April 10 2018: West Indian summer

If ever a picture spoke 1,000 words, it’s Ashington secretary Gavin Perry’s in response to a query about tonight’s prospects of play.

Gav emails an image of the Woodhorn Lane ground taken this morning and more closely resembling the Commonwealth Games pool. “Very doubtful,” he adds, perhaps unnecessarily.

The elder bairn, who works from Newcastle and was also headed for Ashington v Shildon, responds gloomily to the news. “Scotswood Road’s like a river,” he says and – of course – almost everything else is postponed, too.

The plan was to have had a bit of tea in the Ashington Wetherspoons, called The Rohan Kanhai after the legendary West Indian cricketer with an improbable local connection.

Rohan Bholalall Kanhai, now 82, played in 79 tests, top scored with 256, made another 14 centuries, averaged 47.53 and ended his career as captain. Yet most summers he’d cheerfully – always cheerfully – head to play his cricket in a mid-Northumberland pit town much better known for its footballers.

Brian Bennett, omniscient press officer to Ashington’s football and cricket clubs for more than 40 years, probably knows the great man’s Northumberland League stats as well.

Kanhai wasn’t alone. His compatriot Lance Gibbs, who is a year older and also played 79 tests, claiming 309 wickets at 29.09, probably spent even more summers at Whitburn, on the north Durham coast. Whitburn doesn’t have a Wetherspoons, otherwise there’d probably be a second West Indian so recognised. Lance couldn’t bat for toffee, mind, not even in the Durham Senior League.

Blackhall for several summers enjoyed the services of the majestic West Indian batsman Clayton Lambert; Horden, up the road, was long the seasonal home of Derick Parry, a spinner who played 12 tests for the Windies and became greatly loved (and greatly successful) on the Durham coast.

I recall interviewing him one late April evening, shortly after his annual migration. The weather was a bit like today only four top coats colder. Lovely bloke, he didn’t half look miserable.

They weren’t all West Indian. Shildon BR in the early 80s had a pro called Chris Matthews who went straight from the Durham County League (RIP) to the Australian test team; Bishop Auckland became so much a second home for the great Kiwi all-rounder Lance Cairns that his son Chris – who followed him into the New Zealand team – even went to school there.

They reckoned Chris a dab hand on the clubhouse bandit, too.

There’s a famous picture of  Lance, again at the end of April, gazing out over a Bishop Auckland ground completely covered in snow. The theme is clear: when it comes to the great British weather, there’s nothing new under the sun.

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