Unsung heroes, who make first-class cricket possible, 1995

An alternative five

Every year Wisden chooses Five Cricketers of the Year and often the selection includes one of the game's lesser stars, who has worked away in county cricket for many years without the glamour of international recognition. They usually get called stalwarts and salt of the earth.

But, as well as all the cricketers, there is a far bigger band of stalwarts who keep the professional circuit alive without getting any recognition, sometimes without getting any money. There are the umpires, scorers and groundsmen, of course. But there are hundreds of others, as well, in all kinds of jobs.

This year, as well as the Five Cricketers, we have chosen five other people. Without them, in different ways, first-class cricket would be impossible. But they are only a sample, chosen almost at random. They stand for dozens of others. There are people like Vince Miller, who has been printing the scorecards under the Grand Stand at Lord's since 1958, Lilian Byrne, who has answered the MCC telephones since 1972, Peter Lees, long-time presiding genius of the Lord's press bar, Graham Jones, the steward, and Eddie Rickard, the dressing-room attendant, both at Swansea from just after the war into the 1990s. There are many more. We could only pick five.

The first of them is undoubtedly the best-known. Amongst professional cricketers she is a legendary figure. Last year, NANCY DOYLE was made an honorary MBE and received her honour inside the Long Room at Lord's, which was a far more appropriate setting than Buckingham Palace. Her domain, however, is upstairs, where she is manageress of both the players' and committee dining rooms. Nancy Doyle has never read a cookery book, claiming she could never follow a written recipe. She never uses scales, much preferring guesswork, and has changed little from the basic method taught to her by the nuns at her convent school in Mullingar. That means a typical menu, as on one day of the Lord's Test against New Zealand last summer, might read: roast chicken with chips and two veg, followed by jam roly-poly with a choice of custard, cream or ice cream. The players love it.

Nancy first worked at Lord's as casual waitress in 1961, transferring to the players' dining room the following year. In all those years, she says, she has never had a complaint, not even the time when she dropped hot apple pie and custard over Wilf Slack's lap during a Middlesex Championship match. Wilf quietly assured her it was no problem, accepted another helping and, after changing his trousers, went back out to complete a double-century.

During Tests, Nancy prepares about a hundred meals for players, committee and office staff and about 60 at every county match. She unfalteringly protects the Lord's dress code: no jeans, tracksuits or shorts in the players' dining room, no jackets to be removed in the committee dining room. During Tests against India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka, her daughter Jeanette, a nurse, takes leave to help her; Nancy cannot cook curries.

She professes scant knowledge of cricket, although Sir Colin Cowdrey first taught her that it wasn't rounders, which has left her with a soft spot for Kent ever since. Her loyalty to her players is unshakeable. She claims never to have been asked for a hangover cure. Nancy plans to serve out the 1995 season, then see what happens. Everyone hopes retirement is a good while away yet, but when it comes woe betide anyone who makes a fuss of her by baking her a cake.

BERT BARDEN was also contemplating retirement as the season drew to a close last September. At 83, he was one of the county game's most senior servants and beginning to suspect that age was catching up with him.

In the hectic build-up to a big limited-overs occasion, there are few more taxing jobs than that of manning the Chelmsford members' car park. Bert, as Essex's chief car parking steward, has been responsible for keeping order when tempers are becoming frayed. There have been times when merely not being run over in the rush for parking places has been some kind of achievement. If 33 years as a bus driver for Eastern National left him with a poor opinion of driving standards, he is equally unimpressed at the parking skills of the great cricketing public.

They all know they have to park properly, he said, but some of them have to reverse three or four times to get into a space, even if it's at the end of a row. When I was on the buses, I used to complain about women drivers, just like everybody else, but I've come to learn that the women park much more neatly than the men do. Perhaps it's because they know I'm keeping a keen eye on them.

Since the death of his wife, Kathleen, more than ten years ago, the camaraderie of the county circuit has been a blessing. He admits openly to long, lonely winters, which he is able to escape each spring with the first smell of freshly-mown grass. I get very depressed in the winter, he said, but Essex have been good to me. There are one or two nasty pieces of work about, and we have to watch out for the West Ham mob on Sundays down at Ilford, but 99 per cent of people are well behaved and friendly. It's good company; in fact, it's been good company since I watched my first Essex match more than 70 years ago.

His active involvement with Essex began in the early 1980s. Bert was in the garden shed, doing some carpentry and listening to the football on the radio; Kathleen was in the greenhouse, tuned instead to the local BBC station, where an appeal for stewards went out. I went down for an interview, he said. They didn't ask me much. It seemed that if you could walk and breathe, you were up to the job. In his quieter moments, Bert Barden has had the fortune to see some excellent cricket in the past 13 seasons. He has also had the chance to utter, more than once, that immortal line: You can't come in here without a pass.

Consider the history of Trent Bridge, and the Dalling family should, by rights, immediately spring to mind. The name figures prominently in the county's history, with four men boasting more than a century's service to Nottinghamshire. HARRY DALLING served as ground superintendent at Trent Bridge ( responsible for everything outside the boundary rope) for 42 years until 1991. No one ever believed that retirement would end his connection with the club and last season, aged 73, he was still performing a variety of supporting roles, most recognisably as one of the voices on the Trent Bridge public address.

