Settle back for cricket in the raw as summer bids farewell

At last it’s over.  After 177 days, the longest English cricket season on record ended on Thursday, somewhat jarringly with a one-day international.

There is a six-week pause now before the first pre-Ashes warm-up match.  For the players named for the tour this afternoon, the chance to cast aside the boots and consider a world beyond runs and wickets can seldom have felt more timely.

Cricket is a well paid profession now, as it should be.  And with greater rewards come greater demands.  For the majority of England players, the schedule is tough but not unreasonable.  Yet there must be a small part of each of them that hankers after the more leisurely world of club cricket, the game that in  our imaginations is played in dappled sunlight on pretty village greens flanked by trestle tables draped in chequered cloths, heaving under the weight of sumptuous teas.

Does that world really exist?  Here and there, perhaps.  But not in the picture that Harry Pearson paints in an entertaining romp around the northern club circuit that promises a generous slice of fun for cricket fans who cannot wait for it all to start again next spring.

Slipless in Settle: A Slow Turn Around Northern Cricket (Little, Brown) explores club cricket as experienced in former pit villages and mill towns, where its original purpose was to keep working men out of the pubs and engage them in outdoor pursuits more wholesome that brawling in the street.

Pearson, who made his name writing tales from north-eastern football and now pens a regular column for the Guardian, reveals what he already knew as a lad from Middlesbrough, namely that northern club cricket is as far away from the idyll as is possible to imagine.

Inspired by such intriguing works of record as One Hundred Years of the Ribblesdale Cricket League and particularly by Roy Genders’ portrait of League Cricket in England, Pearson set out to watch a match in each of the major northern leagues over the course of a season.

Genders -- whose other passion, somewhat incongruously, was gardening -- picked out the Bradford League to illustrate his view of the northern game, describing it as “cricket in the raw, not the spit and polish county stuff, but the real ‘blood and guts’ warlike cricket which delighted these tough Yorkshiremen reared on the windswept moors and who wanted some action for their money.”

Travelling, by rail, on an itinerary that took him through places -- Bacup, Ramsbottom, Ashington -- with names alone that are evocatively northern, and nourishing himself with pie and peas and Eccles cakes, Pearson sought to discover how much of that description still holds good.

The end result, garnished with the observational humour that readers of The Far Corner and Hound Dog Days will recognise readily, is an absorbing and amusing diversion that is recommended sustenance for cricket fans over the winter months, or at least until England face off against Western Australia in Perth on November 5th.

Slipless in Settle is available from The Sports Bookshelf Shop along with more titles by Harry Pearson and more on cricket.



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