Longwood, the very pleasant home of Bristol Cricket Club, is one of a number of sporting institutions located in such a quiet part of BS8 that, when most of them are playing at home, they literally double the population of the area known as Failand. There’s Old Bristolians, Failand & Portbury and Long Ashton cricket clubs, a couple of very plush golf courses, Bristol City FC’s and Bristol Bears’ training grounds and the impressive sports facilities of a number of independent schools all within a stone’s throw of BCC. And no more than 20 metres beyond Longwood’s eastern boundary is Firebrands Hockey Club’s 3G pitch, meaning this small part of the Bristol hinterland is more sport-rich than any other, similar-sized region of the shire.
Today’s Premier One affair sees the 4th-placed homesters take on 5th-placed Frocester – both clubs enjoying solid seasons back in the top division after their respective promotions last summer – as the storms that decimated last weekend’s cricketing schedule have abated and the sun is shining pleasantly in BS8. There’s still moisture in the pitch, however and Frocester captain Will Naish has little hesitation in offering the hosts first use of their own track. The Bristol openers, Miles Kantolina and Nic Halstead Cleak though, while batting watchfully against an accurate attack, look in control of proceedings and take their productive opening partnership to 84 before Halstead Cleak skies a catch that is well taken by Ollie Wood at mid-on, the hosts’ keeper/batter departing for a well-made 47.
Kantolinna follows soon afterwards to give Richie Cave his second wicket of the day and with the first ball after drinks, Cave removes Jack Shelley for a duck as Bristol find themselves on 93-3 at the mid-point of their innings. Frocester, buoyed by Cave’s triple strike continue to chip away – Sam Bracey is taken by Sam Dunne off Wood before Ellison picks out Naish to give Wood his second scalp and it’s the visitors who have now gained the ascendancy.
Architecturally, Longwood is an interesting venue. In the south-west corner sits a small, wooden pavilion which serves the second, much smaller ground which, when in play, reduces the area of the main ground’s outfield by a considerable margin. The structure looks a bit like a rich kid’s summer house, nestling in the corner of their monster-sized lawn on which fifteen men, all dressed in white, act out some mysterious, yet wholly riveting, ritual. Further round Longwood’s top side, the groundsman’s hut with its gabled roof could once have been an old-style Swiss cottage, complete with veranda and lookout chair, while a pair of hanging baskets that look as if they haven’t been tended to since the VE Day celebrations, hang sadly from the balcony corners.
The gabled effect is continued in the almost permanently empty scorebox, while between this and the Swiss cottage is the large, two-storey pavilion, a construction which includes that very rare feature of actually looking better from the back than it does from the front.
Back in the middle, Bristol captain Louie Shaw is joined by Rishi Panchal who, apart from an initial hiatus that sees the sole of his boot attempt to escape the rest of his footwear following the completion of a quick single, goes about wrestling back the home side’s control of the contest. The pair add 65 in pretty good time before Panchal is well stumped by Chris Calcott off Naish, each of the pair’s seven 4s and a 6 gleefully recorded by the red-hatted Bristol scorer who’s enjoying the afternoon tremendously, munching his way through a succession of Ginster’s pasties at a slightly faster rate than the near run-a-ball partnership he’s just recorded.
Shaw is finally bowled by Joe Wadham one short of his half-century, while a late flourish from Will Rudge sees the visitors set 212 to win at a little more than four an over. A similar rate to Red Hat, then. In the absence of teas, the players and officials get stuck into their various Meal Deals, before Rudge and Finn Starkey make immediate inroads into the Frocester reply, removing both openers with only 15 on the board. The bowling is tight and progress is slow, a scenario that’s replicated in the net area, where the obligatory Dad is coaching cricketing Son with the aid of the club’s bowling machine. Dad feeds machine; machine projects ball; Son prods forward; ball hits middle; Son emits guttural roar; Dad slumps to ground. It’s a tableau that is a feature of so many grounds around the land and a subject crying out for a proper investigation by an enthusiastic PhD student with more than a passing interest in the vagaries of sports psychology. Or just someone who wants to delve a bit deeper into VKDS (Very Keen Dad Syndrome).
