Despite possessing one of the more modest populations in the ceremonial county of Sussex, the town of Arundel has enjoyed something of a rich, first-class cricketing tradition during the last half a century. Its origins are not quite what one would expect though. Whilst Sussex visit the delightful ground a couple of times a summer, Arundel Castle gained fame through its involvement with the lavishly titled Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk’s XI and its predecessor, the Duke of Norfolk’s XI. The initial incarnation of the team, that of the Duke, began life in 1954, first playing host to the summer’s international tourists in 1956 when Australia visited Arundel Castle. England’s international opponents paid almost annual visits throughout the sixties; a tradition that continued despite the Duke’s death in 1975, the team changing its name to that of the duke’s widowed wife. The fixture quickly morphed into one of the summer’s most popular outside of the tests and one-day internationals, regularly attracting sizeable crowds to the sylvan influenced venue. Nevertheless, demands on international cricket teams and the reduction of tour matches in general threatened the tradition; the touring South Africans of nineteen summers previous the last team to play against the Duchess of Norfolk’s XI in the traditional curtain raiser at the beginning of their 1998 sojourn.
Touring national teams may have dwindled over the past decade or two but host county Sussex have made a perennial journey to the palatial surrounds since their initial foray as part of the 1990 county championship. The ground also hosts a full list of fixtures across the summer, one of which is the second XI T20 Finals Day. Not quite as raucous or auspicious as its Blast equivalent, the second XI denouement nevertheless provides a fine excuse to mosey along the A27 for a day at the beautiful Castle grounds.
Arundel itself is the sort of town that American tourists envisage is the case across the land, sporting a quaint high street with beautifully understated buildings that house independent shops selling such eclectic items as maps, antiques, wines and ports alongside more run of the mill necessities along with its famed castle. The side streets hold bucolic, historical names such as Maltravers Street, Tower House Gardens and Brewery Hill. Despite possessing a modest population, Arundel attracts its fair share of tourists, the castle and adjacent cathedral more than enough to lure the occasional onlooker. Thus, a Bank Holiday journey to one of English cricket’s more famed venues seemed most attractive, particularly with such esteemed talents on show.
Any hardened cricket fan will understand the difficult relationship between the weather and cricket in England. Apart from the hottest and sunniest of days each sojourn will be prefaced by frequent glances at the forecast. Modern day checks are via the BBC website and this morning’s fervent checks do not present good reading. The hourly forecast displays dark clouds with at least one blue rain drop for the whole day. Indeed, as my journey crosses the Hampshire border into West Sussex rain begins to fall steadily provoking thoughts of whether this trip will end in a damp squib. Nevertheless, as the A27 route circumnavigates Chichester the horizon presents the sight of Goodwood race course’s main stand bathed in sunshine. One still ponders whether the match will reach its full 50 overs per side though.
Cloud cover still rules upon arrival and Bangladesh, somewhat surprisingly, elect to bat after winning the toss. Today’s contest is an intriguing match-up in that both teams possess potentially inherent advantages. It is an intriguing match-up in that both teams possess inherent advantages. The hosts, largely comprised of players from the Sussex Premier League alongside retired skipper Chris Adams, Kiwi international Jeet Ravel and erstwhile Sussex team-mate James Kirtley, would possess ability to move the ball in typically English early season conditions, a seemingly perennial advantage against visiting countries. Bangladesh themselves, on the other hand, possess players with first-class and international experience but those not necessarily suited to cool, overcast conditions in early May.
Nevertheless, the Tigers begin comfortably, scoring 66 without loss off of the first 10 overs. Imrul Kayes feathers a delivery through to wicket-keeper Callum Jackson soon after to curtail an enterprising innings just short of fifty but the visitors bat with ease. Each run scoring stroke is followed by boisterous chants of “Shabash!” from a large Bangladeshi following in the appreciating and appreciative crowd whilst a gaggle of school children, the London Tigers, shrill raucously at their heroes’ efforts. The Tigers are quietly favoured by many to go far in the upcoming Champions Trophy a month down the line and, whilst the exciting Tamim Iqbal and Shakib al Hasan are absent, many of the likely 1st XI are present. Skipper Mushfiqur Rahim and Soumya Sarkar threaten to move through the gears but the latter erroneously picks out deep-square leg and is dismissed for 73. Mushfiqur remains at the crease though as Bangladesh pass 200 in the 32nd over, the captain reaching his half century a few overs later.
Bangladesh’s middle order proves a little brittle but Mushfiqur finds competent support from young spin prodigy Mehedi Hassan. Within the space of a few deliveries Mushfiqur reaches an 82 ball century, the Tigers pass 300 and the two resident batsmen complete a 100 run partnership. Each landmark is greeted with ever more raucous cheering from the Bangladeshi support accompanied by frenzied drum beats and chants of “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!”
Predictably, the final five overs witness some mayhem as Mushfiqur and Sunzamul Islam throw the bat, spoiling the bowling figures of Lewis Hatchett and James Kirtley. Mushfiqur finishes on a brilliant unbeaten 134 as Bangladesh compile a formidable total of 345-7 from their 50 over allocation. As the players leave the field Bangladesh’s fervent supporters form a guard of honour on either side of the stair case that takes the players from the playing area up to the pavilion. The incoming Bangladeshi batsmen understandably receive zealous ovation but, rather pleasingly, the Duke of Norfolk fielders are similarly cheered up the steps whilst even the umpires receive a good natured ovation including a selfie or three with a couple of the more cheeky supporters.
