Amol Rajan: The loveliest place to play the game
Rajan's Wrong 'Un
Amol Rajan was appointed editor of The Independent in June 2013. He was previously Editor of Independent Voices, a comment, campaigns and community platform across print and digital. He was earlier Deputy Comment Editor, Sports News Correspondent and a news reporter. He writes a restaurant column for the Independent on Sunday, and has a column in the Evening Standard (Mondays), Independent and i (Fridays). He used to work on Channel 5's The Wright Stuff, and at the Foreign Office; he is also a trustee of Prospex, a charity for young people in Islington. He has written a book called Twirlymen: the Unlikely History of Cricket's Greatest Spin Bowlers.
Sunday 19 May 2013
Half a lifetime ago, when I played there for London Schools, I was convinced that Arundel was the most beautiful ground in all England.
The home of the Duke of Norfolk's XI is what you might show a Martian who was looking for England and had a spaceship to catch. Set near the castle, this bowl-shaped amphitheatre looks like it was designed by some celestial giant who, having scooped three and a half acres out of the Sussex countryside, felt guilty about the scar and so covered it with the most beautiful thing he could imagine.
There are trees all around, giving a feeling of seclusion – almost privacy – except for one side, where a large gap unveils the most glorious view of the Weald. No shortage of visiting batsmen have made a mistress of this horizon, fancying their chances of dispatching some trundler for a huge maximum, only to find their stumps flying.
The 15th Duke of Norfolk built the ground in 1895. His daughter-in-law, Lavinia, responded to the death of her husband Bernard, the 16th Duke, by setting up the Friends of Arundel Castle Cricket Club. They completed an indoor school in 1990.
This triumvirate – aesthetic beauty, glimmering heritage, and investment in the future – always made Arundel seem to me unsurpassed among the hundreds of cricket grounds I have seen over the years. And yet, over the past year – and yesterday specifically – I've become convinced that there is a ground in England which surpasses even Arundel for sheer visual enchantment.
Wormsley is a name that conjures Kenneth Grahame or Lewis Carroll; and when the late Paul Getty conjured this ground two decades ago, there was something childish and make-believe about his vision. Just past the road to Stokenchurch, it sits high above sea-level in the unspeakably beautiful undulations of Buckinghamshire – a view shared by the red kites who duck and weave high above.
What strikes you is a majestic simplicity; carved into the rolling hills, the view from the pavilion is split-level, a green surface under an alternately blue or grey sky. One end is known as the Dibley end, because it's just a few fields from where they filmed "The Vicar of Dibley". The pitch itself is at a sunken level, creating an embankment where hundreds of spectators can gather, and often do. A large, thatched pavilion is adorned with images of the greats who scored hundreds here, Brian Lara among them.
I played here for the first time last year. My side, Authors CC, were up against the always Tory-heavy Lords and Commoners XI, and as we drove in yesterday for this year's fixture, the ground seemed yet more exquisite and unimprovable than I remembered. Tim Munton and Mark Foster have done a superb job in maintaining it, preserving an isolated spot of Arcadian beauty in just the manner Getty would have wanted.
I realise that describing Arundel and Wormsley as two of England's most beautiful grounds is hardly original. But the point is that all cricket fans have their favourite grounds, dramatic spots with a special claim on their affections. And unlike Arundel and Wormsley, most of those are completely unknown to the wider public.
Avorians CC near Cobham in Surrey, for instance, is a stunning, tranquil place – and yet most fans have never heard of it. Lynton and Lynmouth in Devon, Frogmore in Berkshire and Armadillos CC's ground at Sheffield Park all could claim to be among England's most beautiful grounds.
And where else? If you think you've seen a contender for the title of England's most beautiful cricket ground let me know via Twitter and I'll report back in a few weeks.
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