Paul Edwards finds some cricket to watch during a blank week......
The future of Lancashire cricket. The phrase has a heavy, sonorous ring to it. One feels that each word should begin with a capital letter, so important is the subject.
Importance can foster self-importance, though. In midsummer, with one game just gone and another only a day or two away, it is easy to forget that millions of people lead perfectly fulfilled lives without giving a thought to what is happening at Old Trafford.
Nevertheless, even for those folk who wouldn't know a cricket bat from a lump hammer - and I have come across the occasional Southport and Birkdale batsman on whom the distinction was utterly lost - last week's events may have carried just a little significance. The future of Lancashire cricket, by which, in this context, one means the redevelopment of Old Trafford, was secured in the Court of Appeal. Break open the Red Bull. They'll be dancing in the streets of Rishton tonight.
It was a curious concidence that neither Lancashire's first nor second teams played any cricket during the week in which the judgement was given. It seemed almost ordained that everyone's attention should be focused on the umpires in wigs. (Real cricket umpires in full-bottomed wigs eh? There's a thought. Dickie Bird would come out of retirement like a shot.)
But there was important cricket played in Lancashire last week. I watched an hour or so of it at Middleton, where Lancashire's Under 17 team were taking on their Under 19 counterparts. Underneath the row of sycamores at the far end of one of the game's true homes, I heard tales of Joel Garner playing for Littleborough and how there had been a thousand spectators on the ground to watch Middleton beat Clifton in the semi-final of the Wood Cup the previous Sunday.
In the pavilion is the severe contract presented to Hedley Verity when he was engaged as a professional by Middleton in 1928. Alongside this document is a team photograph from 1961. On the back row stands the club's professional for that summer, Basil D'Oliveira. He looks shy, modest, unable to believe his luck.....
And watching the play last Wednesday were people like Geoff Ogden and Ken Standring, and also Bob Stamp, who looked after Lancashire Schools cricket for many years. These men are steeped in the game like farmers who are at one with the land.
On the field Heywood's Ross Zelem took advantage of the good wicket and baize-like outfield to extend his overnight century to 185 not out. He clipped one full-length delivery backward of square for four. The shot could not have been played more perfectly and the ball raced away, a receding dot on the green. The image lingers.
Zelem's precocious batting, and also that of his fourth-wicket partner, Urmston's Louis Jackson, who made an unbeaten 90, took the score to 380 for three, at which point the Under 17s declared. The seniors' reply had barely begun when the dark clouds, which had been threatening like bailiffs in a black mood all morning, finally unloaded their cargo of dowpours. There was no possibility of further play.
No matter, no matter at all. Ross Zelem's strokes and the rich atmosphere had worked its magic. The future of Lancashire cricket comes in many forms.