The Forgotten Counties: the Forgotten Ground

One cannot help feel rather sad and melancholy about Wormsley Cricket Ground. Such a vision of beauty amongst a fold in the Chiltern Hills, offering the most bucolic of settings and the most perfect cricket ground at which to both play and spectate. Cocooned in the eponymous estate and surrounded by bounteous trees and sweeping fields, one could almost be transported back in time at the Buckinghamshire venue, far from the relentless rush and hurly-burly of everyday life. Clichés such as quintessentially English and idyllic are readily bandied around with regard to Sir Paul Getty’s magnificent legacy but such quips are well deserved as Wormsley provides a sense of escapism that is a rarity in the modern sporting world.

All of which still very much applies as the venue itself remains as magnificent as ever. One’s sense of melancholy regarding the ground is not with regard to the ground itself though. Rather, it is the diminishing fixtures that are hosted on the immaculate greensward. Time was when county cricket made a couple of appearances each summer whilst women’s internationals and Ashes contests have also been hosted by the venue. The Minor Counties remain regular visitors but theirs is the highest level of cricket now played on the turf. Women’s cricket has remained absent since the series against India during the 2014 summer whilst county cricket, i.e. that involving the first class brethren, has not returned in the last five seasons. Aside from English cricket’s forgotten counties almost all of the remaining fixtures for the 2018 summer are friendly matches hosted by the John Paul Getty XI. One doesn’t doubt that these matches will be very interesting encounters but one cannot help feel that Wormsley deserves to be hosting matches of a higher profile nature. Hence the sense of melancholy.

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Gloriously Wormsley

All of which sounds a little churlish regarding the Minor Counties themselves for which the venue serves as an equivalent for Lord’s and a tournament denouement or two. Indeed, the MCCA are enjoying an extended visit in and around the August Bank Holiday weekend. Sunday should have witnessed Finals Day for the re-vamped T20 competition whilst the 50 over Trophy Final will take place three days later. Wedged in between is a fixture between the MCCA combined team and the MCC. Wet weather scuppers any chances of play on the Sunday so T20 Finals Day is postponed twenty-four hours to Bank Holiday Monday.

Cheshire and Norfolk contest the first semi-final of the short format competition, beginning at the rather early hour of ten o’clock in the morning. Fortunately the morning is bright with a hint of sunshine, albeit with a chilly breeze that is most definitely possesses a hint of autumn. Cheshire are technically defending champions after winning the first, and thus far only, edition of the Minor Counties T20 competition three summers previous.

The Midland county are invited to bat first amid the cool, blustery conditions and attack with intent during the powerplay. The combination of a sluggish outfield and varied bowling from Norfolk restricts Cheshire to 38-1 from the first six overs but the batsmen offer a riposte once the fielding restrictions have been lifted, opener Will Evans completing a stylish half century from just twenty-eight deliveries as Cheshire amass 85-1 by the midpoint of their allocation. Indeed, the defending champions savagely attack the Norfolk spinners during the middle ten overs, amassing in excess of 110 runs with great conviction to set up a final charge.

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Berkshire’s Andy Rishton tees off

Evans falls for a brilliant innings of 76 but Luke Robinson completes his own half century from just thirty-one deliveries. There is no respite for the Norfolk bowlers as Robinson and Ed Fluck attack with gusto. The regular chirps of encouragement from the fielders have diminished and the silence is filled with the shrills of Red Kites flying overhead and the almost perpetual sound of the nearby scoreboard ticking over zealously. The batsmen attempt to flay every delivery to the boundary. Enough attempts prove successful as Cheshire set Norfolk an imposing target of 203 for victory.

In contrast to their opponents Norfolk appear a little circumspect during the powerplay section of their innings. Nevertheless, the scoreboard reads 46-2 after the first half dozen overs, a respectable effort. The East Anglian county’s requirement to score at ten runs per over dictates that they are already behind the proverbial eight ball though. Opener Sam Arthurton records the third half century of the match but Cheshire’s spin duo of Simon Normanton and Jack Williams restrict Norfolk’s progress. Arthurton attempts to increase the tempo but soon perishes for seventy and one suspects the game is up for the East Anglian county with a further 86 runs required from the final five overs. Leg spinner Williams returns to claim a deserved wicket as the match, despite game efforts from Norfolk’s lower order, peters out with a facile 46 run victory for the Midland county.

