The Wicket Men: The Last Rites of Minor Counties Cricket by Tony Hannan
Format: Paperback / softback 416 pages
Publisher: Scratching Shed Publishing Ltd
Imprint: Scratching Shed Publishing Ltd
Published: 31 Jul 2020
It's Britain's hottest summer since 1976 and English cricket is in a sweat of transformation. The public is no longer interested in County Championship games, traditional touchstone of the calendar. Fans prefer a bit of flash, bang, wallop - or so the experts tell us.
Where though does that leave the twenty minor counties - strung out from Northumberland to Norfolk to Cornwall - who for the past one hundred and twenty-five years have fancied themselves the stepping-stone between regional club and first class county competitions?A level of the game seen as either an ex-professionals' graveyard or the last refuge of blazered old duffers is in a struggle for its very existence. And come 2020, the venerable Minor Counties Championship will indeed be blown away, like dandelion seeds on the breeze, replaced by the newly-branded and 'more marketable' National Counties Championship. At least that was the plan.
In 2018, no-one has yet heard of Covid-19. What they do know is that this threat to their competition is existential and the modernisers at Lord's are to blame, far more interested in such innovations as a proposed new 'Hundred' than bolstering that which has stood the test of time. Granted full access to committee and squad, Tony Hannan, author of Underdogs - A Year in the Life of a Rugby League Town, spent a season with Cumberland CCC amid the lakes, fells and mountains of Cumbria.
And as might have been expected in such dramatic terrain, he tells a story full of ups and downs - complete with one or two surprises. Skippered by former Durham player Gary Pratt - who as substitute fielder ran out Australia captain Ricky Ponting during the 2005 Ashes - Cumberland's expenses-only nomads are nevertheless just one important thread in a yarn stretching well beyond the boundaries of Cumbria. The Wicket Men is a cricket book unlike any other.
It draws stumps on a small but fascinating aspect of a pastime whose rhythms and rituals, while endlessly evolving, are rooted firmly in the English folk tradition.