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Outgrounds – Leicestershire

When Gower rescued Taylor from a battering by snarling Sylvester

Dan Whiting unearths some intriguing tales from Leicestershire’s forays into the county

In 2012 the Office for National Statistics compiled a survey on well-being and it was found that the tiny county of Rutland contained the happiest people in the UK. It also contains one of the most beautiful outgrounds in the country, at Oakham School (pictured). With a wealth of top quality sportsmen among its alumni, Rutland punches above its weight when it comes to providing cricketing talent.

Stuart Broad is probably the most recognisable name who attended school here. Despite his 8-15 against the Australians last year, Broad is just continuing a tradition of Old Oakhamians getting one over on those from Down Under. Percy Chapman attended the school just after the turn of the 20th-century, as well as nearby Uppingham. It was on the tour to Australia that he captained England and handed out the biggest thrashing in Test history. In a ‘timeless’ Test, England batted first and amassed a decent 521 before bowling out the ‘Baggy Green’ for 122. As Alastair Cook found recently, the crowd likes a captain to enforce the follow-on but Chapman declined, much to the annoyance of the Aussie public and became the first captain to declare in a ‘timeless’ Test. He set the Australians a daunting 742 on a wet wicket and when they were skittled out for 66, England had won by a mere 675 runs!

More recently Broad attended this fine establishment and made his county debut on his school ground in 2005. With Frank Hayes, John Crawley and David Steele having links to the school in teaching capacities, its cricketing credentials are outstanding. It is a gorgeous venue in which to play cricket.

The pavilion is double-gabled with a clock on the top in the centre. Small details such as this can add immense value to what looks like a fairly modern structure but Oakham has character and charm. A basic scorebox lies next to it but festival cricket here brought a wealth of marquees to be dotted around the ground. It always provided a fantastic batting wicket and Alistair Brown thoroughly enjoyed himself here in 2000 when he scored an extremely rapid 295 not out. It didn’t put Leicestershire off venturing over the border into Rutland, though, and Brad Hodge also scored a double hundred here for the home side, four years later.

Oakham is a quaint town and with many spectators taking advantage of a ‘pass’ out of the ground, many of the hostelries that frequent this part of the world did particularly well out of festival cricket.

Leicestershire’s connections with Rutland don’t just stop with the school. Grace Road, the county’s headquarters were purchased from the Duke of Rutland in 1877. Famously a fox was caught on the ground during a committee meeting in 1889, but in 1901 Leicestershire made the unusual decision to depart the ground, despite spending a mammoth (at the time) £40,000 on upgrading the arena. Grace Road was considered to be too far from the city centre for crowds to travel to and they took the step of playing the county first team fixtures at Aylestone Road.

The current home of Leicester Electricity CC, it had an unusual white, art-deco pavilion with pane glass windows in the upper tier – surely a target for any big-hitters? There has been plenty of work done to the ground in recent years with South Leicester College helping to refurbish the pavilion as part of a NatWest Cricket Force initiative. Many of the outbuildings that were on the ground have also been demolished. There was a total of 399 first class fixtures played at the ground and some of the finest players that the world has seen have trodden this turf.

Bradman, Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Grace, Hammond, McCabe, Verity and Hutton are just a few who played at this venue that had a vista of Leicester’s industrial sprawl between the wars. The Luftwaffe damaged the ground so badly in the Second World War that the Foxes took the decision to return to Grace Road in 1946. A fixture versus Cambridge University in 1962 saw the last first-class game here.

Hinckley has provided three county venues. Ashby Road and Coventry Road both played their part in the history but it is Leicester Road, home of Hinckley Town CC who are providing the future. Links with the City Cricket Academy and Leicester GS show they are tapping into the talent of this part of the world and a recent visitor was Pranav Dhanawade, fresh from his 1009 in Indian school cricket.

Close to Hinckley lies Earl Shilton, home to ex-Leicestershire fast bowler, Les Taylor. Known more for his bowling than his batting, Taylor was famously sent out to face a rampaging Sylvester Clarke before his skipper David Gower declared as he walked to the wicket. Gower was heard to have muttered: “I just can’t do it,” despite needing 20 runs to save the follow-on.

The mining town of Coalville has also provided three venues for Leicestershire. The wonderfully-named Fox and Goose ground saw a couple of matches just before the First World War before the Town Ground and the Snibston Colliery Ground, home of Snibston Grange CC, hosted first class cricket.

One place worth a mention whilst in this part of the world is the Bath Grounds in Ashby de la Zouch. Situated a couple of miles from the Derbyshire border, Leicestershire often played their local rivals here during festivals between 1912 and 1964. Named after a local spa, gate receipts of just over £7 were taken in the last year here. A three-day game versus Surrey was washed out and only the third day was played against Derbyshire.

The cunning Foxes never returned but it was a shame as this was a beautiful venue. Tree-lined, with a wealth of historical buildings and a castle nearby, it was one of the more popular venues on the circuit. Unfortunately the buildings of the spa were demolished and the trees have grown so much that the castle is no longer visible. It was known for excellent hospitality, with lunch being extended during one game here. Unfortunately it has been at the centre of a development dispute in recent years.

Loughborough is another town that has been used. It is here that the world record for the longest game of cricket took place between June 24-30, 2012. The game lasted for just a shade over 150 hours! Perhaps Percy Chapman or Alastair Cook were involved and didn’t enforce the follow-on?

Loughborough is a town that has produced some outstanding cricketers via the University’s MCCU programme and now has the Loughborough Lightning Women’s Team. The College Ground has hosted just two Leicestershire games although the town’s Brush Ground had 16 first-class games played on its turf.

The county have also visited Melton Mowbray and Barwell on their travels.

Recent years have been tough for the county although they are showing signs of improvement. They have had some glorious times at Grace Road in the Seventies and then in the late Ninetiesas they punched above their weight.

Leicester as a city has a rich sporting pedigree and this has continued to the current day with the football team being crowned Premier League champions.

For the city’s cricketers, they have been one of the counties who have lost players in recent years due to lack of finances. The form was almost enough to make Richard III, found in a car park there a few years ago, turn in his grave. This year has seen a marked improvement.

The Foxes don’t tend to venture much away from their den at Grace Road these days and for outground fans, it’s a shame.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday August 12 2016

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