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Thirty not out — photographing the Church Times Cricket Cup

31 August 2018

Richard Watt looks back over three decades of photographing the Church Times Cricket Cup

richard watt

Andrew Gandon, for London, hooks a shot in the 2000 final. See gallery above for more of Richard Watt’s photos

Andrew Gandon, for London, hooks a shot in the 2000 final. See gallery above for more of Richard Watt’s photos

THIS year will be the 68th Church Times Cricket Cup Final — and my 60th birthday. For half of my life, therefore, I have photographed this annual cricket match.

The match has always been held on the first Thursday of September at the Walker Ground, Southgate, in north London, since the competition was begun in 1951.

The ground, a mile from the Tube station, is a picturesque place, and is of county-cricket standard. The focal point is the steeple of Christ Church, which nestles among London plane trees just across the road at the southern end.

My first outing to the final, in 1988, was a washout: the game between London and Liverpool was rained off and rescheduled to the following spring. I had arrived with Nikon cameras, a tripod, and ten rolls of black-and-white film, most of which remained unused in my camera bag.

Undeterred, I returned in 1989 for another go, and this time the weather was fine. The then Bishop of Oxford, now Lord Harries, was there to see his team beat Rochester by 74 runs. The Church Times editor at that time, the late Dr Bernard Palmer, broke with tradition by awarding the cup to a spectator: Canon Hugh Pickles, “by popular acclaim”, because Pickles had been influential in launching the competition.

richard wattrichard watt

DURING the late 1980s, I was embarking on a career in Fleet Street as a press photographer, and was building up regular freelance work with The Scotsman and The Daily Telegraph.

In September 1990, I rang the Telegraph picture desk to offer them pictures of the clergy cricket final. Again, Oxford had beaten Rochester, and the Telegraph showed some interest, probably because they had a hole to fill and their readership then included many of the clergy.

After the game, I drove to Fleet Street and got all of my films processed and a second set of prints made. Although the picture editor was disappointed that the players were not in clerical garb, my picture of Oxford’s Munna Mitra hitting a four was published on the court-and-social pages the next day. The new Church Times editor, John Whale, had decided that Mitra should receive the Man of the Match award with 58 runs not out.

Oxford won the next two finals — 1991 and 1992 — beating London and Salisbury. The Oxford v. London match presented a family dilemma for Canon Keith Weston, the Norwich diocesan director of ordinands: his two clergy sons, Stephen and Paul, were playing on opposite teams. To London’s chagrin, the Man of the Match award went to Mitra for the second time: he had scored an entertaining 70 runs.

The highlight of the 1992 game was Salisbury’s 65-year-old opening bowler Philip Morgan, who took four wickets for 23 runs and became Man of the Match. Oxford prevailed once again, however, winning by 96 runs and taking the cup for the fourth time.

richard wattPhilip Morgan

In 1993, Oxford faced Liverpool, in a final which produced one of the most nail-biting finishes in the competition’s history. Oxford scored 168 runs all out in 49 of their allotted 50 overs. The match looked evenly balanced, right to the last over. Liverpool needed two runs off the last ball to tie scores. An overthrow from an eager fielder gave them the runs: they also made 168 runs, thus winning by one wicket and ending Oxford’s reign.

The 1994 final — which was preceded in March by the birth of my first daughter, Eloise — saw Oxford return to Southgate, where they beat Southwell in a close match. Oxford’s Andrew Wingfield Digby was named Man of the Match, scoring 104 not out. He later served as a chaplain to the London Olympics.

The 1995 final, the first under the present editor, was again a washout. But a page had been set aside in the next issue for the match report. The paper led its coverage with my picture of a groundsman, Kevin Stone, trying to dry out the two pitches with a mobile heater, above the headline, “Play stops drought”. The two finalists — Liverpool and London — shared the cup.

The same teams met again in the next year’s final. That year, the weather held, and the cup was not to be shared: London won comfortably. About this time, Humphrey Carpenter’s candid biography of Lord Runcie was published. Two years later, at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, I met Lord Runcie, and captured him umpiring a charity match organised by the Church Times during a break from proceedings.

richard wattLord Runcie

During the past three decades, I have photographed four Archbishops of Canterbury: Runcie, Carey, Williams, and Welby.

When George Carey was appointed in 1991, the Telegraph sent me to Wells to cover the official photocall. On the way there, the picture desk rang to ask for shots in black-and-white and colour (the newspaper was transitioning to part-colour, and the news editor was not sure which would be required). The Archbishop-elect sat patiently with his wife as a scrum of photographers took photos. Then he said, “OK, thank you, gentlemen.” I interrupted: “Hang on a tick, Your Grace; I need to shoot some colour now.” I was given another minute.

THE 1997 final took place against the backdrop of significant events in the country: the election of Tony Blair as Prime Minister in May, and the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Mother Teresa, which both occurred days before the final. It was also the year that my second daughter, Lydia, was born.

In the final that year, Oxford chalked up another victory, against Chester. Andrew Wingfield Digby shone again, making 106 runs.

Photography was also on the cusp of change at this time. I had been using colour film and scanning negatives for years, sending the pictures to the Church Times using an antiquated analogue modem that often crashed during transmission. Digital cameras were appearing on the market, and, like many of my colleagues, I jumped in with both feet and started shooting digital.

Although technological advances were exciting, the cricket finals were becoming boringly predicable: London v. Oxford, London v. Oxford. . .

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Then, in 2005, the mould was broken, when Salisbury and Chester reached the final. With the expert assistance of the Church Times’s adopted cricket correspondent, Stephen Fay, of The Independent on Sunday, I covered this match and bagged a full front-page colour picture of Salisbury celebrating their 170 for 1 win.

The next year, London returned to the final and beat Exeter, who were first-time finalists. It was a cracking match: the highlight was London’s Jez Barnes, who scored 131 runs. On the other side, the Bishop of Plymouth, the Rt Revd John Ford, was out for a duck.

In 2007, I started a new job as the British Army Picture Editor and Chief Photographer, and took lodgings near Salisbury during the week. But I was still able to shoot the Church Times final. My year was spent, therefore, photographing soldiers 99 per cent of the time and clergy cricketers for the remaining one per cent.

Two new diocesan teams made the final in 2007: Guildford and Birmingham, only the second time in almost two decades when neither Oxford nor London were in the final. Guildford, who put on 206 all out, won convincingly after Birmingham were all out for 83.

The next four finals were won by London (2008), Salisbury (2009), Lichfield (2010) , and Guildford (2011).

Then, in 2012, Southwark — who had not reached a final since 1975 — produced a shock victory over London, with just two balls to spare (Comment, 18 May). Southwark’s victory was also memorable for the team’s including a woman, Leah Philbrick, who opened the bowling.

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SINCE 2013, London has dominated the tournament, winning the past five finals (three time against Lichfield). Next Thursday, London will be trying for a sixth victory, this time facing Bristol.

Cast your minds back to 2011, not when Guildford met Lichfield, but when England met Ireland in the Cricket World Cup. England took control and made 327 runs, Ireland lost a wicket on the first ball, and so things did not look good for the Irish.

Then Kevin O’Brien, from Dublin, took to the crease, and his total mastery of the game won Ireland the match beating England by three wickets.

Perhaps Bristol can find the luck of the Irish on 6 September.

London play Bristol in the 2018 Church Times Cricket Cup Final will take place on Thursday 6 September at the Walker Cricket Ground, Waterfall Road, Southgate, London N14 7JZ. All are welcome.

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