A good friend of mine who moves in cricket circles – he chaired the Lords Taverners – recommended Summer’s Crown to me knowing of my love for County cricket. It’s written by Stephen Chalke and would adorn any cricket library. It celebrates 125 years of county cricket with sections on the counties themselves, a decade by decade history and a copious appendix of statistics and trivia. You can read it chronologically but I preferred, glass of claret in hand, Haydn’s London symphony playing as background, to dip in and out of this treasure trove.
It’s a difficult task to provide a two-page history of each county but Chalke succeeds. I started with my county Middlesex, in which he described the mainly amateur era prewar ,with the honourable exception of Patsy Hendren, and the glory years of Mike Brearley and Mike Gatting in which they were champions 7 times in 18 years. On Sussex he rightfully referred to the numbers of father and sons and brothers many of the soil of Sussex who represented the county: the Parks, Tates, and now Wells as father and son, the brothers Buss and Langridge.
The book records some feats that are the stuff of legend. In one week in August 1928 Wally Hammond in the Cheltenham Festival, against Surrey and Worcestershire, in four days scored two centuries and an 80, held 10 catches in one innings and took 10 wickets in another. In another part Mike Brearley reflects on the tyranny of the senior pro when he made his debut, most likely Fred Titmus, whom he recalled as a 49 year old to take 3 wickets to win the championship. In 1982 Fred Titmus remarked “I came in with his father [Hubert Brearley, a schoolteacher at City of London, played for Middlesex] and left with his son.”
The history has plentiful black and white and coloured photoes statistics, well-edited with neatly colour-coded sections with clear statistics and is elegantly written.
With the envisaged T20 new city franchises reducing the county fixtures to 12 and omitting the likes of Sussex, the oldest professional cricket club of all, once again the county cricket is under threat. It’s called progress but it’s about money and, as the Premier League shows, money does not always bring happiness. It will be metro-driven and an important element of rural English and Welsh life – the county game – as beautifully evoked here will be the victim.