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Auld, dreich, and thran

As England prepare to take on Scotland in an ODI in Aberdeen, a look at the rich history of cricket in and around Mannofield

Liam Herringshaw

May 8, 2014

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A haar-affected club match at Mannofield, Aberdeen
Aberdeen's infamous haar: when a sunny afternoon can transform into a mysterious grey fug © Liam Herringshaw

Granite and greyness, giant gulls and oil and gas. To outsiders, the Scottish city of Aberdeen conjures up various images, but top-level cricket is not normally one of them. So, as England leave Lord's and head 400 miles north to take on the "auld enemy", you could be forgiven for thinking this to be some kind of exhibition match. In a referendum year, it might also be seen as an ODI that is only delaying independence.

Such thoughts, however, would reveal a blissful ignorance of north-east Scottish sport. More than 57 degrees north of the equator, Aberdeen may be the most poleward city ever to host an international game, but it has a thriving cricket scene with a long, illustrious history. More importantly, perhaps, despite a sizeable number of expat players, this scene is an unequivocally Aberdonian one.

Mannofield has been the home of Aberdeenshire Cricket Club since it was opened in 1890. It had to wait 118 years to host a one-day international and, confusingly, it was one that didn't feature Scotland.

Ireland took on New Zealand in the first game of a triangular tournament. It was a record-breaker, as a certain BB McCullum biffed his first ODI century. His 166 off 135 balls led the Kiwis to a total of 402, which, when they dismissed Ireland for 112, enabled them to win by the biggest margin in ODI history.

McCullum's knock wasn't the first momentous innings by an Antipodean at the ground, though. Sixty years earlier, Mannofield was the setting as the Australians concluded the "Invincibles" tour with a two-day game against Scotland.

Thus Aberdeen went down in history as the city where Don Bradman played his last match on British soil. He didn't disappoint, scoring 123 not out in front of a crowd of 10,000. It is often claimed that this was Bradman's last first-class century, but sadly for Mannofield it wasn't. Scotland v Australians was not a first-class match, and anyway the great man scored another 123 at the MCG in December 1948. Nonetheless, it was unquestionably Bradman's last century in the UK, and where better to achieve it than a city that has a river named after him?

Had he had more time, the "Great Master" might have been charmed by a few other grounds in the area. The Aberdeenshire cricket league is known as the Grades, and 2014 sees it mark its 130th anniversary. Across the four grades, more than 20 clubs provide 36 teams.

Aberdeen went down in history as the city where Don Bradman played his last match on British soil. He didn't disappoint

I spent three summers playing cricket in the city and county, never contributing much to my club, Bon Accord, but enjoying the variety of opponents and venues. Duthie Park is one of my favourites, a lovely little Victorian green space by the River Dee, where cricket has been played every summer since 1883. Sadly though it is now under threat.

As for Aberdeen's cricketing heart, that is the Links, and I say this not just because that was my home pitch. Matches have been held there since at least 1847 and, hemmed in by Alex Ferguson's old stomping ground to the west, the King's Links golf course to the north, the town ice rink to the south, and then the sea, the Links is a true sporting centre.

It is also the fastest-draining cricket arena* in the western world, thanks to the coastal sand-dune system beneath. That might make it sound idyllic, but it doesn't take account of Aberdeen's infamous haar. At the switch of a tide, a sunny afternoon can transform into a mysterious grey fug, the town and sky suddenly melding into one another. The Links is the only place where I've ever fielded at midwicket and been unable to see my counterpart at cover.

For more bucolic conditions, you need to venture further inland. On the south-western edge of town, Allan Park is the home of Bon Accord's greatest Grades rivals, Cults. There is a certain pleasure in trying to pepper the gardens of the city's oil barons that loom ostentatiously over the ground there. To truly get beyond the clutches of the haar, though, you must drive up Royal Deeside to picturesque spots such as Banchory.

Bon Accord batsman Fazal Awan hitting out against Stonehaven
Bon Accord's Fazal Awan goes on the attack against Stonehaven © Liam Herringshaw

Alternatively, drive south down the coast to Mineralwells Park, Stonehaven, where the tough grey granite is replaced by a rather softer, warmer sandstone, or north to the rich green fields of Ellon. Huntly is a fine old spot too, where, in a cup match team-talk, our stand-in captain told us we were rubbish and couldn't win. He was right. Our opponents had Azhar Ali in their line-up.

As for Mannofield itself, I only ever played there twice, bowled two overs, and batted briefly. Not being dismissed in my solitary innings, though, I can at least claim parity with Bradman, which is something I never thought I'd be able to say.

Talking of talking, if you're attending the game, you could arm yourself with a few choice local phrases. In Ancient Greece, Doric was the somewhat derogatory name given to the Greek spoken by people living outside Athens. By allusion, when Edinburgh was known as the "Athens of the North", so the Aberdonians came to be known as speaking Doric.

It is a language full of earthy terms perfect for a disgruntled spectator. "Fit ye deein, Buttler?" is a much richer way of exclaiming "What in heaven's name are you playing at, Buttler?"

Of course, if the weather turns dreich, you may end up drookit, but Aberdonian cricket lovers are nothing if not thran, and if their team wins they'll be fair-tricket***.

So don't declare this match doesn't matter. Peter Moores is taking it seriously, while a Scottish victory could be a shot in the arm for Aberdeenshire cricket. Regardless of whether the weather obliges, Mannofield deserves its moment in the sun.

*Literally, as arena derives from the Latin for "sandy place of combat".

**For a more detailed insight to life as an Aberdeenshire cricketer, I can't recommend Rene van Oorschot's marvellous Clog Blog highly enough. I'm proud to say I taught Rene everything he knows, though sadly not of cricket or sportswriting, but obscure forms of palaeontology at Aberdeen University. Needless to say, his student team easily beat the Staff XI for the "Volcanic Ashes".

***For explanations, consult this Doric dictionary.

Liam Herringshaw is a medium-paced palaeontologist who helped establish the Cricket Association of Newfoundland & Labrador in 2010. He can now be found hunting fossils and cheap wickets around northern England.

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