 

Barely fifteen minutes after the conclusion of the Norfolk innings Devon skipper Josh Bess bowls to Berkshire’s Chris Peploe to begin the second semi-final. Peploe and Richard Morris are dismissed off of consecutive deliveries in the second over but Waqas Hussain and Dan Lincoln repair the damage as the Stags reach 57-2 at the end of the powerplay. Berkshire’s progress is soon checked though as Devon chip away with regular wickets, reducing their opponents to 84-5 after 11 overs.

Devon continue to turn the screw with accurate bowling and superb fielding. Hussain perishes to long-off at the beginning of the 16th over as the West Country county edge into the Berkshire lower order. Singles and the occasional scampered two are the limit of Berkshire’s run scoring as the Stags finish their allocation on 137-9.

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Forced to push for early wickets, Berkshire employ four different spin bowlers during the early stages of the Devon innings. The tactic does not reap dividends though as the West Country county reach 49-1 at the end of the powerplay. Nevertheless, the second spin pairing of Chris Peploe and Ali Raja deliver half a dozen overs for a pair of wickets in exchange for just twenty-five runs to edge the Stags back into the contest. Peploe, sensing a route to victory, whirls his arms extravagantly and brusquely in making field changes. The team’s most experienced performer influences the contest with the ball in hand and also through the force of his personality. The encouragement becomes a little more confident, a little sharper. Berkshire are not familiar with defeat, they have extricated themselves from many a perilous predicament over the past three or four years with Peploe often to the fore. He is the county’s champion performer.

Raja claims a further scalp in his final over and Oli Birts two as Devon require sixty from the final half dozen overs with just four wickets remaining. Devon have no response to the barrage of spin bowling. Peploe returns for his final over to claim another pair of wickets to finish with 4/11 whilst Euan Woods takes two of his own as Devon are skittled out for 88 having been 51-1. The victory proves dramatic, the influence of spin remarkable; nearly sixteen overs for all ten wickets at a cost of just 77 runs. Wicket-keeper Stewart Davison’s remarkable 4 stumpings are almost lost amid the more obvious statistics.

 

Unsurprisingly, Berkshire employ the same tactics in the final as they are required to field first post losing the toss. It is the pace of Tom Nugent that provides the opening breakthrough though, courtesy of a brilliant catch from Waqas Hussain, to dismiss Will Evans and break a burgeoning opening partnership. Evans’ fellow opener Wayne White and Luke Robinson steadily rebuild the innings until Peploe and Raja combine to claim a further four wickets and shift the match momentum back toward the Home County. Cheshire skipper Rick Moore bludgeons a late cameo but the Midland county can only muster a modest total of 130-6 from their twenty overs.

Berkshire’s top order may have stuttered in the semi-final but there is no repeat in the final. Peploe and Waqas Hussain enjoy a fifty-seven run partnership for the first wicket at a comfortable rate to all but push the Stags over the finish line. Contributions from Euan Woods and Richard Morris combined with a half-century from the evergreen Peploe confirm their status as champions of the revamped competition; the latter’s dismissal by Nick Anderson a mere footnote as Dan Lincoln and Andy Rishton guide Berkshire over the finish line.

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Much like the famous Castle Ground in Arundel the equivalent at Wormsley never fails to disappoint. The sights and visions of the Sir Paul Getty ground are familiar due to their use in books, magazines and other sections of the media but visiting in person still provokes great joy and delight. Quite simply, the scene is achingly beautiful. Aside from the aforementioned Red Kites soaring in the ether there is the distant baa-ing of the estate’s resident sheep lining a fold of the Chiltern Hills whilst one end of the ground is named the ‘Dibley End’ after the television program which was filmed in the nearby village of Turville. Another television program, Midsomer Murders, has visited not once but twice in its position as the country’s purveyor of a quintessential, if a little clichéd, view of country life.

Sadly, Wormsley does not enjoy the same high profile fixture list as that at Arundel Castle though. Whilst the latter hosted a County Championship match, a Kia Super League contest, Ed Joyce’s testimonial T20 and the Second XI T20 Finals Day during the 2018 season the extended visit of the Minor Counties represents the highest echelon of cricket played on the ground during the same season. Quite rightly, such a venue is ideal for Minor Counties cricket and the T20 Finals Day enjoyed an excellent crowd that appeared to enjoy such beautiful surrounds but one cannot help but ponder whether the Sir Paul Getty ground could, and should, be hosting visitors from an echelon or two higher.

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