Berkshire Cricket Foundation hosts first professional match in Newbury

When we heard that the first professional cricket match in Berkshire (according to the Berkshire Cricket Foundation hosts) was being held in Newbury on Tuesday 23 May and the line-up included fast bowler, Lauren Bell, who went to school in Hungerford with our sons, it seemed a good excuse to play hookey from work for the morning.

We dusted off some garden chairs and pootled over to Falkland Cricket Club in Newbury for Southern Vipers against South East Stars in the Charlotte Edwards Cup. Falkland is a lovely ground with an impressive new club house and is the HQ for the Berkshire Cricket Foundation. Like all cricket grounds, the experience is vastly improved by seeing it on a warm and sunny afternoon which we were lucky to have.

I know very little about cricket but have images of men in white, six wooden sticks and a lot of grass. I didn’t aesthetically approve of the change to coloured kit but watching a live game made me realise how useful it is to have the batters distinguished from the fielders and visible blue stumps.

Sitting quite close to the boundary rope makes you realise how fast the ball moves, not only towards the batter (about which spectators don’t have to worry) but also off the bat and towards the boundary (about which they sometimes do). It focuses the mind to know that the next six could have your name on it.

No one was bowling faster than Lauren Bell. The best impression of speed is gained by sitting at right angles to the wicket. We were at about 45 degrees to it (in line with deep mid wicket, as Brian described it) but even so the pace was all too evident. I was glad that my day job didn’t involve having to face Lauren coming at me off a long run up.

At the interval, Brian made this very point to Lauren’s dad, Andy. He smiled ruefully. During lockdown, he explained, he was the only person that she could practise bowling against. Much to his credit, paternal support trumped any concerns for self-preservation. The bruises had now all healed, he added.

With running commentary from a cricket-fan husband I was able to appreciate the game more than I expected. He pointed out the England players and was pleased for the change to see them play live.

Cricket in its traditional; test-match format can last for up to five days but since the 1960s, ever shorter formats have been introduced to attract a new audience. The T20 is, as the name reveals, twenty six-ball overs a side with a 15-minute or so break. If all forty overs are needed – and they aren’t if the first team is bowled out, or if the chasing team reaches its target in less than 20 overs – then the game will last between two and a half and three hours: not quite as short as a football match (which is, perhaps, the main competition) but a much more manageable proposition than five days.

Lauren Bell’s Vipers won the match but I don’t want to push my luck by attempting a report. I’ll leave that to the professionals. You can read a summary here and see the scorecard here. Brian’s half-time observation (which on this occasion turned out to be correct) was that, on what looked like a good batting wicket, the Stars’ total of 169 was probably about 20 short. They might have improved on this had Lauren Bell not wreaked havoc in the 19th over: two wickets in two balls, a whisker away from a hat-trick with the third and then a run out.

In most sports you can play an awful backhand, score an own goal or take ten shots to sink a putt but you still get another chance. In cricket, however, the batter makes just one mistake and they’re back in the hutch. One of the Stars’ players faced only one ball and another only two before being dismissed. As Brian pointed out, the walk back to the pavilion after you’ve dismissed first ball is a very long one. Whatever the format, everything in cricket has an immediate consequence.

There was a large cohort of pupils from several local schools at the game. We chatted with the Hungerford Primary School party who were inspired to see a former pupil from their school on the pitch. This inspiration was especially important for the girls. When Lauren was their age there were no professional female cricketers and she and her teammates are well aware of the role modelling they are providing to younger generatons.

Budding cricketers from Hungerford Primary School
Lauren Bell with young HPS fans (image courtesy of Charlotte Edwards twitter)

We will be back to enjoy more cricket at the Falkland Cricket Club and can recommend pitch-side toasties and chips from the Bowlers Arms at the clubhouse. We also look forward to improved video coverage of the women’s game as it continues to make rapid strides towards competing with the traditional male version. Nowhere is this more the case than in the even shorter format of the Hundred which takes place in test-match venues during August. Here the women and the men play double-headers, starting at about 4pm and finishing under floodlights, frequently in front of sell-out crowds. These are broadcast live on the BBC website.

Both Andy and Brian recommend these as an elegant and enjoyable way of passing a summer afternoon and evening. The franchises are different so Lauren will be playing for a different team, but still bowling at top speed. As anyone who’s ever faced her – particularly her dad – will testify, her top speed is very fast indeed.

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