The final lament for Lakenham

Historic ground has hosted Norfolk since 1827 but cash restraints bring the era to an end.
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The Independent Online

It seems inconceivable that Norfolk will never again play cricket at Lakenham. They first played on this lovely tree-lined ground in south-east Norwich in 1827 and their defeat yesterday to Cheshire in the semi-final of the ECB County Competition was their last game.

It seems inconceivable that Norfolk will never again play cricket at Lakenham. They first played on this lovely tree-lined ground in south-east Norwich in 1827 and their defeat yesterday to Cheshire in the semi-final of the ECB County Competition was their last game.

Lack of money is one of the reasons Norfolk are decamping, for the central hand-out from the England and Wales Cricket Board to the Minor Counties is no longer as large as it was. The ground originally belonged to Reckitt and Colman, who make the mustard, and they helped significantly with the upkeep.

It was sold seven years ago to a Dutch entrepreneur who does not see the purpose in preserving eight acres of grass in prime condition in order that it should be used for 14 days in the year. As a result, Norfolk are moving their headquarters to Horsford Cricket Club, about two miles north of Norwich.

This was a heavily nostalgic day, therefore, with the old ground ringed by an excellent and enthusiastic crowd even if the old thatched pavilion looked rather forlorn in one corner of the ground - especially when the Norfolk batsmen showed their inability to play off-spin.

On the other side of the ground the aesthetic attraction has already suffered because of the two enormous balloon-like tents which house two indoor tennis courts in each and presumably make pots of money.

There is still just room for the same 13 small tents which are rented each year by individual members and which I remember from my first visit to Lakenham in 1947. W G Grace played here in 1902 for his London Counties side. Over the years, the ground has hosted many matches between the touring side and the Minor Counties and in the 1930s, when Norfolk had a wonderful side, they often played against the touring team themselves.

There is probably no other more famous Minor County ground, unless it is Northumberland's at Jesmond in Newcastle. There were many old Norfolk cricketers at Lakenham for this last match and an awful lot of ghosts as well. The father-figure of Norfolk cricket was Mike Falcon, who captained the county from 1911 to 1946 and scarcely missed a match at Lakenham until he died in the late 1970s. He scored more than 11,000 Minor County runs and as a seam bowler took eight wickets for Archie MacLaren's XI at Eastbourne in 1921, when they were the only side to beat the Australians that year.

I well remember going out with Falcon to the middle at Lakenham as a boy during one lunch interval. The great man used his shooting stick to show me exactly where none other than S F Barnes would pitch the ball when bowling for Staffordshire. He was so accurate that at the end of an innings when he had bowled 20 or 30 overs there would be a small round bare patch exactly on a good length.

Then there were the three Rought-Rought brothers - Basil, Desmond and Rodney - who played with great style before and after the war. In the 30s there was Wilfred Thompson and David Walker, who were said to be as quick as anyone in England and with figures to back this up.

Five years before the war a schoolboy called Bill Edrich made his first appearance for the county and played for a couple of seasons before going on to Lord's, Middlesex and England. Twenty years later John Edrich and Peter Parfitt, both locals, began their careers with Norfolk, and 10 years after that Clive Radley started at Lakenham before following Parfitt to Lord's.

When Bill Edrich had finished with Middlesex in 1958 he came back to Norfolk as captain and played on until he was well past 50. He was a brilliant captain, scored many runs, caught most things at first slip and was a considerable conversationalist. I should know because I was behind the stumps for the first few years.

The cricket gods pay no heed to sentiment and yesterday Cheshire, who were put in, made 224 for 8 in their 50 overs, which on an extremely slow pitch was a few more than it may have looked. Cheshire's trump cards then turned out to be their off-spinners, led by Chris Brown, who took 3 for 24 after Norfolk had been given a good start. Norfolk had a significant piece of bad luck before the start of the game when their fastest bowler and No 3 batsman, Steve Goldsmith, once of Derbyshire, hurt his back so badly while putting on his socks before breakfast that he could not play. It was a day he would not have wanted to miss.

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