July 15 Cheltenham College:  Gloucestershire v Leics
 July 21 Cheltenham College: Gloucestershire v Worcs
Aug 18 Colwyn Bay: Glamorgan v Lancashire