There’s clearly a well thought-through youth coaching schedule in place here at Longwood. Amidst the bevy of posters instructing ‘No spikes in the nets’, there’s a whiteboard on which the ABCs of bowling technique are carefully etched. Unfortunately, there’s also a completely incorrect apostrophe randomly inserted amidst the technical bullet points, so while the young guns’ bowling actions may well develop as a result, the otherwise excellent net sessions will do little to enhance their students’ command of punctuation and grammar.
After Naish is snaffled by Ellison off Sam Brewer, Tom Boorman and Max Dunne move the score on to 82 before Boorman is caught by a tumbling Brewer off Rudge, leading to Red-Hat emitting the wryest of smiles, though whether this is due to the visitors’ predicament or the arrival of another Cornish offering is anyone’s guess.
The pleasant weather has brought a few people away from their Test match televisions and these are either lounging around on the clubhouse patio or idling the hours away alongside the boundary rope, though in all fairness, there are nearly as many dogs as humans attending Longwood this afternoon. There’s a frisky black spaniel, a placid golden retriever, a cavorting Cockapoo and a panting pug, though only the all-action Jack Russell knows anything about cricket. This and Statler and Waldorf, that is, who regale the patio-loungers with their comparisons between then and now, how the game has changed over the years and, if we’re not very careful, how it will inevitably pan out. These are the leaders of the Bristol Ultras, a section of the summer spectator group that is as important a part of the British cricketing scene as the players or officials will ever be.
Within seconds of Statler complimenting the visitors’ batters on their impressive resilience, Dunne is well taken by Halstead Cleak off Tommy Probert, the first of three catches by Bristol’s impressive wicketkeeper, all completed standing up to the stumps, Calcott and Catto each departing in similar fashion to leave Frocester struggling on 119-7.
There are only nine boundaries in the visitors’ reply, one of which is driven into the Firebrands’ hedge, just below the cluster of sponsor boards that are grouped together twenty metres north of the scorebox. While there’s a range of professions that are advertised in this colourful montage, it doesn’t take more than a brief glance to ascertain that half the boards are alcohol-based. Certainly, Racks Bar & Kitchen in the centre of Clifton, Bristol CC’s long-time shirt sponsors, will have gained a fair bit more in takings from the club’s playing membership over the years than any amount of sponsorship deals will have set them back.
There’s a spirited response from the Frocester tail, Wood, Cave and Wadham all reaching double figures as they add 44 for the last three wickets before Shaw completes a fine individual display by bowling Wadham to leave his team victorious by 48 runs. With five games remaining, Bristol are now only three points behind Bridgwater and, should they be able to maintain their current impressive form, a third-placed finish is a real possibility in their first season back at WEPL’s top table. Frocester, meanwhile, remain in fifth, requiring only a couple more wins to confirm their Premier One status for another season, which will be job done in many respects. And in a parallel universe, by the time 2023’s final standings are set in stone, Ginster’s share price may well have reached record levels.
The evening draws on, the shadows lengthen and people head into the car park to begin their journey to Racks or to home. Redders bolts the Swiss cottage and locks the pavilion doors before disappearing into the gathering twilight. Longwood is slowly, but surely, being engulfed in the gloom of a late July Saturday evening. And the population of BS8 returns to its pre-sporting levels of a man and his dogs yapping contentedly into the night.
Bristol 211-8 (Louie Shaw 49, Nic Halstead Cleak 4, Miles Kantolinna 36; Richie Cave 3-38).
Frocester 166 (Tom Boorman 35; Rishi Panchal 3-30, Louie Shaw 2-24, Will Rudge 2-31).
Bristol won by 48 runs.