Outgrounds – Middlesex

Dan Whiting looks at the stories behind some of the venues that Middlesex have used over the years

Middlesex might be synonymous with Lord’s but it was at Southgate that the county were founded. The Walkers were a wealthy local family with an estate covering 600 acres at nearby Arnos Grove. John Walker was the eldest of seven brothers who all played for Middlesex and was described as a right-handed bat and right arm slow underarm bowler!

John gave the ground to the people of Southgate and paid for the ground to be rolled and pummelled. VE Walker was described as being on a par with WG Grace by many and took ten wickets in a match in 1859 before becoming the first captain of Middlesex.

Southgate CC who play on the ground were formed in 1854 with Middlesex CCC being formed in 1864, although cricket was played in North London from the 1700s. The White Conduit Ground was where the Marylebone CC started in Islington. Southgate

Adelaide who share the ground, were formed in 1870 as the village side, who were rumoured not to have been allowed to play with the gentry. The villagers therefore set up their own club with Adelaide being the name of the first team captain’s daughter.

The Walkers would regularly host top sides and crowds of up to 10,000 would pack the venue, as sides like Gentlemen of England played there. The railway was built at New Southgate to bring the masses out of London to the suburbs. The ground was originally known as Chapel Fields, before becoming John Walker’s Ground and is now known as the Walker Cricket Ground.

Southgate is a glorious ground, dominated by the spire of Christ Church on Waterfall Road. Connections with the clergy have always been prominent here with cricket not allowed to be played on a Sunday until just after the Second World War while the ground has often hosted the Church Times final. Players such as the Rt Rev David Sheppard and Rev Andrew Wingfield Digby have graced this historic arena.

Southgate has always had a reputation as a turning wicket. Philip Tufnell may not be known for his ecclesiastical roots but he started his club career here, either bowling up the hill from the Waterfall Road End or down the hill from the Adelaide End.

The Walker Ground has always been one of the more popular outgrounds on the circuit. It is the prettiest of the London venues and it was here that the record for the Middlesex opening stand was set. In 1998 Mike Gatting and Justin Langer amassed 372 versus Essex, with Gatting scoring a double hundred on a ground that he still visits regularly.

A year later Virender Sehwag hit the church and also smashed a bar window as he got a quickfire 130 between tea and the close of play. A young James Taylor scored a match-saving hundred here, too, for Leicestershire and the ground has hosted training facilities for a number of international sides during ODI and T20I World Cups.

The ground is in a conservation area close to Southgate Green and in an area now home to many of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots of North London, the waft of grilled meats and barbecues from neighbouring houses can often be a pleasant backdrop to the cricket. Middlesex haven’t played here for a number of years and it is a shame. As a county Middlesex was originally north of the Thames, and west of the River Lea and the ‘postal’ county still exists locally to here. There is a huge catchment area on the Piccadilly Line and with the underground station up the road just 20 minutes from Kings Cross, Middlesex are missing a trick by not playing here.

Middlesex have also got a big catchment area in the west of London although they tap into this community far more than their northerly counterparts. Uxbridge has been used since 1980, with the big South African Vintcent van der Bijl picking up ten wickets in the match here.

It had the reputation as one of the quickest wickets in the country and the likes of Norman Cowans and Wayne Daniel would enjoy peppering the batsmen as the hum of traffic on the nearby main carriageway was a constant backdrop to the play. Uxbridge is a functional venue with a Seventies pavilion in the corner but decent facilities.

Nearby in the West, is Merchant Taylor’s School. Situated in Northwood and close to the home club of Middlesex president and former leg-spinner Harry Latchman, it has excellent facilities. Under the tutorship of ex-Somerset player Tom Webley, it has a total of 12 squares. With indoor and outdoor nets, the school has a reputation for producing outstanding cricketing talent. A quaint pavilion perched upon four white columns, with a scoreboard seated precariously on its front is in the corner, with leafy flora cascading from the roof.

It is a most unusual pavilion and adds to the character of the ground. Unfortunately Middlesex had a game totally washed out here a couple of years ago but they have used a different ground on the school in recent years. It is the newest first-class venue in the country and hundreds from Sam Robson, Adam Voges and John Simpson were scored here this season.

Middlesex have used a couple of grounds outside the old county boundaries. Richmond is (horror upon horrors) south of the River Thames in Old Deer Park, a venue which Middlesex have used this season. A T20 game against Glamorgan on the ground bordering the London Welsh RFC clubhouse was well attended. London Scottish and Richmond RFC are close by. The area was once the hunting ground of James I and although deer don’t interrupt play here nowadays, they do at nearby Teddington.

Middlesex are also starting to utilise Radlett in Hertfordshire. A beautiful pavilion just off the old Roman Watling Street is the centrepiece of the ground and Middlesex train here in pre-season, often putting up a plastic greenhouse around the main square.

This has been an attempt to try to replicate early season conditions in England as opposed to the dry dustbowls of Dubai. The gripe from fans, though, is that Radlett is difficult to get o by public transport and isn’t in London.

Grounds at Chelsea have been used and the now defunct Barnet CC once staged a 2nd XI fixture which was abandoned before lunch due to the quality of the pitch, much to the chagrin of the then coach, Clive Radley.

Middlesex are forced to use their outgrounds due to the amount of other commercial usage at Lord’s. Middlesex don’t own Lord’s; it belongs to the MCC.

They pay a rent at headquarters to the MCC and despite crowds of 27,000 packing the venue for certain T20 games, there is a school of thought among certain fans that Middlesex are rumoured to be better off taking cricket to their outgrounds where they make more money, despite smaller attendances.

In recent years Lord’s has hosted two Tests per year along with Olympic archery, ODIs, World Cup finals and a host of events, ‘evicting’ tenants Middlesex to the outgrounds.

A county rich in history and talent, Middlesex currently sit on top of Division One of the County Championship with a healthy lead.

As one of the capital’s clubs they have a pivotal role to play in the talent pool of English cricket. The Middlesex County League has been one of the strongest in the country for a number of years.

Middlesex have a rich heritage of festival cricket. The people of the north of the county would like to see it return to where it all started.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday August 19 2016

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