Essays, reflections and more

It happened in '85

As the 2011 season gets underway, a county cricket watcher recalls his first year travelling the Sunday League grounds of 1980s Britain with a press pass-wielding father

Liam Herringshaw

April 8, 2011

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A view of the New Road ground, Worcester, July 6, 2010
New Road: a confectionery stall to die for Matthew Lewis / © Getty Images

My career began at Trent Bridge, in 1979. After a quiet debut in first-class cricket, I finally broke free from the shackles, hit out towards Derek Randall, and set off for a sharp run. I thought I'd made it, till I was suddenly caught by someone dashing in from the boundary.

It was my mother. I was two years old.

Today a toddler showing such flagrant disregard for player safety would undoubtedly be manhandled by men in fluorescent jackets, turfed out of the ground and given a lifetime ban from all forms of cricket, but those were different times. In my cricketing childhood the season started in late spring and finished in early autumn, international superstars battled it out at tiny provincial grounds, and venue security consisted of nothing more than an old man on the gate.

Or at least I think it did. As you will discover, my memory is somewhat unreliable. I certainly don't recall the Trent Bridge incident, though my parents assure me it happened, and it's another six years before I even remember attending a cricket match.

One thing I can say with certainty is that my father is a professional sports photographer, and that I had a very lucky childhood. At the age of eight I became his weekend sidekick, and started accompanying him to Sunday League 40-over matches. For the next few summers, I had the privilege of seeing some of cricket's star names in a variety of unheralded locations, and often from from unusual viewpoints.

Worcestershire versus Somerset was the first, on a damp Sunday in early May, 1985. Being a cake-loving fan of cathedrals and history, Dad ranks New Road as one of his favourite grounds, and it immediately became one of mine. I was a Leicestershire lad, but the sporting allegiances of small boys are nothing if not malleable, and how could I not be swayed by the confectionery delights of the Ladies' Pavilion?

It undoubtedly helped that Dad bought me The Worcestershire Cricket Scoring Book, offering to teach me how to keep track of the game. After choosing the best vantage point for photography, he set up his cameras, and I took my place next to him, opening my new book in readiness.

Unfortunately the weather had other ideas. In a proper English baptism, the start was delayed by rain, and every time play looked possible, another cloudburst would come along. No scoring or photographing to be done - we had to console ourselves with cake. Eventually it was announced that the game had been reduced to 10 overs a side, and my scorebook tells me it finally began at 5.07 pm, Worcestershire making 75 for 7 from their allotted overs. David Smith top-scored with 25 and Kapil Dev managed 10. In response, Ian Botham opened the Somerset batting and came out with all guns blazing, smashing 28 not out as the visitors reached 46 for 0 from just 5.1 overs. At which point the weather gods decided this was all far too exciting and sent down a decisive downpour. "Rain Abandond play" says my eight-year-old handwriting.

This was to be a recurring theme. A fortnight later we got 35 overs of Nottinghamshire against Leicestershire before that too was ended by excess precipitation. The clouds then stuck around for my inaugural trip to Lord's the next week, but it was third time lucky, at least, as Middlesex and Sussex completed a "Ten10" game. My scoring got a bit confused, but a check of the archives shows that Paul Parker, Alan Wells and Imran Khan bludgeoned the visitors to 87 for 2. It wasn't enough, as Roland Butcher hit 49 and led Middlesex to victory with two balls to spare.

From Lord's to Luton might seem a bit of a comedown, but I hadn't really enjoyed the home of cricket. The atmosphere there was a bit sniffy, where a young boy carrying a camera bag as his Dad's assistant was regarded with suspicion rather than the normal amusement

From Lord's to Luton might seem a bit of a comedown, but I hadn't really enjoyed the home of cricket. The atmosphere there was a bit sniffy, where a young boy carrying a camera bag as his Dad's assistant was regarded with suspicion rather than the normal amusement. Wardown Park at the end of June was far more fun and, finally, I got to see a full 40-over match. In an exciting clash between Northamptonshire and Essex, 82 not out from Allan Lamb helped the home team overhaul the target of 217 in the final over.

The next day Wimbledon began, so Dad abandoned cricket for tennis. I was puzzled, therefore, when writing this piece, to see that my scorebook included a game from July 7th. That was the Sunday when Boris Becker won the men's championship, and I asked Dad why he wasn't there. "I only had a pass for the first 10 days," he told me, "and I thought that unknown German kid would get eliminated before the final!"

Thus, rather than seeing tennis history being made on Centre Court, he was photographing Derbyshire v Worcestershire at the wonderfully named Victoria and Knypersley Social Welfare Centre, in Biddulph, Staffordshire. I have to say I have no recollection of this at all, and as my scorecard is highly incomplete, I wonder if I was really there. An online search says the ground has its own carp-fishing pool, and surely I would remember that?

Surely I would also remember a game that featured a Jamaican, an Indian, a South African, a Kenyan Kiwi, a Dane, two Zambians, and Paul Newman (no, not that one). There were 11 Test players in total, including two of the greatest fast bowlers of all time: Michael Holding and Kapil Dev. It clearly wasn't a bowler's wicket, though, as the latter went at six an over and the former at 7.38, as Derbyshire's 292 for 9 proved 33 runs too good for the visitors.

And after this, there are no further entries in my 1985 scorebook. I guess there must have been other sports events for Dad to photograph. I know he was at the Open Golf in mid-July, as we had a family holiday in Kent. I watched the final of the Benson & Hedges Cup in the TV lounge of a bed and breakfast, and saw my hero David Gower lead Leicestershire to a 55-run win over Essex. I also remember having to abandon my evening re-enactment and dash indoors as we were hit by a hurricane hailstorm, but that seems even less likely than everything else.

So if I tell you that the next season I got to sit on the players balcony at a Yorkshire-Essex game, I'll forgive you for not believing me. But it definitely happened.

I think.

Liam Herringshaw is a medium-paced palaeontologist who moved to Newfoundland from the UK to improve his chances of opening the bowling

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