Deckchairs, red kites and Pimms - the ground Getty built will hit Flintoff for six

Lancashire make history today by playing at a quintessentially English venue built by a billionaire
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The Independent Online

Andrew Flintoff will drive through the Grace Gates at Lord's, the Hobbs Gates at The Brit Oval and the Sir Leonard Hutton Memorial Gates at Headingley this summer, but each of these famous old venues is unlikely to make as big an impression on the England all-rounder as the ground today at Wormsley. For it is here, in the estate of the late Sir Paul Getty, that Buckinghamshire will take on Lancashire in the first round of this season's Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy.

It was Mick Jagger who introduced a baseball-loving Sir Paul to cricket in the Sixties and as his interest in the game grew, so did his involvement. Donations began to flow as the philanthropist helped MCC rebuild the Compton, Edrich and Mound stands at Lord's.

The Wisden Almanack, cricket's bible, was purchased but it was his desire to have his own side - the J P Getty XI - playing at its own ground, which led Sir Paul to build a beautiful and quintessentially English cricket ground.

Sir Paul bought the 2,500-acre estate in the heart of the Chilterns in 1984, and after planting 90,000 trees, digging out lakes and erecting grottoes on the property he then decided to construct his own cricket ground. No expense was spared. The ground was made to Test match standards and a matching thatched pavilion and scorebox were erected, even though the games organised were intended to be of a social variety.

"I took on much more than I realised when I decided to have cricket here," admitted Sir Paul before his death in 2003. "I thought you only had to shave the field off, find some stumps and play cricket. It's a good deal more than that but it's wonderful."

Initially the J P Getty XI played friendly matches against MCC, The Forty Club, The Stoics, Oxford University and even the odd touring side like South Africa. But then, as the reputation of the ground grew, other teams began to ask if they could use this marvellous facility.

Buckinghamshire now play the occasional minor county fixtures here and, in the past couple of years, Wormsley appears to have become the home venue of MCC Young Cricketers. Today's match, however, will be the biggest it has hosted because it will be the first occasion that a first-class side has played a competitive game at the ground.

Flintoff, James Anderson, Muttiah Muralitharan and Dominic Cork are sure to have a memorable experience, and the setting will be somewhat different to what they are accustomed to. Positioned 400 yards to the south of junction five on the A40, it would be easy to drive past the entrance to the Wormsley estate.

A thatched lodge sits among the trees which line Ibstone Road and next to it are a modest pair of gates with an intercom system neatly positioned at car window height. Once inside the estate, Lancashire's cricketers will feel as though they have followed a rabbit down a burrow.

Travelling along the two-mile drive that leads to the cricket ground they will pass through fields containing prize bulls, the occasional worker's cottage and little lanes leading to somewhere unknown. There will be no sign of a cricket ground until they eventually see a sightscreen above them. The road will swing uphill and around to the right and then, to their left, a beautiful expanse of lush green grass will open up in front of them.

Lancashire will struggle to get all their kit in the small dressing-room they are given, but the only disappointing feature for Mark Chilton's side will be the fact that they will not be able to partake in the generous hospitality that is enjoyed by the hundreds of guests who regularly attend matches here.

The guest list for matches involving the J P Getty XI usually contains the rich and famous. I have played in matches where Baroness Thatcher, Spike Milligan, Jerry Hall and Keith Miller, the legendary Australian all-rounder, have sat on the side-lines enjoying a lovely day out.

On arriving at the ground you are immediately offered a drink. Champagne or Pimms are readily available, as they are for the remainder of the day. Deckchairs are neatly laid out in front of a marquee, which is positioned at the top of a grassy bank next to the pavilion.

Sat here you have a wonderful view of the ground and the Chilterns in the distance. It is said that all the land you can see is part of the estate, and if you are lucky you will see red kites soaring through the valley. These beautiful birds were reintroduced to the area by Sir Paul, who employed marshalls to ensure that their nests were not raided.

Cricket is usually played here in the traditional way. The sight of ladies in summer dresses and gentlemen in blazers romantically walking around the boundary, while their children roll down the grassy bank, gives the day a Victorian feel.

In most games played here, the side batting first declares when it feels it has scored enough runs, but lunch tends to play a pivotal part in the day's proceedings. As in the professional game, the lunch interval is intended to last for 40 minutes, but this is rarely the case.

A fruity, crisp Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand is normally too much to resist after a few overs of bowling and two hours in the field. And the smooth Shiraz tends to go down very well with the beef. But it is the wait for the cheeseboard and a glass of port that makes it difficult for the umpires to catch the eye of those who are meant to be providing the entertainment. Not that many of the guests rush out once the afternoon session starts.

The arrival of the ice-cream trolley, with its complimentary gift, excites the children but the quality of the cricket unsurprisingly falls after the interval. Spinners tend to bowl the majority of the overs and the ball is rarely chased with gusto once it passes through the in-field.

It is no wonder the crowd then decide to accept an invitation to visit Sir Paul's library. The library was built in the form of a baronial hall inside a flint-clad medieval castle, and contains many exceptional literary treasures.

On show is the first edition of Chaucer, printed by Caxton, and Ben Johnson's annotated copy of Spenser. Also purchased, for an estimated £3.5m, is the first folio of Shakespeare's plays from Oriel College, Oxford, to accompany his second, third and fourth folios, all of which are in their original bindings.

Flintoff will not be able to enjoy these treats while on this visit, but I am pretty sure the selectors of the J P Getty XI could find a place for him in their side should he fancy a game later in the year.

Grounds to bowl them over

Five of the best cricket venues on private land

Wormsley, built by Sir Paul Getty, is one of 62 grounds on private land in the UK, most in the shadow of country manors. Here are a few still in use:

¿ Hovingham Hall, Yorkshire

In 1858, Hovingham took on an All England team, and cricket has been played here ever since, attracting the likes of Fred Trueman, Geoff Boycott and Len Hutton.

¿ Torry Hill, Kent

Lord Kingsdown's country home is near Maidstone, and the family has hosted matches since 1845. The club still hosts wandering sides such as the Free Foresters and I Zingari.

¿ Althorp, Northamptonshire

In the grounds where Princess Diana is buried, a number of matches are hosted each year by Earl Spencer.

¿ Highclere, Hampshire

Highclere Castle was built in 1830, and the cricket ground sits in its shadow, surrounded by parkland designed by Capability Brown. The Earl of Carnarvon's family still turn out an XI which play local villages.

¿ Stowell Park, Gloucestershire

The 14th century country house near Cirencester holds matches hosted by owner Lord Vestey.

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