This is part 16 of Scyld Berry’s life and times of county cricket. You can read parts one to 13 here: Derbyshire, Durham, Essex, Glamorgan, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Kent, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Middlesex, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Somerset. Surrey and Sussex
Too many county cricket grounds lock down for the winter, Covid or not. A groundsman might keep the outfield’s stripes neat; a few players, unrequired overseas, have an indoor net. But overall the ground sleeps for more than half the year like a hibernating bear.
Not Edgbaston. It is becoming a cricket ground like no other in Britain. The Birmingham bear no longer hibernates. Edgbaston will soon be a model for all Test grounds around the world, inhabited and alive 24/7.
Abroad, as well, major cricket grounds do not insinuate themselves into the heart of their communities and maximise their potential year-round. Australia has enormous stadia, especially the Melbourne Cricket Ground with its six-figure capacity; but if it is not a match-day they are deserted. The dining-room might be used for a conference or wedding reception, but otherwise the stadium sleeps, or opens an eye if a group of tourists is shown around.
This has seemed to me a waste since I first visited the Bangabandhu. This is not one of Signor Berlusconi’s nightclubs in a sleazy part of Milan. It was Bangladesh’s first Test venue, in the centre of Dhaka, where England played their inaugural Test against Bangladesh there in 2003-4, and such was Bangladesh’s standard in those days – they had been granted Test status with suspicious haste – that what happened underneath the stadium was more interesting than events inside.
Being in Dhaka, where dry land is not cheap, every inch of the Bangabandu was used. Under the stand of a cricket ground elsewhere in the world you might find lavatories, or somewhere for the groundsmen to keep mowers, or stalls for vendors on a match-day, or often vacant space; but not in Bangladesh. Every spare space at ground level under the Bangabandu stands was occupied by a shop doing business, selling sports equipment or suitcases and luggage – things that can be stored in small spaces where the stand slopes to the ground.
Cricket grounds, especially in urban areas, should keep people coming in, whatever the season. If for no other reason, the rents from these businesses underneath the stadium could bring down the cost of tickets inside: every Test venue in England has charged prices which have kept cricket the preserve of the affluent.
Going to Edgbaston in a few years will be a unique experience. Warwickshire CCC, back in 1884, leased 21 acres on which to base their club. It was “a meadow of rough grazing land” beside the River Rea (“at a fair and reasonable rental, without harrowing conditions”). Early this summer, when no cricket was being played anywhere in Britain, the NHS used the Edgbaston car park as one of their centres for Covid testing. The meadow has gone, but this salubrious suburb of Birmingham is leafy as ever, and the only harrowing thing was the reason for a visit.
Edgbaston’s development into a year-round cricket stadium is being done in four phases. First was construction of the new pavilion. The old one offered a lovely view behind the arm, but the facilities for television cameras were little better than for Edgbaston’s inaugural Test in 1902. After the 2009 Ashes Test, the old pavilion was knocked down and replaced by the huge new stand at a cost of £32m.
The second, current, phase consists of building 375 new apartments on that area of the car park which the NHS used until October – on the left if you drive in the main entrance. Not only apartments but a veritable plaza of shops, bars, cafes and restaurants on the ground floor so that people will go to Edgbaston cricket ground all year round – and some will live there. Warwickshire sold this land to help pay for the new pavilion, but they retain the option of sharing in the running of these shops etc and therefore in future profits.
Phase three will consist of a hotel where the Raglan stand is – if you are batting at the pavilion end in a T20, this is where you will slog-sweep the spinners. Old Trafford and Southampton’s Ageas Bowl were the two Test venues to have a hotel as part of their ground, and consequently staged every England fixture last summer. Having a hotel fits into a Covid and post-Covid world, whether cricketers or members of the public are checking in. Again a hotel keeps a ground alive all year round: especially if the hotel is less basic than Old Trafford’s, a little warmer than Southampton’s.
Originally this Edgbaston hotel was earmarked for the Ashes Test of 2023, but the pandemic has called this timescale into question. Before then come the Commonwealth Games which Birmingham are due to stage in 2022. As ICC announced last week:
In what is seen as a huge opportunity to turbo-charge the growth of the game, and take it to new fans, women’s cricket will be a part of the Commonwealth Games for the first time ever, and it will only be the second time that cricket will feature in it after a men’s competition was part of the Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998.
The qualification process announced on Wednesday grants hosts England one spot while six other highest ranked ICC Members in the MRF Tyres ICC Women’s T20I Team Rankings as of 1 April 2021 also qualify directly for the eight-team tournament, which will be held in a city that has an iconic cricket venue in Edgbaston.
The fourth and final phase will be rebuilding the Wyatt stand at the City end. Already the Professional Cricketers Association have an office there, and presumably will in future. Should the offices of the England and Wales Cricket Board be based there too?
The ECB, if relocated to Edgbaston, would inevitably have a different perspective. Being in the geographical centre of England, it would have a more objective relationship with MCC who built their offices at Lord’s. The relationship between the two has oscillated over the years. MCC used to pride itself on being Land and Old Money, looking down on the ECB as new money and trade. Subsequently the relationship may have become too close.
In any event, when there is a major issue like whether Lord’s should be allocated two Tests per year, as at present, or only one, it would be discussed more objectively if the ECB and MCC were not living in each other’s pockets in St John’s Wood.
