Yesterday I travelled from the coast to Cheltenham to see Sussex play a Royal London 50 over match v Gloucestershire in the Cheltenham Festival week. I had two other motives: I had never seen cricket at Cheltenham and most of all I wanted to see again two brother Martin and Richard I met in Newlands, Cape Town, during the New Year Test. Martin is a remarkable man: deeply knowledgeable on most things and with a real zest for life. Nothing remarkable in that except he has been in a wheelchair since birth, an affliction he inspiringly makes light of. Both brothers are keen followers of Gloucestershire cricket and sport in general. We had arranged to meet up on this Sunday which was enshrined in my diary. One problem was going to be rail travel: it could easily be a 8 hour journey there and back. So I threw financial caution to the wind and booked a driver.
The festival takes place in the school grounds of Cheltenham school. The school buildings of rich honeyed Cotswold stone surround the square. We were stupefied by the Palladian mansions we passed to reach it . I delved into bit of history. Gloucestershire cricket came first to Cheltenham College in 1872, expanding to a three day festival in 1906. Here the great Wally Hammond in four days in August 1928 scored two centuries and an 80, held ten catches in a match and took nine wickets in an innings. He was just 25 and supporters of the county reflected that the mantle of WG Grace had passed to him. The festival which is well attended – 3000 must have been in the ground – is still the most popular county festival of all.
We enjoyed a pleasant lunch in which Martin proved his knowledge by stating Steve Bruce managed Crystal Palace which others doubted It showed that whilst you can have a crippling physical affliction you can still develop the mind. By the late afternoon the boys in the beer tent adjoining became rather boisterous and it was all a touch too T20 for our tastes but this certainly did not spoil a most enjoyable cricket match played in beautiful surroundings.
Gloucestershire (the Royal London title holders) posted 242, a respectable but not decisively winning total. Once again the Sussex batting, now lacking the Kiwi run accumulator Ross Taylor, was not up to the task and as we chased the total ran out of batters. Only 3 scored double figures so we lost by 51 runs. We are now bottom of the league and could easily be out of every competition by the end of July, a sad indictment of a county that in the previous decade won 3 County Championships in 5 years and other white ball trophies too.