Similar to Wormsley, Arundel possesses an ambient, open atmosphere, despite being largely surrounded by trees. Knowledge of the castle ground surrounds and Arundel’s bijoux size undoubtedly help create the sense of ambience but the generous playing area combined with its plateau location enhance the sense. Curiously, through a brief break in the trees along the ground’s eastern flank is a glorious view across the town’s hinterland, the river Arun meandering across the panorama, a vista that predictably attracts its fair share of visitors and admirers during some of the day’s more ponderous moments.
Sporting a palatial, yet modest, appearing pavilion, there is steep banking along the ground’s northern flank, providing superb views for those fortunate enough to possess a pew at that end of the ground. Down the hill from the pavilion is a small marquee where the hospitality set quaff, guffaw and gorge their way through the day, occasionally venturing out onto the little created terrace to gaze at the action whilst asking daft questions about proceedings.
During the winter I read one particular opinion that Arundel was a little bit up itself, an interesting comment and one that is readily pondered once at the venue. It is an interesting claim but, depending on one’s point of view on the matter and the stellar experience enjoyed at the ground, one that seems rather moot considering the beauty and magnificence of the Castle Ground. Similar to Wormsley, any perceived atmosphere is worth it for the sheer joy provoked by the beautiful surrounds.
Located away from main roads and the town itself, there is a tranquillity and sense of rurality at the Castle Ground sporadically interrupted by the entertaining celebrations from the Bangladeshi support. One individual wanders around in a full tiger suit, posing for photographs with those enjoying the spirit of the occasion. Some proffer bemused or irritated glances at the passion for the team in green but such reactions are thankfully few and far between. It would be rather churlish to not find joy in such a display of fervour and zeal for a nondescript contest being played on a cool, overcast afternoon.
The afternoon’s cool elements have certainly helped the quaint tea hut, located behind the scoreboard, as the two ladies operating the facility scurry back and forth dishing out gallons of tea. At one point the till drawer almost runs dry of change but help is soon at hand. The cool climes provide plenty of returning bounty and, just after the resumption of play post the mid-innings break, one of the ladies informs a well-known customer that they have already taken double what was expected for the whole afternoon. Cricket needs good support to survive and thrive and such an advent does leave one feeling rather chipper as one ambles back to the action. The organisers of the contest will later confirm that in excess of 1200 people enjoyed the contest; an impressive turn out for a county game let alone a fifty over friendly. The nearby beer gazebo doesn’t quite fare so well but this is not an afternoon for supping cold pints. The adjacent gazebo featuring a collection of old cricket books prompts plenty of perusals throughout the day; drinking beer and ale may be an activity for warmer climes but the hardened cricket follower is all but magnetically drawn to an old tome or the chance of a bargain. Arundel possesses a reputation of being one of the most attractive, palatial cricket grounds in the country and it does not disappoint, even on a chilly, oft overcast afternoon.
The interval prompts an announcement that those in attendance are permitted to frolic on the outfield, a pastime that used to be part and parcel of the county game but has begun to slowly recede in the modern era. There is much gazing at the straw coloured wicket; a surface with the appearance more akin to late June than early May. Fifteen minutes before the Duke of Norfolk’s XI are to begin their chase the Bangladeshi bowlers jog out onto the Arundel sward to turn their collective arms over. This is manna from heaven for the amateur photographers as the opportunity to snap Rubel Hossain or Taksin Iqbal going through the gears from such close quarters is too good to miss. Gloveman Mushfiqur Rahim diligently sways and shifts with each delivery from the team’s spinners; theatrically completing a number of stumpings with scything swings of his left arm into the plastic practice stumps. The totemic figure of bowling coach Courtney Walsh, bedecked in blue windcheater and black cap and a baseball glove, similarly attracts plenty of snaps. The photographers, this author included, snap away and creep closer toward the performers; the latter encouraging the stewards to rebuke the offenders with curt shouts of “Get Back!” whilst swinging their arms with a little less panache than the subject of the photographers. All the fun is soon curtailed though as the bell is rung; a universal signal that it’s time to leave the outfield.
Many in attendance likely expect the Duke of Norfolk’s batting line-up to finish well short of their victory target but openers Arfan Akram and New Zealand international Jeet Ravel begin competently, scoring 59 runs in the opening 10 overs. Indeed, Ravel reaches his half century and the hosts reach three figures when rain, somewhat improbably, interrupts play for the first time 18 overs into the innings. Within moments a sense of the inevitable sets in and many head for the car park. The horizon appears grey, the opposite side of the Arun valley disappears behind the precipitation and one begins to conclude that proceedings may be done for the day. Some hardy supporters shelter under the large tree near the pavilion, others in the hospitality tent but 20 or so minutes after the players have left the field the expected announcement that the match had been abandoned. Result? Bangladesh have bigger fish to fry across the Irish Sea before the biggest catch of the summer at the Champions Trophy.