View From The Downs – May 2015
by Roger Linn
Here’s a good game. On any Saturday afternoon in the summer, climb up onto the Downs – Ditchling Beacon and Devil’s Dyke are good spots – and using your binoculars, count how many cricket matches you can see. This county has always been mad on cricket and nowhere is it more true than amongst the villages that lie along what’s known as the ‘spring’ line at the foot of the Downs, from Henfield in the west to Plumpton in the east. All of the villages have their teams, some of them over two hundred years old, and there are one or two rather ‘grander’ clubs who cast their recruitment net more widely than just the local lads.
Throughout the county, cricket is played in settings which the world recognises as iconically English. There are gems like the gentle, discreet charm of Streat and Westmeston’s tiny ground, and at the other end of the scale are the manicured acres and architectdesigned pavilion of Preston Nomads at Fulking. There are clubs which are at the heart of their communities. Frantic with activity each summer weekend, entire families are involved in playing or administering the game. There are sleepy sides that play in a leisurely, recreational sort of way and clubs who have a fondness for intense, deadly serious competition. And yet, curiously, they all share a single eccentric tradition which separates cricket from any other form of team sport. They all stop for tea.
Tea will be taken halfway through the game and can be anything from mini sausage rolls and boiled eggs delivered from a car boot, to the full spread of egg and cress sandwiches, buttered scones and cream gateau. For some players and teams, tea can be the highlight of the afternoon and I know of at least one club whose match report always included an informed critique of the previous week’s sponge cake.
Eccentric or not, the cricket that is celebrated and enjoyed throughout Sussex, and which can be viewed from the Downs on summer afternoons is one of the purest pleasures of rural life.