Cricket is the most popular sport in the world after football. They are both team games of eleven players. I would imagine that, despite being a member of a cricket team, it is must be a lonely feeling facing a bowler propelling a 90 mile-an-hour ball at you. Equally, I am sure it must, at least sometimes, feel rather lonely taking a penalty kick in front of thousands of supporters, TV cameras and Twitter commentators.
Cricket at Highclere began well before social media was invented. In the UK, the game itself has its roots some four hundred years ago but really developed its modern day rules and regulations in the eighteenth century. Our cricket pitch is on a flat piece of ground to the north of the Castle where it has stayed, apart from a brief stint during World War Two when it was ploughed to try to grow crops. However, the ground was poor, and with better options elsewhere, it soon reverted back to cricket. My father-in-law, the 7th Earl, was an enthusiastic cricketer and played regularly against various teams, some local, some from further afield, with varying degrees of success.
Rumour has it that, in one particular game, he was captaining his team against an opposing team, led by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, when a cricket ball was launched rather close to the Queen!
The very top photograph is from 1856 when the Highclere Park Cricket Club was run by Auberon Herbert, one the 3rd Earl’s sons. The Castle diaries of the time note “He has gained fresh laurels and beaten the Aldermaston Club” (27 Jul 1857). Equally that the opening game of the Highclere Park Cricket Club that year on 5 May was “Single v. Married” (Newbury Weekly News, 20 Apr 1860).
Auberon may have been a team player but was also a true individualist and traveler. An MP, he lectured in history at St John’s Oxford, joined the army (7th Hussars’) and travelled to, witnessed and rescued the wounded in a number of war areas and, thus, was awarded the Danish Order of the Dannebrog and the Austrian Imperial Order of the Iron Crown. He witnessed the Siege of Paris, the Battle of Sedan (in the Ardennes) and the Siege of Richmond (USA). When I read the early sections of his diaries, every minute seems like sixty seconds of life run at high speed. In later life, Auberon helped pass an act for the preservation of wild birds and became a vegetarian.
Today, we still play around 12 games a year at the cricket pitch, always on a Sunday and scattered over the summer months. My husband is an enthusiastic, though often frustrated, cricketer and I always enjoy watching. For the last two years, I have even “captained” a cricket elevens myself. To my husband’s continual amazement, all eleven players have turned up each time and, furthermore, we won both games – though I, of course, agree that it is the taking part that matters! (In fact, I cheer, leaping up and down on the sidelines.)
Downton Abbey took advantage of the cricket pitch and filmed a beautiful scene there in, I think, series three. It was particularly memorable for us as it took them three days to film it and it was the only three days of sunshine in an otherwise rather dour and wet spring. Mrs Patmore was busy preparing the cricket lunch with Daisy, Carson took the lead but then the police appeared…
To many friends who are not English, cricket remains a most peculiar game. One team of 11 men bat. The batsmen go in in pairs and try not to be out but can be bowled out alone. The other team field and some of them bowl. Each bowler has six balls, as long as they are no-balls, and then the bowler and the end is changed. The fielding positions have names such as ‘silly mid-off’, ‘leg gully’ or ‘cow corner’. Most of the positions are named roughly according to a system of polar co-ordinates – one word (‘leg’, ‘cover’, ‘mid-wicket’) specifies the angle from the batsman (‘silly’, ‘short deep’ or ‘long’) detailing distance. Words such as ‘backwards’, ‘forward’ or ‘square’ can further indicate angle. Every so often one team ‘declares’ they will stop batting, if they think they will win on the score so far. At other times, the weather may intervene to create a draw.
Even if you do understand cricket, it makes a wonderful backdrop for a lazy summer afternoon. Our lunches are delicious and, whilst I am biased, I think Highclere’s pitch is one of the prettiest in the country and some of my favourite days are spent with a Pimms, good friends and the soothing, familiar clop of willow against leather.