Strolling across Regent’s Park in London today, the sun was shining, the groundsman’s mower was thrumming – all that was missing was the sound of leather on willow. But it was a weekday, and come Saturday, I know that the players in their whites will be scattered across the lush grass, playing out the ritual that is so much part of an English summer.
Much might change, but not cricket. Maybe there mightn’t be dressing rooms marked “gentlemen” and “players” any more (gosh, today there might even be women in those same dressing rooms), some games might be played across a sprint of 20 overs accompanied by rock music, but much of the picture, the rituals, and the stories, have changed little in a century or more.
Why, it was only 110 years ago, just a little south of here, at Lords, that WG Grace — that great symbol of Victorian patriarchy, who was then into his 47th year, and displaying all of his bearded magnificence — set a record that has proved a standard for batsmen ever since. It was May 30, and the great man needed 153 runs to achieve the previously unattained, and thought to be unattainable, figure of scoring 1,000 runs in May. As you’ve probably guessed now, he did with a day to spare.
The Times wrote in June that year:
For a month past his rejuvenescence has been the theme of all the dinner tables, the railway carriages, the public houses…. Wherever English folk congregate they have exchanged notes of admiration about the hero of a thousand fights and of a hundred centuries.
So now, in 2006, May is moving on, and again the feat — at least the possibility of it — is a topic of discussion in The Times.
Mark Ramprakash, with 577 runs, and Scott Newman, his Surrey team-mate, on 554, are leading the way in terms of runs scored but they each have a maximum of only three first-class innings left before the end of the month. Lance Klusener, who is leading the averages this season with 335 runs for one dismissal, has five innings left in which to make 665 runs, while David Sales, his Northamptonshire captain, needs five runs fewer to get his 1,000, also with five innings to go.
One thing has changed this year, however. The report is on the new Times cricket blog. But I think WG would have approved.