Where do Warwickshire get this money from? Birmingham City Council advanced a loan of £20m for the new pavilion, while Warwickshire in return renamed their T20 side the Birmingham Bears. An Ashes Test generates £7 million in ticket sales alone; a less attractive Test about one-third as much. Edgbaston has cornered T20 finals day, making use of its geographical centrality, and that is another £1.3m in ticket sales, minus a 30% staging fee, if there is a crowd.
* * * *
When you own the only cricket bat and ball, you tend to have first innings. If you own the cricket ground as well, it is likely you are going to be the captain too.
The Edgbaston ground was leased to Warwickshire CCC by Lord Calthorpe (one of those names not pronounced as it looks but as Call-thorpe). A son of the eighth Baron Calthorpe, the Honourable Frederick Somerset Gough Calthorpe became Warwickshire’s captain from 1920 to 1929; and captain of England too, on their inaugural Test tour of the West Indies, which was a bit of a jolly in the late 1920s before they unleashed lethal bowlers. Only one man has served longer as Warwickshire’s captain, Mike Smith or “MJK” as he is usually known.
Freddie’s players loved him, so we are told, and no reason to disbelieve it. He was so easy-going that, in his four years up at Cambridge, it is said he never met his tutor; and on the field he would do what Warwickshire’s senior professionals – or the committee – told him.
Calthorpe was therefore captain when the most amazing game of cricket – in the sense of the biggest turnaround – ever took place. Being a good swing bowler, he personally took a hand – four wickets for four runs – in dismissing Hampshire for 15 in the 1922 championship match at Edgbaston. Yet Warwickshire still lost the game so comfortably that you suspect match-fixing was involved; which, in a way, it was.
Edgbaston has often offered some of England’s pacier pitches, as Warwickshire have been able to afford top groundsmen, and on this occasion Hampshire’s swashbuckling captain Hon. Lionel Tennyson sent Warwickshire in after winning the toss and dismissed them for 223. Hampshire then scored their 11 runs plus four byes. The sight of their opening batsman having one of his stumps broken by Warwickshire’s fast bowler Harry Howell did not encourage teammates to hang around..
Calthorpe naturally made Hampshire follow on; and the game followed a predictable course as Hampshire in their second innings reached 98 for three by the end of day one, and 177 for six next morning, still 31 behind.
What happened next is a matter of dispute – not the content of the message sent out to Calthorpe but the identity of the sender. In “Summer’s Crown” Stephen Chalke wrote that it was “the Warwickshire Secretary, wanting the game to last a little longer (and) asking his captain not to take the new ball.”
This Warwickshire secretary was Rowland Ryder, who had been in office since the club entered the county championship in 1895. He did everything at Edgbaston for half a century – everything, that is, except delegate. When England played their first Test at Edgbaston in 1902, Ryder organised it all without a telephone, a typewriter or an assistant except the head groundsman who helped Ryder count the gate takings long into the night.
In 1922 a rival version has it that the Warwickshire committee had a meeting later on that second day and wanted to watch some cricket before then, and it was their collective message which was sent out to Calthorpe to ease the pressure off Hampshire. So he did. Calthorpe gave 49 overs to the 50-year-old batsman Billy Quaife tossing up legbreaks. Hampshire’s number ten was Tennyson’s valet, Walter Livsey, who helped himself to a maiden century. Hampshire followed their 15 with 520. Warwickshire, set 314, lost by 155. Not only match-fixing but gambling too: Tennyson had a large bet with Calthorpe on the first evening that Hampshire would win. But was ever a captain more exonerated than Freddie?
If Ryder appears to have been a bit of a control-freak, he did have an eye for a cricketer. On a walking holiday in the North Riding, he saw a pace bowler playing for Hawes with a fine action. England’s Test bowling was horribly weak after the First World War partly because this bowler was killed in action after pulling up trees for Warwickshire: Percy Jeeves. Ryder’s son, also Rowland, wrote to PG Wodehouse and established that it was the cricketer after whom he had named Bertie Wooster’s butler. Ryder junior did not ask Wodehouse if he had modelled Wooster on Freddie.
Ryder, however, did miss out on the two finest English bowlers ever, or so it could be reasonably argued. His father opened the bowling for the Wednesbury club with Syd Barnes, who played four games for Warwickshire before he went off to plough his own furrow, by playing for England but not for a first-class county. And in 1897 Ryder refused to give a trial to a Yorkshire applicant called W. Rhodes, who went on to become the only bowler to take 4000 first-class wickets.
* * * *
As a Midlands centre of excellence, Warwickshire have always gone about their cricket in their own way, and could afford to do so. When they became a first-class county, they did not bring in a coach from Lord’s but the best professional batsman in England, Arthur Shrewsbury of Nottinghamshire.
Warwickshire have subsequently produced some of the most respected coaches: like “Tiger” Smith, who had kept wicket for England as well as the county, and coached Warwickshire till he was 77; Derief Taylor, who in the 1950s became the first non-white coach in county cricket (and, such has been the lack of diversity, still one of a small handful); Neal Abberley, who coached Ian Bell, the modern embodiment of orthodoxy; and Bob Woolmer, the coach who tore up the MCC coaching book and, with his own eyes, analysed.