Yesterday I went to Arundel Cricket Club to hear Stephen Chalke author of “Summer ‘ s Crown ” talk on county cricket. I have already reviewed this superb celebration of the County Championship. In the flesh the writer is in his mid sixties, academic looking and bristling with cricket enthusiasm. .
He described the way the Championship first evolved some 127 years ago from the county clubs, the oldest is Sussex formed in 1839 . Essentially you just had to find another that would play your county club. This first Championship consisted of 22 matches and one ” ringer” Southerton played in 15 of them. The Champiosnhip once formed was immensely popular , more crowds ,some as many as 27000, attended games than the visiting Australians. As to a league table this was kept by two rival cricketing magazines. One included the touring Australians.
Chalke always had an anecdote to tell. In one game a cricketer called Fox did not appear for the afternoon session. Given out for absence he eventually appeared with the explanation
” I have had lunch with a widow”
He was also intereesting on the social aspects of the game notably the amateur and professional divide: each had separate dressing rooms and entrances , the captain had to be aa amateur . Surrey post second world war had difficulty in finding their chosen captain Leo Bennett . A Bennett , Nigel, did present himself and was offered the captaincy . He took it for a year then retired. Still in diffciculties the 43 year old Errol Holmes agreed to take the captainncy but only if he was paid for it!
Chalke was also anxious to dispel the myth that county cricket is a dying game overly resistant to change . His view is that over its history there were brief periods of glory amongs troughs of decline . He referred to the 1960s as a decade of immense change : Sunday cricket, the overseas players, the short form game , abolition of distinction between amateur and professional, sponsorship.
Although he did not say it , I will. County cricket like the House of Lords, NHS, and Church of England is one of those peculiar British institutions that from time to time people want to abolish and always criticise yet year after year, season after season, it reappears , part of the fabric of county life even when the county no longer exists like Middlesex . After hearing this talk I could only rejoice and hope it can clock up another 100 years.