Fond memories of Fenner's come flooding back
High celebrations are afoot at Cambridge this weekend to mark the 150th anniversary of Fenner's. The university will play one-day matches against an XI raised by Frank Fenner, great-great nephew of Francis Philip Fenner, on Saturday and against MCC, the first opponents in 1848, on Sunday.
Roger Knight, secretary of MCC, will lead a side including the great Majid Khan, Russell Cake and Paul Parker. Derek Randall, the university coach, will have Derek Pringle, Nick Cook and some of the best of the Millfield boys coached by Frank Fenner during his 10 years in charge of cricket at the school. F P Fenner, who had a tobacco and cigar business in Cambridge and was a playing contemporary of Fuller Pilch and Alfred Mynn, laid out and rented his matchless sward at the request of the university cricketers, who wanted to get away from the hoi-polloi of Parker's Piece. It has been the most fruitful nursery of talent ever since, with the Oxford Parks not too far behind.
The intention of the England Cricket Board to facilitate centres of excellence at anything up to six universities, with subsequent attachment to counties, within the next few years has important implications for all young cricketers. John Carr, the Board's cricket operations manager, visualises Oxford and Cambridge entertaining the counties as usual, meanwhile, with the possibility of Durham University also doing so if fixture patterns permit.
There are few first-class cricketers or writers who have the privilege of recording the game for whom the name Fenner's does not provoke nostalgic recollection: Bradman on a fresh May morning bowled for a duck by Jack Davies, sleeves flapping, with an off-break that didn't and his walk back with a half-smile amidst a disappointed hush: an imperial 185 by Ted Dexter, 105 of them before lunch, against Lancashire, the evidence of which fuelled my criticism of his omission from MCC's selection for Australia a year later: a mere 30 or so by Michael Bushby against Ray Lindwall which evoked high praise from the Australians.
Such pictures come readily to my mind along with - a sharp descent in quality - my one appearance there for Middlesex, 12 and 26, the first innings abbreviated by a monstrous lbw decision by the elderly university umpire which, of course, I accepted without the very faintest suggestion of dissent.