Photographer Mark Doherty shares his thoughts on a visit to Pannal Ash where their first team were playing Ben Rhydding seconds.
A little time travel, back a few years to just before the pandemic…
I stood at the side of the ground and looked shocked at how long the grass was and appalled at the disrepair the clubhouse was in. There was definitely no cricket being played there on that particular Saturday.
I checked the website and social media…Pannal Ash were supposed to be playing at home…maybe they were on a second pitch around the side of the nursery that bordered the seemingly abandoned ground?
Twenty minutes of wandering, going back to the website, chatting with the people running the nursery and scratching my head…I realised that they’d moved. I didn’t have the league handbook, so wouldn’t be able to find where they actually were that day.
‘Plan B’ was invoked, and I headed for the next club I wanted to visit and get images of. At the same time, I made plans to come back and get photos of the phantom team.
Pannal Ash CC is a club that I’ve wanted to visit for quite a while, intrigued by the slow degradation of the ground that is literally within a stones-throw of where I live and a pavilion that must have once looked, in my mind’s eye, quintessentially English.
The earliest reference I can immediately find for the club, is a league fixture against Kettlesing on the 22nd June 1901, but I want to do more research to see if I can piece together a better history of the club.
Travelling back to the present…
The club has been through some turbulent times, culminating in them leaving their ground, which is now being slowly reclaimed by nature and earmarked for new houses as Harrogate marches relentlessly ever closer to Beckwithshaw.
England manager, Gareth Southgate and his son played for the club, as recently as 2016. For the record, Gareth scored 22 not out in a game against Spofforth seconds that Pannal Ash won by five wickets.
Passing the ground over the past decade, I’ve documented the deterioration of the pavilion as and when I had a few moments to walk along the road and gain a good vantage point.
Covid foiled my plans to attend a game in 2020 and with commitments elsewhere, I put this out of my mind until November 2022.
A combination of bad weather and noticing that new barriers had been erected around the ground, brought those plans back into focus. I checked the website and emailed club officials – but the address still pointed to the derelict Bluecote Wood Ground and I didn’t get a response to my emails.
I contacted the league, and they provided me with the address from the handbook – they were playing in Little Ribston…around six miles from the old ground.
Pannal Ash play in Division Seven of the Theakston Nidderdale League, in the grounds of Ribston Hall and that posed another obstacle to covering the game.
Pulling off the main road to the entrance to the estate, there was a set of electronic gates with a keypad and no intercom. Luckily, I had travelled with my son Connor, and he headed off down the footpath to the club to ask for the keycode to get in.
Running back to the car, he stopped to type in the numbers on the keypad and the gates opened in a lazy, slow sweep, totally in keeping with the hot midday conditions.
We drove down the first part of the driveway before pulling off to the right, along the grass track to the car park next to the ground, decanting from the 4×4 quickly as we could see that the game had already started.
Grabbing camera, stool and monopod, we walked through the open gate and past the back of the scorers, trying to work out the best position to start capturing images. To our relief, we’d only missed one over and seven runs.
The ground is compact, with a small pavilion and surrounded by fields of longer grass that would make finding balls hit out of the ground challenging.
Pannal Ash first team were playing Ben Rhydding seconds and the visitors were batting. With the ground featuring a rather short boundary, I was expecting plenty of runs, but with both teams bowling well, this wasn’t to prove the case.
Wickets fell reasonably regularly during the first innings of 40 overs, with the run rate starting slow but gathering pace as the innings progressed.
Charlotte Ashton may have only scored five runs in total, but stayed at the crease for quite a while and played some superb shots before misjudging the flight of a ball and being bowled by Pradeep Angoor.
Brent Thompson and Michael Hillas helped to build up the total with 31 and 33 respectively, but the fireworks were left for what was supposed to be the final ball of the innings.
The batsmen had had a quick conference in the centre – I always like to think that the discussion goes along the lines of…’get a bat on the ball and run, no matter what’.
As they retreated to either end of the 22 yards, the bowler and captain of Pannal Ash approached each other and also had a chat and then got into position. The slight delay in bowling the final ball added to a surprising sense of tension.
I aimed the camera at the batsman as the final ball of any innings is usually smashed away in a blaze of enthusiasm, missed completely by a good delivery, or a wicket is taken in spectacular style.
In ran the bowler and…a moment of uncertainty as the ball didn’t appear in my viewfinder.
A loud appeal and voices raised diverted my attention to the other end. The bowler had whipped the bails off the wickets at the non-batting end.
A Mankad! No! Really?!
The umpire gave it out, the batsman walked, and voices were raised. It seemed for a minute or two that tempers could get out of hand and it took a little while for the teams to reset and the final ball of the innings to be delivered.
As the two teams walked from the field, tempers flared again and voices were raised, it appeared that things could get out of hand and various players had to have teammates step in the way to avert things from becoming even more heated.
The teams retreated to their changing rooms and doors were slammed shut. It all felt a little surreal as there seemed to be just me and Connor in the field on our own at that point!
This was pure theatre and passion…the reason I love covering sport at all levels and what connects every level between international and grassroots.
Almost forgotten was the total of 160 for 9 by Ben Rhydding seconds, perhaps a little low for this ground, but maybe with emotions and adrenalin running high, who knew?
Pannal Ash came out to bat and immediately set about hitting the visitor’s bowlers around the ground, with Karthick Ganesan and Srikanth Basavaraya looking in good form and hitting boundaries.
As each ball went over the boundary and immediately through the fence that has seen better days…there were quite a few forays into the adjacent fields to search through the long grass.
Then the sickening sound that all cricketers dread…a short ball was duly despatched with a real heft, arcing up and over the pavilion with everyone holding their breath as they waited for the inevitable.
With cars hidden in behind the building, a moment after the ball disappeared from sight came the sound of leather on metal. As clean a sound as you will hear.
Ball met white car and one of the Ben Rhydding players said “I don’t want to know” – but obviously understanding that his car now had a ball-shaped dent.
Pannal Ash were relentless in their pursuit of the total, hitting boundaries on a regular basis and running as many singles as they could. Given the hot conditions, it was to be expected that a player would go down with cramp and that duly happened, interrupting play with only around 30 runs left.
A boundary saw the home team reach the required total, winning by five wickets and both teams came together to shake hands and finish the league fixture in a way that seemed impossible around 90 minutes earlier.
The takeaways from this game? Clubs need to update their details on websites, ensure that they do have social media working for them (in fact they should ensure they have at least one social media platform to push out information), and try and promote visitors.
I know that this is something that’s been covered in the past on here, and clubs do need to embrace. Promoting their clubs will bring in visitors to watch games, generate revenue from sales of food and drink [if available], and help recruit new players.
Will I be back…almost certainly…but with so many unfulfilled requests to visit other clubs, it may be next season before our paths cross again. However, I always love getting to grounds that are hidden away from the main roads, down small tracks and isolated by trees and fields.
Overall, an intriguing day at cricket. Plenty of action, emotion and talking points…what more could you want?
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