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Down the road to Radlett
Shenley’s near neighbour, Radlett, is situated some three miles north-east of Watford and is a handful of miles inside the proper Hertfordshire/Middlesex boundary. The Radlett Cricket Centre is a mile south of Radlett proper and is home to another large and thriving Hertfordshire club, Radlett CC, which has five men’s teams and eight junior sides plus an established womens’ and girls’ section. The men’s first team plays in the Home Counties Division 2 East whilst the 2nds are in the Hertfordshire 2nd Division.
Radlett CC is able to field so many teams because, like Shenley, they have large grounds which accommodate two pitches. The extensive facilities combined with relative ease of access by road and rail from London, Radlett is fourteen miles from St. John’s Wood, has induced both the MCC and Middlesex CCC to stage matches here when the busy schedule at Lord’s has caused them both to look elsewhere for venues, the MCC Young Cricketers and Middlesex 2nds having both regularly hosted matches at the venue in recent seasons.
Yorkshire 2nds played there in 2010 against the MCC Young Cricketers and won comfortably by 8 wickets. The match was a personal success for Joe Root who made 131 and 43 not out whilst Gurman Randhawa took 7 wickets. The MCC team included two familiar names, J.K Lever and Ian Cockbain. James Kenneth Lever is the son of John Kenneth.Lever the former Essex and England and like his father James is a left arm fast medium bowler whilst Ian Cockbain is the son of Iain Cockbain who made nearly fifty first-class appearances for Lancashire. Cockbain junior has since become a regular at Gloucestershire. The MCC side was clearly ‘a family affair’ because it also contained Paul Muchall, brother of Durham’s Gordon, whilst the previous season Joe Root’s brother Billy played for them. Billy has also represented as many as five county 2nd teams including Yorkshire.
Some two years ago Middlesex CCC decided to take their arrangement with Radlett CC a major, indeed historic, step further and came to an agreement with them to make the venue their permanent base for training and the official home ground for their 2nd team (even though it is in Hertfordshire.) To this end Middlesex helped fund major re-development of the pavilion by investing £600,000 to help build new changing rooms, office space, a physio room and a gym. This work was completed last summer and in 2013 Middlesex will start their first full season at the venue, including an inaugural first team game – a CB40 match against Yorkshire on Monday May 27th. These are truly memorable times at Radlett.
Vinny Codrington, the Middlesex Chief Executive explained the reason behind the decision when the plan was first announced some years ago stating, " Middlesex CCC is in a unique position. We play at the best ground in the world, and although the MCC have excellent facilities, they are not always available to the Middlesex players......The players live a somewhat nomadic existence during the summer, because they are unable to designate one place as their “home”, their place of work. For example, a former player stated that if he were at another county he would be able to unpack his car and use his locker throughout the season.
"This is not ideal, and Angus Fraser, our Managing Director of Cricket, has identified this as a key reason why Middlesex have not performed to their capabilities in the recent past. Other counties have their changing rooms, indoor and outdoor nets, a gym and medical facilities all available at their home ground, which gives the players a sense of belonging, and a routine for coming to work. We do not have that.
"It was with this in mind that we approached Radlett, who were looking at ways of maintaining and developing their pavilion. Although not in the “county” of Middlesex, members of both clubs know that MCCC have played some second eleven cricket there each year, and it is very popular. Not only is it an excellent cricket ground, but the facilities and ambience make it an ideal place for our professional squad to train.”
Angus Fraser, the club’s Director of Cricket, justified the decision as follows:-
Middlesex’s mixed feelings towards being based at Lord’s is understandable as is their aim to develop ‘home grown’ talent, especially given the lack of such players in their first team over recent seasons. It is true that the club has recently produced a Test cricketer, Hertfordshire born Stephen Finn - following in the footsteps of the recently retired England captain Andrew Strauss, but the overwhelming majority of last season’s first eleven were either from other counties or countries. Based on county championship appearances in 2012, Middlesex’s most regular players included just one who had grown up in their system, Toby Roland-Jones, whilst there were three signed from other counties - one each from Kent, Lancashire and Surrey – and as many as seven from overseas - four from South Africa, two from Australia and one from the West Indies. To be frank it is a very poor reflection either on grass roots cricket or the Middlesex coaching system or both.
