Middlesex County Cricket Club’s occasional enforced sojourn away from their official residence at Lord’s has witnessed a handful of venues utilised by the former county over the decades; the hinterlands of north-west London and neighbouring Hertfordshire playing host to first-class and List A matches on an annual basis. Thus, venues such as the John Walker Ground in Southgate, Old Deer Park in Richmond and Uxbridge Cricket Club became and have become regular stopovers for the county upon ventures away from Lord’s. Safe return to headquarters is usually swift for the first team but the second XI are not so fortunate. Theirs is an itinerant lifestyle around a variety of venues. Indeed, during one recent summer the second XI played matches at Radlett, Ealing, Uxbridge, (at two separate locations) Winchmore Hill, Richmond, Northwood and Barnes, eight different venues across the capital and its north-western vestiges.
Such a policy, both for the first and second teams, was deemed to be a disadvantage to the club as it was identified that living out of the boot of a car and a nomadic lifestyle may have contributed to players leaving the club.
Thus, Middlesex elected to forge a partnership with one particular venue in order to establish a home from home. Radlett Cricket Club, located in leafy Hertfordshire close to Watford, was the chosen partner; the de facto county announcing during the 2012 summer that the two parties had completed a two and a half year long project that involved re-development of the pavilion and the club’s cricketing facilities. The improvements would enable the club to continue its thriving junior section whilst Middlesex would benefit from a permanent training base and a home ground for the Second XI. Both first and second teams would continue to undertake the odd venture to other familiar venues but the intention seemed to be that Radlett would host the bulk of future second XI fixtures. Indeed, almost half of the second XI’s 2017 season was hosted by Radlett. The venture has certainly proved a marked success as the first XI played two fifty over contests, against Essex and Kent, during the current season whilst the second XI are now fully ensconced in their home from home. The latest county to undertake the journey to the wealthy, leafy north London outpost is Lancashire for an end of season Second XI Friendly contest.
Middlesex bat first on an overcast morning and after a tricky first couple of overs begin to score rapidly courtesy of a fluent innings from George Scott. The tall opener is within sight of a half century inside the first hour when Lancashire force a breakthrough, the wicket prompting the introduction of precocious Afghan leg spinner Zahir Khan from the opposite end. Operating off of a considerable run up, Khan bustles to the wicket and delivers the ball with great zeal and purpose. His opening overs prove expensive as he struggles to find the correct length on a green wicket but Khan soon settles into a rhythm and troubles the home batsmen. Khan’s efforts do not go unrewarded but it is his brethren at the opposite end who benefit; a second wicket for George Balderson and a pair for Scottish international Mark Watt keeping the visitors in the contest Middlesex reach lunch at 148-4.
Cricket at outgrounds is oft a tranquil, peaceful affair but barely a few moments have passed after one’s arrival when Radlett’s ambience is interrupted by the roar of a train on the adjacent line that terminates at St Pancras to the south, Luton and its eponymous airport to the north. Indeed, the whoosh of passing carriages occurs on a regular basis. Similar to Richmond though, the rail line does provide something of a logistical boon; the nearby train station providing a public transport link to Radlett for those based nearer the centre of the capital.
Richmond has its aeroplanes and Radlett has its trains but these urban reminders are what make outground cricket perhaps all the more enjoyable for the counties that inhabit the country’s largest cities. The ground itself is a charming spot to enjoy a session or three, both square boundaries flanked by tall, mature trees (one weeping willow on the railway side particularly appealing in the early afternoon sun) whilst the straight equivalents are defined by neatly clipped hedges that divide the main pitch from a Rugby equivalent at the pavilion end and a smaller cricket brother at the opposite end. The playing surface meanders beguilingly in a manner that appears contrary to the bowlers; both ends featuring inclines although that adjacent to the pavilion is shallower.
Nevertheless, the playing surface appears in excellent condition and, whilst not large, is adequate enough to cover matches of this standard. Whether the ground is large enough to continue hosting Middlesex’s first XI is a matter for debate. There is limited space around the boundary edges which could accommodate temporary seating but probably not a temporary stand. The ground is located close to motorway links though and the aforementioned train station whilst the adjacent Rugby and Cricket pitches provide adequate room for parking. Whether Middlesex’s first team continues to return in the future remains to be seen, particularly as there is competition from Merchant Taylor’s School alongside the traditional outposts at Richmond and Uxbridge. Nevertheless, Radlett is certainly capable of hosting Second XI cricket, and its modest crowds, on a regular basis.
Despite prominent sightscreens and scoreboard Radlett’s trees and hedges provoke something of a golfing ambience, an atmosphere that is perhaps prevalent courtesy of the pavilion which would not be amiss at any of the leafy courses in the surrounding hinterland. Beautifully vaulted with a wooden exterior the pavilion features a smart balcony amid the steep sided roof and a couple of pleasant al fresco locales for the players not involved with the on-field proceedings to reside; all three areas featuring prominent, bright white railings. Members and supporters are similarly well catered for in the form of a litany of tables and chairs spilling out on the sward immediately fronting the pavilion itself akin to a country pub; the occasional chink of cutlery on plate amid gentle banter and bonhomie similar to that experienced at the Arundel festival, albeit on a micro scale. Douglas Jardine once notably cleared the pavilion with a mighty swoosh one afternoon, a feat reputedly not matched since.
Spectator facilities do not finish at the pavilion. Just in front of the fence that separates the ground from the railway line are two curious brick edifices, both approximately four feet in height. Unless in possession of prior knowledge, one would readily assume that these are bins or something similar but an amble around the far side of the ground reveals that both structures are in fact barbecues with an inbuilt metal grate ready for culinary action. Neither is in use on this particular afternoon but one could imagine both facilities being employed on a warm summer’s afternoon or early evening.
Lancashire persist with the twin spin attack post the resumption in play but to little effect as Berkshire prodigy Jack Davies and Nathan Sowter accumulate comfortably, the former recording an accomplished, watchful half century. Visiting skipper Karl Brown turns to spearhead Liam Hurt and the tall paceman strikes immediately, removing the off stump of Sowter. Hurt claims a further three victims, including Davies for 62, and Zahir Khan his first and second as Middlesex subside from 195-4 to 242 all out.
Similar to their hosts Lancashire begin confidently in their response. Despite the early loss of skipper Karl Brown, fellow opener Gorge Balderson and replacement Brooke Guest forge a near century partnership as the visiting batsmen make inroads into the Middlesex total. Leg-spinner Nathan Sowter claims the wicket of the former and that of Sam Perry as the day heads toward its denouement but Lancashire finish the day just ninety runs in arrears with seven wickets in hand.
Undertake a perusal of the facilities at Radlett Cricket Club and one can understand why Middlesex have chosen to forge an alliance with the club and create a home venue for their second XI. Possessing a smart, modern pavilion-cum-clubhouse, good communication links, (visiting teams from northern and midlands counties would likely find the logistics to Radlett easier than those for more southerly grounds used by Middlesex) a gymnasium, adequate car parking (with plentiful overflow options) and excellent playing facilities, Radlett appears an ideal location for the modest requirements of second XI cricket. Added to the host club’s thriving development scheme, potentially producing Middlesex players of the future, and the partnership appears to be a natural cricketing symbiosis.