By Tony Hannan
It’s Britain’s hottest summer since 1976 and cricket is in a sweat of transformation. Audiences no longer care for long-form County Championship fixtures, traditional touchstone of the calendar. They prefer flash, bang, wallop! Or so the experts suppose.
Where though does that leave those twenty minor counties from Newcastle to Norfolk who for the last 125 years have provided a stepping-stone between recreational cricket and the first-class county scene?
Come 2020, the venerable Minor Counties Championship will be blown away like dandelion seeds on the breeze, to be replaced by a freshly branded and ‘more marketable’ National Counties Championship.
Well, that was the plan. In 2018, few had yet heard of Covid-19. What they did know was that their beloved competition was under existential threat and those to blame were at Lord’s, more interested in such innovative concepts as the promised new ‘Hundred’ than bolstering that which had stood the test of time.
Tony Hannan, author of Underdogs, spent what turned out to be the penultimate Minor Counties campaign in the company of Cumberland CCC, amid the dramatic lakes, fells and mountains of Cumbria. And echoing that dramatic terrain, tells a story of ups, downs and a few surprises.
A team of journeymen skippered by Gary Pratt – who famously ran Australia captain Ricky Ponting out during 2005’s Ashes series – are but one thread in a tapestry that is by turns earthy, lyrical and amusing.
The Wicket Men draws stumps on a mostly ignored but emblematic level of cricket, a pastime whose arcane rhythms and rituals are rooted in English folk tradition.