WITH the 2015 season now in full swing, the saddest sight for any cricket aficionado from the Oswestry area must be to drive past Whittington CC’s picturesque ground on a sunny Saturday afternoon – and see nothing happening.
The sign at the entrance tells us that the club was formed as long ago as 1858, but this time around a shortage of players has done what neither two World Wars nor a devastating arson attack could do – brought a halt to proceedings.
Whittington, one of the strongest teams in local cricket for longer than anyone can remember and the club where England Test star Andy Lloyd began his career, pulled out of the Shropshire League just before the season started.
And no-one has a heavier heart over the club’s current situation than a man who for more than 40 years has been regarded by many as Mr Whittington CC – Mike Brunt.
“It’s certainly very sad,” said Mike, who joined his home village club as a 13-year-old in 1960 and has served long terms as captain, secretary and chairman.
“Although I’m not officially involved with the club these days, it appears there were a hard core of about eight lads committed to playing this year – but some of them wanted to see out the football season.
“If they’d all have been able to play from the start, I dare say we could have got another three each week to make up a team – but it wasn’t to be.
“We’re still fielding a side in the Shrewsbury Evening League, and the aim is to return to the Shropshire League next year.”
Since its formation 157 years ago, the club has always played at the same ground – land which was originally part of the Halston Hall estate.
“In the early days cricket was played where the bowling green now is,” said Mike, “and the club moved to the current ground in the 1930s.”
The first game played in 1858 saw Whittington Boys beat Kinnerley Boys by an innings and 46 runs, bowling out the opposition for 12 and 5!
The seniors first took to the field a couple of months later, and beat Ellesmere by ten wickets in another two innings game.
One of the early club rules stated: “Swearing or quarrelling shall be reported to the captain of either side and to the committee, and shall be punished with a fine of 6d for the first offence, a shilling for the second, and expulsion for the third”.
Play continued into the 20th century, and fixtures were fulfilled during both World Wars.
League cricket came along in the early 1970s, with Whittington joining the Border Counties League in 1976. They switched to the Shropshire League in 1991, and worked their way through the leagues until they reached Division One.
In 1984 they became the first cricket club in Shropshire to put down an artificial wicket, and in 1990 they bought the ground from the Halston estate.
Another major development came in 1991 when it was decided to lay down a bowling green.
“We managed to persuade the estate to sell us another acre of land, and the first wood was bowled in 1994,” said Mike, who is a regular in one of the ten bowls teams Whittington field each week. “It’s a great sport because it covers such a wide spectrum of ages.”
Going back to cricket, I have many fond memories of playing at Whittington, and three spring to mind. The first came in the early 1970s when I was opening the batting for Cae Glas.
The Whittington players had a theory that I didn’t like short-pitched fast bowling, and they were right! Ken Lawrenson, then landlord of the Boote and pretty sharp in his heyday, sent down a bouncer at me and I completely lost sight of it.
I just took a wild swing at the ball, expecting to be minus several teeth at any second – but miraculously I caught it smack in the middle of the bat. The ball sailed over the square leg boundary and out of the ground.
“So much for that theory,” I heard one of the slips mutter. Little did they know…
A few years later, by which time I had joined Oswestry, wicketkeeper Bob Clark and I were invited to play for the Whittington President’s XI in the annual match against the club.
Bob and I were always the scruffiest members of any team, but our skipper Ken Byers warned us to be in “best bib and tucker” for the big game – so we both turned up in suits.
Needless to say, everyone else was in casual wear, and we were ribbed mercilessly all day.
The final memory is of a Sunday friendly (only in name!) between Whittington and Oswestry in the early 1980s. It was a great game, and Whittington needed four to win with nine wickets down.
Bryan Edwards then cleaned bowled the last batsman, and we started congratulating each other – until we realised the umpire had called “no ball”. Worse was to come – after hitting the stumps, the ball had gone for four!