Monday, 29 July 2013

Turner

Mention turner to most cricketers and they will think of a dry dusty strip where the ball deviates 90 degrees on landing.  They will think of the sub-continent.  They will call to mind surfaces that show the skills of Warne or Murali or Swan.  They will envision batsmen groping as if in the dark as the ball bites and spits.  While some of them may purr with pleasure at the thought, if they are anything like Fantasy Bob the blood will drain from their face and they will need to sit down.  For as Fantasy Bob's worldwide readership of 3 realise, to FB facing leg spin bowling on a soggy Scottish wicket is a trial with only one outcome.  Facing it on a dry sun-baked track would be - frankly - just asking too much. He would explode.

So when he hears the word turner, FB's thoughts go elsewhere.  To the man who to his mind is the greatest painter these islands have produced.  Joseph Mallord William Turner - the painter of light, the great landscape artist and water colourist.  Now there was a Turner.

Turner lived from 1775 to 1851 and while these may, due to his efforts, have been significant years in the development of painting, they were also significant years in the development of cricket. Not much is known of Turner as a cricketer.  However alone among great painters he did portray cricket in his work on occasion.  Cricket sits naturally in his landscapes.

The first example that FB is aware of is shown below



It is a watercolour of Wells Cathedral painted in 1795, an energetic game clearly in progress, even though the off side boundary looks a bit short.  These days the area in front of the Cathedral is grassed over and it must be tempting to local cricketers to pitch their stumps there and get on with it as in Turner's day, except that the immaculate playing fields of Wells Cathedral School are close by. The most celebrated cricketer to have come out of the school is Glamorgan left arm seamer Malcolm Nash, who will always be remembered as the bowler from whom Gary Sobers hit six successive sixes in 1968.  But FB diogresses.

The second Turner example is a mixed media sketch called Cricket at Goodwin Sands, executed in 1828.



Turner must have observed this for cricket on the sands at low water had been a regular event since 1824, instituted by Captain K. Martin, then the Harbourmaster at Ramsgate, An annual match was played until 2003. In 2006 a crew filming a reconstruction of this match for the BBC television series Coast had to be rescued by the lifeboat.  Whether there is a lifeboat just over the horizon in Turner's picture is uncertain.

Turner may have ventured to Goodwin during one of his stays at Petworth in Sussex where he was a frequent guest of George Wyndham 3rd Earl of Egremont, a noted patron of Turner and other British artists. Petworth House is now a National Trust property and contains many fine works of art including several by Turner.

One of the most celebrated examples is, in reality, a cricketing picture.


Its formal title is The Lake, Petworth: Sunset, Fighting Bucks and it was painted in 1829. Closer inspection reveals the following detail


An evening 20-20 clearly in progress. Sadly while there is considerable detail it is difficult to infer from this picture, or indeed the Goodwin Sands sketch, what Turner's view of the roundarm controversy which was hot in cricket at the time. For in 1827, MCC modified Rule 10 to permit the bowler’s hand to be raised as high as the elbow. But, in practice, Sussex bowlers William Lillywhite and Jem Broadbridge continued to bowl at shoulder height without being no-balled.

While the Egremont family does not seem to have included cricketers, not long after this painting the Petworth Cricket Club was was briefly a major cricket team, playing five known first-class matches from 1844 to 1845. The club, which played its home games at Petworth Park New Ground, currently the home venue of Petworth Park Cricket Club.  There are no pictures by Turner of its members in action.  More's the pity.


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