Temperatures on the south coast may have been nudging twenty degrees Celsius during the final days of October but summer is very much done and dusted. Cricket’s county championship reached its intriguing denouement almost three months in the past and the long, arduous recesses of winter have arrived. England may well be engaging in a lengthy winter tour of the subcontinent but it is scant consolation and a poor replacement for the bounties of summer. Something is needed to warm the cockles and enliven one’s spirit. Such a something has arrived in the form of the tome Remarkable Cricket Grounds by Brian Levison. Featuring a selection of the globe’s more intriguing venues for the sport of cricket, Remarkable Cricket Grounds is a beautifully produced piece of work best suited for a dark, rainy evening sat in front of a roaring fire (a wood-burning stove would suffice) with a cup of tea or something a little more potent. Said book proffers glorious views and sumptuous pictures from an eclectic mix of grounds and stadia with, seemingly, no real agenda other than their remarkableness. Some choices are a little predictable but expected, (the number of pages dedicated to the likes of Old Trafford, Headingley, Lords and the Oval is somewhat surprising and, for this reader, not overly intriguing) some are bizarre (the inclusion of the soulless Ageas Bowl, New York’s homogenous Citi Field and the ostentatious, gaudy Stanford Cricket Ground in Antigua all seem rather churlish) whilst some are inevitable. (Newlands and Table Mountain, New Road and its penchant for flooding, Sir Paul Getty’s Ground and its quintessentially English setting)
Rather, it is the less familiar grounds which provide the most enjoyment; those upon which one can cogitate and ruminate during those dark evenings whilst imagining the proceedings from games of yore. Amongst some of the more memorable are Laurie Lee Field in Sheepscombe, named after the famous writer, set in the Cotswold hills and featuring an eyebrow raising 4.6 metre drop from one end of the ground to the other. Apparently shorter batsmen are unable to see bowlers running in until the last few strides to the crease. Of a similarly anomalous nature is Bridgetown (Somerset as opposed to Barbados) Cricket Club with its bijoux thatched cottage pavilion and the requirement for players to cross the A396 road in order to reach the ground whilst also traversing a small wooden bridge that stretches over the adjacent River Exe.
The West Country certainly possesses its fair share of entries. Just twenty-odd miles from Bridgetown is Lynton and Lynmouth’s Valley of the Rocks ground, wedged in between two giant tors and just a short distance from the roaring Bristol Channel. The ground is rapidly growing in fame courtesy of its location and the beautiful stone pavilion which nestles in the lee of the trees beyond the northern boundary. Somewhat pleasingly, Mother Meldrum’s Tea House is a near neighbour.
Indeed, it is the quirky, curious entries upon which one dwells the longest, particularly those grounds that one is reading about for the first time. Amongst the rolling suburbs of south London is Mitcham Cricket Club with its pavilion separated from the ground itself by the busy A239 road. (Batsmen are given a little leeway regarding reaching the wicket when traffic is heavy) Or Portchester Castle Cricket Club, whose third XI play inside the walls of the castle itself. Big hitting batsmen possess the opportunity to launch lusty shots over the castle wall into neighbouring Portsmouth Harbour or into the nearby castle moat.
Such gloriously unique grounds are not confined to the United Kingdom though. Levison’s book highlights three gems from the opposite side of the globe in New Zealand including the Clifton County Ground which resides in duneland akin to a links golf course and Pukekura Park in New Plymouth with its intimate, arboreal surrounds and bizarre triangular, Aztec in appearance seating terraces. Perhaps the most stunning and memorable is Queenstown with its eponymous airport neighbour and the sight and sound of large commercial aeroplanes ascending from the runway located just a couple of hundred metres from the southern boundary. If that was not enough, the shores of Lake Wakatipu are just as close whilst the Remarkables mountain range provides a stunning backdrop. Maybe only Dharamsala with its stunning Himalayan panorama and distinctive red pagoda pavilion can rival the beauty of the west Otago venue.
Perhaps two of the most intriguing venues featured are from locations where one wouldn’t ordinarily expect to discover cricket being played: the Maifeld and Spianada Square. The latter is the enormous twenty-eight acre expanse of greensward located behind Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. Originally it was used to stage events such as Polo and the dressage in the 1936 Olympic Games but now features two adjacent cricket pitches as the game grows in Germany. The latter is the main square in Corfu town where the game takes place amongst urban surrounds featuring Italianate architecture with a litany of parked cars providing target practice for the more zealous batsmen.
Such a selection is just a few particular highlights from what is a delightful and heart-warming tome, one to provide moments of great escapism during those long winter months when the glory of summer seems so far away.