Tag Archives: yorkshire

Mark Nicholas’ cunning plan to save cricket from itself

by Sam Blackledge

Mark Nicholas is worried about cricket’s future – but has a cunning plan for how his beloved sport can survive and inspire the next generation.

The former Hampshire captain, now known to fans worldwide as a respected TV commentator, believes the longer form of the game is in danger amid the rising popularity of Twenty20.

Speaking ahead of his appearance at the Guildford Book Festival on October 14, Nicholas says he fears cricket is “losing its magic”.

“T20 is a fantastic game for what it has been able to do for cricket,” he says. “Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

“But the beauty of cricket comes from its orthodoxy more than its unorthodoxy. The great skills of the game – from a perfectly executed cover drive to a leg break – are threatened by the lowest common denominator of T20.”

Nicholas’ natural enthusiasm shines through in his new book, A Beautiful Game, which is more than just another sporting autobiography.

He rattles through his own playing career, from the highs of winning four domestic one-day trophies to the lows of injuries and dressing room bust-ups, before delving into the quirks and characters which bring the game to life. 

“When I was at Hampshire, I was 101 per cent at Hampshire,” he says.

“I threw everything into every moment of my life there. You search for a place in the world and an identity in various ways, and that was mine.

“The book was a chance to get some stuff out that been going around in my head for a long time. The idea was to celebrate cricket and my involvement in it.

“With the benefit of hindsight you look back and realise that you got things wrong or you got things right. You are able to look at them dispassionately and objectively. At the time you’re so subjective that it’s sometimes hard.”

Anyone who has heard Nicholas on commentary duties will recognise the passion and joy he has for the game.

It is hard to imagine him losing interest in a passage of play, no matter how dull or inconsequential, or ever allowing himself to become bitter and cynical. At heart he is a fan, like everybody else.

During our brief conversation he waxes lyrical about the “unbelievable” climax to the county season, and enthuses about the recent Test series between England and Pakistan which had “everything on show”.

But he still frets about the future – and here is his three-point plan for what should happen next.

“A Test championship is absolutely imperative, so everybody plays towards something,” he says.

“It should be a festival of the game for maybe three weeks in a major city. The top four teams play two semi-finals and a final. The cricket world would come together. Seminars would be held, parties would be held, demonstrations would be held.

“The game would be able to talk as one, to discuss all areas of cricket.”

Point two – he wants Test cricket to take centre stage.

“All the marketing is about Twenty20 when that’s the one that sells naturally anyway,” he says.

“It’s the one that is not selling, the long form of the game, which needs more intelligent marketing.”

Point three – youngsters should be given free access to matches in order to spark their interest.

“If you are under 16 you should not have to pay to watch the longer form of the game,” he says.

“We should do everything we can to get people in through the gates: encouraging young people to come for the day, making ticket prices cheaper for adults so they will come with their children.

“Test cricket has to become much more important. People have to be inspired by the idea of Test cricket. At the moment I’m not sure they are.”

As far as Nicholas’ own part in turning this vision into reality, he is happy to simply be an ambassador for the game.

“I will continue to try to sell cricket, as simple as that,” he says.

“I do the best I can through my TV work and the words I write. In the book I have tried to make cricket interesting by telling people about all the great players.

“Hopefully my enthusiasm for the game is something other people can catch. I just want to share cricket with everybody.”

‘A Beautiful Game’ is out now. This piece was first published on getsurrey.co.uk

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Memories of Hull

The news that Hull is to be the next UK City of Culture brought back all sorts of memories. I spent three years in the East Yorkshire outpost as an undergraduate. At first it seemed so far away from my midlands home, and my main memories of my first term are of everything getting progressively colder and darker.

As I grew into student life, I discovered a wealth of music, theatre and art that belies the city’s “grim up north” reputation. Living a bus ride away from civilisation in Cottingham meant my exposure to the city music scene was limited in the first few months. There were a few outings to Asylum, the campus nightclub, where we saw the likes of Turismo, 59 Violets and the Blue Slide Circle struggling against a horrific sound system.

Making the move up to Beverley Road for the university equivalent of the difficult second album, I was lucky enough to land a regular writing slot with free music paper Sandman. The Adelphi inevitably became my temple of worship, introducing local bands such as The Holy Orders, Alison Angus, Fonda 500 and My One Man Band. The Sidekicks Lounge at The Lamp on Wednesday nights hosted some of the best gigs of my time in Hull, including James Yorkston, Analogue Consumption, Park and Ride The Brightlights.

Excitement surrounded out of town acts, particularly those from the USA, from the eccentric Thomas Truax, to the ear-splitting Melt Banana and legendary “anti-folk” hero Jeffrey Lewis. They all spoke fondly of Hull, and were well aware of the city’s musical heritage

For aspiring musicians, open mic nights were ten a penny. My regular first year gig haunt was The King William IV pub on Cottingham High Street. Every Wednesday, Mike and Danny from The Bonnitts would host an open session in the back room, and a handful of scruffy indie kids – yours truly included – would bang out classic covers from Erasure to the Eagles, competing manfully against the pool tables and televised football.

The Sanctuary’s regular slot, started by the newly formed band society in 2006, was too often doomed by lack of publicity from the student union, but when it clicked it really showcased some of the best talent on offer. It was similar story at Sleepers on Newland Avenue, which regularly attracted quality artists without reaching out too far beyond its comfort zone. The daddy of all open mic experiences was Monday night at The Adelphi. Boss Paul Jackson did a tremendous job in providing a welcoming platform for young musicians to perform.

The Adelphi was also the scene of regular “scratch nights”, which allowed students to indulge their pretentions through the medium of performance art. There was cross-dressing. There was nudity. One night there was me sitting alone on the stage, hood pulled up over my head, speaking nonsense into a microphone running through a delay pedal. Quite what that achieved, I’m still not entirely sure. But it was all good fun.

When I heard the city had won the culture title, I felt moved to contact some old northern acquaintances. Tony Meech, who ran the drama department in my time and has since retired, said: “Hull has for too long gone along with outsiders’ views that it is a failing city, and that it has not celebrated its successes enough in the past. This year in the limelight should go some way to ending Hull’s status as the ‘best kept secret in Yorkshire’ – if not in the whole of England.”

Another lecturer, Sarah-Jane Dickenson, said: “This will truly raise the profile of Hull in so many ways. The next few years will be a really exciting time to be in and around Hull. This bid was for the city by the city, and it will involve many university students as the university was a major part of the bidding process.
“I’m really excited by Hull being the City of Culture 2017, it will show the world how creative Hull really is.”

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