It is all the more remarkable given the large population of proper Middlesex and its adjacent counties Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire where Middlesex are able to recruit.. Can this be explained by the unsatisfactory practice facilities? Have a number of young cricketers left Middlesex and gone on to establish themselves elsewhere? The only obvious talent I can think of who was ‘missed’ by the county was Alex Hales ( who was not offered terms by Middlesex but joined the MCC Young Cricketers instead before signing for Nottinghamshire ) whilst the only county players that come to mind who have gone through the Middlesex youth system and featured for other counties in 2012 are Owais Shah, Billy Godleman and Ben Scott (who has just retired).
Middlesex have always drafted in cricketers from other counties but their teams have usually included a strong presence of locally developed players. What has happened to the Public Schoolboys such as Mike Brearley, Phil Edmonds, John Carr (from Radlett) Tim Lamb and Andrew Strauss or the more ‘ordinary’ locals such as Fred Titmus, Don Bennett, Alan Moss, John Price, John Murray, Ron Hooker, Bob White, Harry Latchman, Clive Radley (from Hertford), Mike Smith, Mike Selvey, Wilf Slack, Neil Williams, Mike Gatting, Roland Butcher, Norman Cowans, Simon Hughes, Keith Brown, Angus Fraser, Phil Tufnell, Paul Weekes and Mark Ramprakesh? Given the number of golf courses in these parts, have potential cricketers become golfers!!
London and Middlesex is a populous area comprising peoples from many ethnic backgrounds but neither Asian nor Black cricketers are emerging in any numbers either. Ramprakesh (born in Herts but raised in Middlesex), Shah and in the sixties West Indian born Harry Latchman are the only players from an Asian background I can recall establishing themselves at the county whilst the large number of Black cricketers in Middlesex sides during the nineteen eighties was due to immigration for they all learned their first cricket in the Caribbean and came to London as children with their families. To my knowledge only Paul Weekes, born in the Middlesex part of east London, has followed them.
( Incidentally, Radlett is home to a large Jewish community so perhaps the move to the area will encourage more Jewish cricketers in the future. There seems to be a lack of players from this background as only South Africa’s Ali Bacher and the old Northants batsman, the Australian ‘Jock’ Livingstone, come to mind.)
I frankly cannot explain a situation why the Middlesex ‘system’ is not producing the number of first-class cricketers you would imagine but they have recently resorted to acquiring their first team players from far and wide, similar in style to Premier League football clubs, and if all counties were so placed then English cricket would surely be the worse and the national team even more reliant on overseas cricketers than unfortunately it already is.
It is also conjectured that Middlesex have lost contracted and established staff because of the lack of a proper home base. Were the departures of Mark Ramprakesh and more recently Owais Shah because of this?. It is hard to know from a northern perspective but it has not stopped countless cricketers from joining Middlesex. Having read opinion amongst ‘rank and file’ Middlesex supporters on their message board on ‘Middlesex Till We Die’, there is a feeling that one coach (unnamed) and one player, Ed Joyce, left because of the difficulties of living out of car boots, but that others over the years went to ‘further their careers’. One poster also pointed out that many cricketers join the county stating they are excited at playing at ‘the home of cricket’ whilst another suggested that Middlesex have another advantage when trying to attract players, that England selectors seem to favour their players.
Middlesex and their supporters appreciate the advantages in playing at Lord’s but the club has been determined to make a move to Radlett and they have lost no time this winter in taking advantage of the facilities for they have already started to plan for the outdoor pre-season by erecting a marquee over the square! It is an idea first utilised by Essex at Chelmsford last year. A large marquee, 40 by 20 metres, is placed over the square covering three wickets and the bowler’s run ups. The groundsman then gets to work creating wickets without the worry of rain or snow whilst the resulting practice is intended to better replicate early season conditions than overseas trips to the Caribbean. It is a fascinating concept and now that Middlesex can practice away from Lord’s and the commotion such an idea might cause there, they are trying it! Intriguing!
In May 2013 Middlesex will host their first ever 1st team match at Radlett, against Yorkshire in the CB 40 on Monday May 27th , so Yorkshire players and supporters have an early opportunity to judge the facilities at first hand. Access by road and rail seems straight forward ( though some Middlesex players have said the journey by car can involve long delays! ) High speed trains from Leeds and Sheffield race straight through the station and past the ground (mainly hidden behind trees) to central London but local trains on the Thameslink call at Radlett en route from Kings Cross and St.Pancras to Luton and Bedford, taking only 25 minutes from the main line London stations. The M1, A1 and M25 are all very close whilst the A road route out of London is the A5 which runs by St. John’s Wood and should take about 40 minutes to cover the 14 or so extra miles from Lord’s. Hopefully the weather will be good so that this interesting and ambitious project receives publicity and momentum.
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