(Prologue: The doom and gloom that has enveloped South African cricket this week has prompted me to write something about the beauty of cricket. Football is called “the beautiful game”; I believe it is a more fitting description of cricket.)
When England’s leading Test wicket-taker, James Anderson, bowled only four overs in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston in August, I first read about a cricket ground in Sedbergh. Anderson had apparently picked up a calf injury playing for Lancashire in a County Championship match in Sedbergh a month earlier and was always a doubtful starter for the first Test. Anderson never recovered from the injury and didn’t play again in the series. It was to have a significant impact on the outcome of the Ashes.
So where is this cricket ground in Sedbergh that played such a huge part in the destiny of that little urn? It turns out that a cricket ground called New Field in sleepy Sedbergh is one of the most picturesque grounds in the world. Just Google “New Field Sedbergh” and you’ll see what I mean.
As part of the counties’ marketing plans to play some home matches away from their main grounds, Lancashire settled on Sedbergh as one of its alternative home venues.
Sedbergh lays in the northwest of England, in an area between the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales – the world of famous authors like William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. From Lancashire’s Old Trafford home in Manchester it is exactly 130 km along the M6 highway to New Field, Sedbergh.
New Field is on the premises of Sedbergh School, a boys’ school on the outskirts of the 16th century market town of the same name. The ground was completed in 1885 thanks to the largesse of a local nobleman. It is set in magnificent parkland and surrounded by green fells (low hills).
For more than a century the field was only used by the school and town. In 2006 it became the home of Minor Counties side Cumberland. The ground received rave reviews on the Minor Counties circuit, but it was till a big surprise when Lancashire announced that they would play a County Championship game at New Field. Any worries, however, that a ground more used to staging school games would be able to cope with first-class cricket proved to be unfounded (except maybe if you ask Anderson). Lancashire’s encounter with Durham was played on a wicket of such good quality the match went the full four days.
Although the grounds are old, the cricket facilities at Sedbergh certainly aren’t. Besides a digital scoreboard the envy of many a county side, the facilities around New Field also include four indoor nets, a video analysis room inside the stylish main pavilion and outdoor nets that combine traditional turf and artificial surfaces.
Flipping through photographs on the internet, I have no doubt that Anderson’s injury couldn’t have been caused by the immaculately kept grounds of New Field in Sedbergh. I’m convinced that he was distracted by a glimpse of the breathtaking Howgill Fells above the sightscreen and didn’t focus properly on his run-up.
(Sources: www.thewestmorlandgazette.co.uk ; “Remarkable Cricket Grounds” by Brian Levison)