A Victorian Cricket Match - in Victoria

Oh cricket lovers, put aside the agony of Nick Compton’s 2nd Test innings against New Zealand, described on Test Match Special as like the last Act of Macbeth, and consider the daftness and goodness of a game on 29th May 2013 between The Wisden XI and The Author’s XI.

Would one expect excellent weather for this day? Don’t be silly. This is London, where we basked in summer temperatures on the Sunday before, but shivered under leaden skies three days later.

We were in Victoria, and the precise location was the elegant fields of Vincent Square, tucked away behind Westminster Cathedral. Even this characterful environment could not dissipate the gloom.


The pitch
 

More cheerfully, these were not any old elegant fields – these were the playing fields of renowned Westminster School, whose alumni, picking alone on the 1600s, include poet John Dryden, philosopher John Locke, composer Henry Purcell, and architect, astronomer and generally brilliant person Christopher Wren.


The Pavilion - note on the right an interview being done
 

With any understanding of English eccentricity, one should not seek a reason for the contest in question taking place. Yet reason there was, or rather two of them.


Spectators watch avidly
 

First reason goes to timing – 29 May 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of the launch of Wisden, or more properly Wisden Cricketers Almanack, a cricket reference book published annually and as has been described as the world’s most famous sporting reference book.

The second reason concerns the Wisden XI’s opposition. The Authors’ Cricket Club started in the early 1900s, but until recent revival seems to have played its last game in 1912. Games were contested against teams made up of publishers and actors, and players included P G Wodehouse, Arthur Conan Doyle and J M Barrie.


But the delivery does not frighten - see below
 

The revived 21st century side continues the tradition, and currently raises funds for two charities, First Story, which takes authors into tough secondary schools to run creative writing workshops, and Chance to Shine, which uses the discipline and pursuit of excellence in sport to instil values into schoolchildren such as teamwork and determination.

The opening of the afternoon’s proceedings, as the photos demonstrate, was a warm-up game in Victorian dress – forceful run-ups to the crease were followed by patsy underarm deliveries that were treated with contempt by any batsman who could dig out the ball as it tottered along the pitch.


The scorer concentrates - hopefully she is wearing several layers
 

But after half an hour, the false moustaches and top hats returned to the Pavilion, to be replaced by a more serious-looking and serious-sounding couple of teams, and the real match began.


A more competitive encounter
 

The score was irrelevant, but the standard was impressive. Best-known name out of the Author’s XI was Sebastian Faulks, of Birdsong and other acclaimed works. The Wisden XI was graced with the presence of Claire Taylor, who played for England more than 150 times.

And with the help of the amateur version of the paparazzo’s long lens, who is this figure standing at square leg umpire?



An author himself, none other than Jeffrey Archer, who modestly waited at the back of the queue for tea before being whisked round to the VIP channel.

By which time, at tea, the pitch looked thus:


Rain stopped play
 

170 scored by Wisden at this point....but cucumber sandwiches and scones with jam and cream to refresh the soul. Betjeman would have loved it.

The author is a City of London and City of Westminster Guide, who runs walking tours in the City and in Westminster. See tabs for more information.

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