County Championship cricket, like theatre attendance and the study of Latin, is always in decline. You can pick up a Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack from pretty much any year since the inaugural 1864 edition and find a piece bemoaning the death of the domestic game. The editor’s note in the 1907 edition predicted that the introduction of a second division would be the final nail in the coffin. It was always better then; nostalgia, in its most melancholic form, appears to be inherent.
Like all the great rivalries, the Lancashire and Yorkshire have been gnawing at the bone of contention for hundreds of years. I have met West Ham fans who are still angry about the (probably apocryphal) scabbing that occurred on the Millwall side of the Thames during the general strike of 1926. Indeed, I am one of them. And I have no doubt that there is a section of Lancastrian opinion that is still resentful of Edward IV’s accession to the throne as the first Yorkist King in 1461. The mitherer.
The very first Roses cricket match took place over three days in June 1867, and produced a handsome innings victory for Yorkshire. The Manchester Courier, conceding nothing, reported it thus:
It is but fair to add that in this, the first contest between the two counties, owing to a feeling of jealousy on the part of some of the leading Lancashire gentlemen players, the team was not a fair representation of the cricket of the county; whilst that of Yorkshire, as we have said, was about as good as it could be.
Yorkshire went on to win the next four matches, all convincingly and twice with an innings to spare. Fred Reynolds, the Lancashire opening bowler, perhaps understandably tiring of the whole affair, opened by bowling underarm in the fifth. It was not until the sixth meeting that the Red Rose finally triumphed, with a degree of rancour the predictable by-product. Yorkshire veteran Joe Row endsam, in a huff, twice refused to bowl after Lancashire had reached 300 runs.
It was the interwar years that cemented the reputation of the Roses rivalry. Of the 21 seasons from 1919 to 1939, 17 were won by one of the two counties (Yorkshire, boasting the likes of Wilfred Rhodes, Herbert Sutcliffe and Len Hutton, were the dominant partner with twelve titles).
More than 70,000 people paid entry to witness the match at Old Trafford in 1926. The great Neville Cardus explains their borderline masochistic mind-set:
And that crowd did not go to Old Trafford on a Bank Holiday expecting to see sixers, or any suspicion of a demonstration of “bright” cricket. They went to look at North-country character in action, skill and unselfconscious humour superbly mingled proportionately… These ancient Lancastrians and Yorkists didn’t score dourly or slowly because they lacked the ability to score faster. No: they scored dourly and slowly “on principle.”
They home crowd were not disappointed, as Lancashire posted their highest Roses score of 509-9 dec., including a 126 from Harry Makepeace that took just ten minutes shy of five hours to complete. The match ended drawn with only two innings played.
Lancashire and Yorkshire have played 216 first-class matches against each other in total, but the ignominy of defeat, the fear of transpennine one-upmanship, means that the majority of them — 121, or 56 per cent — have ended up drawn.
To the present day. Having lost the toss Lancashire were asked to field and opened the bowling with James Anderson and Tom Bailey. For an hour period it was all Red Rose. The recurrent disappointment Adam Lyth was out for a duck edging Bailey to Anderson at slip, who at the other end was underlining the divide between the national regular and the county jobber. Keeping it tight with just one run off his first 32 balls, including the wicket of Alex Lees (bowled), he suddenly gave way mid-way through his sixth over and had to hobble off, with the score on 19/2.
This will likely see the end of Anderson’s long run of games for Lancashire. It’s too soon to tell whether this will affect the upcoming series against South Africa, or even his participation over the next three days. But Jimmy is 34 years old now, and it can’t be long before he sustains that twitch too far and is carted off to the glue factory.
With Anderson out of the attack, the match reneged on its promise to intrigue as the batsmen regained their composure. McLaren, his replacement, lacked the same bite, and Handscomb and Ballance settled into their groove. Thereafter wickets, when they came, were not the result of ‘turning the screw’, but rather popped up unpredictably and seemingly from nowhere. McLaren trapped Handscomb LBW for 29, but Yorkshire were never in any danger of collapsing.
The second session was cricket at its least demanding, Lancs skipper Davies opting to hold down both ends with spin. As the run stealers flickered to and fro, it was easy to see why the longest form of the domestic game lacks widespread commercial appeal. The last two sponsors of the competition, Specsavers and LV life insurance, might also indicate an ageing demographic. In a bid to tackle this, Old Trafford opened its gates to pupils of seventy nearby schools. Four thousand primary-age children galavanted about the place, lifting the support several octaves higher than I’ve experienced before. When they departed mid-way through the second session they took something with them (although they also left a lot of tat behind). A plastic bag tumbleweeded across the field in dour, and correct, silence.
The audience were jolted out of their slumber when Ballance, who had played classily and without controversy to reach 74, slapped a wide ball from Bailey to mid-off, with the score on 138, the game arguably in the balance. Tim ‘Brezzy’ Bresnan replaced him at the wicket, but fatally misjudged the mood by lifting Kerrigan for six. He was subsequently reminded reminded that Roses matches aren’t about such flimflam and tomfoolery and departed shortly after, bowled by McLaren for 13.
Lancashire had over-performed in the light of Anderson’s injury to reduce Yorkshire to 178-6 with the wicket of Azeem Rafiq, caught at mid-wicket off the slow and economical — hell let’s say it, boring — spin of Stephen Parry. The rest of the day was seen out with some competent batting, play closing on 251/6 with Leaning on 54 and Hodd 41. Lancashire have probably edged it, but will struggle to win their first four-day Roses match since 2011 without Anderson playing a central part.
A slow opener then, one that never quite got going, but one that nevertheless sets up the match nicely. Tomorrow will probably see Sidebottom bowling to Hameed and Chanderpaul. It’s not high octane, but it remains a lovely way to spend a day.