Saturday, 24 October 2015
Mid-September, and a trip to London to watch unfancied Gloucestershire take on fat cats Surrey in the Royal London Cup final, once upon a time the showpiece game of the English domestic first-class season but now something of a poor relation to the glitz of Twenty20 Finals Day.
A smallish crowd – the larger part of which were down from the West Country, it seemed, rather than south of the Thames – were treated to a slow-burning classic of a game, with Sangakkara at one stage looking like he was waltzing Surrey to victory, until his dismissal triggered a tense hour-and-a-half on a crusty pitch. Gloucestershire fought superbly, and eventually squeezed out a victory, one that was highly reminiscent of their glory years under John Bracewell and Mark Alleyne at the turn of the century, when they completely dominated limited-overs cricket.
It was this one-day dynasty that formed the subject of my ESPNcricinfo blog for September, and I managed to run into quite a few of that team around the ground: Mike Smith, Jack Russell and Alleyne in the press box, Ian Harvey and Jon Lewis in the Tavern pub, clearly enjoying themselves.
Reliving Gloucestershire's One-Day Glory days
With their close ties to the PCA and access to the England cricket team, All Out Cricket magazine could be forgiven for ignoring the less glamorous parts of the English game. True, they do run interviews with the likes of Moeen Ali, Joe Root and Ben Stokes every three months, it seems, but they also like the less heralded characters of the county game, which is who I'm trying to write about in the Shire Brigade series – players who can be considered cult heroes, or stalwarts for their clubs.
Fourth in the series, after Nottinghamshire's Luke Fletcher, Somerset's Peter Trego and Northamptonshire's Steven Crook, is the Durham wicket-keeper Phil Mustard, 'The Colonel', still an important part of their one-day team but someone who has lost his place in the Championship side to Michael Richardson and has been loaned out to Lancashire.
I'm led to believe he is an avid consumer of magazines from a shelf or two above the natural home of All Out Cricket, and while that does perhaps add to his cultic status, it wasn't really something that was ever going to make the cut.
Shire Brigade: Phil Mustard
At the end of August I pootled on down to a sun-baked Knypersley CC to watch the opening day of Staffordshire's fixture with Buckinghamshire, their 1001st game in the Minor Counties Championship.
I was able to interview to a few people – Keith Stride and Sid Owen, as well as both coaches, Dave Cartledge and Simon Stanway – for my book about the Minor Counties' cult players, and I was able to chat to several people in a non-professional capacity. It was an enjoyable day, and I was able to write a piece for All Out Cricket magazine about it, with another due in the next issue of The Cricketer.
The Manchester United of the Minor Counties