Cheltenham Cricket Festival 2013
PUBLISHED: 13:53 29 May 2013 | UPDATED: 13:53 29 May 2013
The scene could hardly be any more typically, idyllically English. In the heart of Cheltenham's gorgeously Georgian splendour, the reassuring sound of leather being caressed by willow echoes through the hallowed, historic halls.
Established in 1872, the Brewin Dolphin Cheltenham Cricket Festival is the longest-running cricket festival in the world, a celebration of both a national sporting obsession and its revered host.
Now, for the first time, the colourful, carnival atmosphere of Twenty20 comes to Cheltenham College for a vibrant cricket party. Alongside two LV County Championship matches, including a local derby against Worcestershire, Gloucestershire will go into battle against Bears from Warwickshire, Steelbacks from Northamptonshire and even Welsh Dragons.
After reaching the competition’s quarter-finals last season, Gloucestershire have recruited two Australians to boost their 2013 Friends Life t20 campaign. Club captain Michael Klinger and international all-rounder Dan Christian will provide extra firepower for a team already featuring the batting talents of Dan Housego and Hamish Marshall.
Christian is looking to record a Twenty20 double, after helping Brisbane Heat win Australia’s Big Bash tournament in January, when he smashed 37 runs from just 21 balls in the final. He also won the 2010 FLt20 competition with Hampshire, and is currently playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the prestigious Indian Premier League.
The experienced Klinger, who joins from South Australia, where he was also captain, is a one-day specialist batsman whose explosive, match-winning shots have seen him score nearly 6,000 runs in his career.
The two-week festival is played on the renowned pitches of Cheltenham College, one of the best ‘outgrounds’ in the country. Its annual success is due in no small part to the award-winning work of Head Groundsman, Ross Spry, and his team, for whom the Festival is just reward for their year-round dedication.
“I don’t think there’s a better setting in the country. It’s fantastic – especially when it’s sunny,” smiles Spry with rueful experience. “It’s a very compact festival, the outfield isn’t huge compared to some of the county grounds, so the spectators are close to the players. The atmosphere that generates is absolutely fantastic, and the players like that interaction.”
Twice winner of the ECB’s ‘Best Outground’ award during his five years at Cheltenham College – in addition to receiving a special ‘Commendation’ in between – Spry and his team have a special perspective on the Festival.
“It feels great to be recognised for what we do. We all know that we’ve won those awards because we went the extra mile together.
“The satisfaction we get is in watching the Festival with everybody else, and seeing that the pitch is playing well. It’s a great feeling to know that you’ve been a part of producing the spectacle of these games. Of course we’re watching for bounce and turn in the pitch, but if the sun is shining, we can enjoy it a lot more.
“We are a cricket college, and to have the Festival, and Gloucestershire County Cricket Club, associated with the College shows that the standard of cricket here is better each year. The students are playing on top-quality wickets, and they really do appreciate it because when they go to other schools they can see that the pitches aren’t as good.”
Spry is also quick to acknowledge the contribution of his colleagues (namely, Mike Broom, John Menzies, Jake Herd and Martin Adams) in juggling the year-round demands of cricket, hockey and rugby pitches, as well as ensuring that professional-quality cricket pitches are maintained for College students throughout the summer.
“It’s quite stressful, trying to maintain the standards here, especially with the weather being the way it is,” he admits. “But I’ve got a great team who do go the extra mile and put the effort in, to keep the pitches where they need to be. Without them, I would really struggle. I can’t do everything, but the team I’ve got makes it very easy to maintain those standards.”
That hard work isn’t simply confined to the supposedly warmer months of the year, either; for Spry, the season starts when county cricket is the furthest thing from anybody’s mind. “Our preparation on the county pitch can start as early as January. The last 12 months have been a particularly difficult season to do any work. Trying to prepare wickets to the standard that we require here has been extremely demanding.
“We’ve had such a cold start to this season, our preparations have been put back several weeks due to the weather – the grass just wasn’t growing!”
Now very much back on schedule for another glorious fortnight of cricket, especially with the introduction of Twenty20 to the Festival roster, Spry is ready to make an exciting prediction.
“I’m hoping for some big scores and some exciting run chases. It’s going to be great.”
Cheltenham Cricket Festival runs from July 10-21. For tickets and more information visit www.gloscricket.co.uk