Harry Dalling was born in Nottingham and has never had any inclination to leave it. Today, he still lives only six minutes' walk from the ground. His father, Frank Dalling, was ground superintendent for 22 years; Harry's younger brother, also Frank, was head groundsman for 26 years until the mid-1970s; and now Frank's son, know as Frank junior, is assistant to the present groundsman, Ron Allsopp.

Harry has never married. I've often been asked why, he said, but I don't know a woman who would have tolerated the hours that I've spent at the ground. My first love has always been cricket and I don't feel that I've missed anything. I've had so many happy memories.

Those memories include the Championship win in 1929 when, as a child, he glimpsed Harold Larwood and Bill Voce, and the day he dismissed Jim Laker for 49 in a benefit match. I thought I fired one in just short of a length. He called it a long hop, but I was proud of it all the same, he said.

The family have been privileged to serve Nottinghamshire over the years, he said. Trent Bridge is an exquisite sight and has a very special atmosphere, even when it's empty. When it's full, the place sends a shiver down your spine. And what's pleasing is that it has retained its character throughout all the changes.

More than a decade has passed since computerised scoreboards began to change the face of English county grounds. For detailed information, the advantages of the best of them are undeniable, but if they remain for a century and more, they will never achieve the same solid and restful qualities of their manual predecessors. Wooden scoreboards, in all their alternative forms, help to form the character of the ground they grace.

STEVE HOWES therefore gains prominence, not just for himself, but for the building he represents. For the past 13 years, he has been particularly responsible for the smooth running of the scoreboard at The Oval, the most efficient in the country. Only in cricket, and perhaps only in England, could a scoreboard encourage such affection. But cricket is a statistical game, its conclusion revealed over a considerable period of time. When major records are broken - Lancashire's 863 against Surrey in 1990, the highest Championship total this century; or Devon Malcolm's nine wickets for 57 runs against South Africa last year - The Oval scoreboard unfailingly poses for another round of photographs.

For most of the 1980s, Steve worked the box alongside his brother, Andrew, and they drew pride from their reputation for speed and accuracy. The advent of a second, electronic scoreboard on the ground a few years ago provided another incentive to maintain the highest standards. Recognition can easily depart and Steve admits that he used to feel a flutter of nerves before the start of a Test. One year a number on the hundreds fell horizontal and no one could see it, he said. I watched the Test highlights that evening and nearly had a heart attack.

The Oval box is now more than 40 years old is struggling to disguise its age. Figures have been known to drop from the windows without warning - thankfully, there have been no recorded incidents of spectators being injured by Last Man's score - and are temporarily repaired with a hastily applied nail or screw. The box is spartan: a couple of chairs, a stool (Steve's preference), and a portable radio, tuned whenever possible to Test Match Special. There is not even a kettle in the box; they tried it once, but remembering to bring along a pint of fresh milk proved too challenging.

Steve took time out in 1990 to gain a degree in leisure management at Thames Valley University. But he returned in 1994, and the retirement in the autumn of Harry Brind caused him to move up a rung to No. 4 on the groundstaff. The only drawback with his promotion is that it might end his scoreboard duties, traditionally the novice's role.

Approaching his mid-thirties, Steve wonders about a proper job. But The Oval exerts a powerful pull: the renewal of old acquaintances, the charting of a player's career from its infancy, the discovery of the same old boys in the same old seats year upon year. And you have to be mad on cricket to watch as much as I do, he said.

In his two passionate loves, cricket and classical music, KEITH PARTRIDGE has something in common with Sir Neville Cardus. When he is not at Hove or Horsham watching his beloved Sussex, Keith listens to Mozart and Brahms. There, the similarities must end. Cardus never tramped around a county ground all day selling lottery tickets. But he would have recognised that it is the untiring and unheralded contribution of cricket lovers like Keith that guards the future of the game.

Keith is handicapped and partially sighted, but he has consistently risen above such misfortune to be one of Sussex's staunchest and most committed supporters. He is a familiar sight during Sussex home matches, and sells lottery tickets throughout the county, from Chichester to Crawley to Rye. The only payment he receives is his train fare and the cost of his lunch. He was a young man when he moved, with his parents, to Brighton from London in the early 1960s, just before Sussex won their first trophy, the inaugural Gillette Cup, in 1963.

It was a great time to be a Sussex member, he recalled. Ted Dexter and Jim Parks were batting, John Snow played for England for the first time in 1965 and then we had Tony Greig. But Keith was not satisfied with taking an inactive pleasure in the county's success. In 1968, he began to attend the Sussex Cricket Society's monthly winter meetings and then started to raise money for the club. He has barely stopped for breath since. He now raises about £5,000 a year for Sussex: Christmas draw tickets, the Derby draw and the year-round lottery tickets. It may be small beer compared to the modern might of the TCCB handout, but it is community involvement at its finest.

David Hopps is a cricket writer on The Guardian.

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