The quaint county surroundings make for great cricket viewing.
The greens and the air, an intense contest between the bat and the ball; what if only a few turn up. Fred Raffle loves it when the crowd is scarce.
“I can hear the ball hitting the bat, fielders running around.” He can only hear cricket, can’t watch it.
The 73-year-old has played blind cricket for England. “It was a dream.” And he has travelled the world to support the English team. “That was another dream too.”
Enjoying his cricket with a group they call the Geriatric Army, Fred is at peace even as the din rises at the fall of an England wicket.
Not a handicap
Loss of eye sight is not a handicap. Fred is well informed and well-versed with the game. “I have played it.”
Seated next to him is John Rhodes, armed with a scorebook. On Fred’s left is Andrew Tipple, 38, who is the dedicated commentator for the old man. Behind them is Richard Fairhead, a keen student of the game at 70-plus.
Rhodes takes his business seriously. Two young fans obstruct his views and Rhodes snaps, “Sit down mate, thanks you” as the lads duck in fear.
“Move around between overs,” Fairhead advises them gently.
Cricket with these passionate followers is fun as they observe and debate the fortunes of England.
Gautam Gambhir makes a fine save and Fairhead goes, “well fielded young man.” The sun and the “atmosphere” is what draws this 30-man group out of “cold and depressing” England in winter.
“It is very cold back home and there is nothing like cricket and sunshine.” It is sweeter when the team does well too.
“Four more for the England,” comes the refrain from the Barmy Army as Joe Root cuts Piyush Chawla. Rhodes quickly documents the happening in his sheet and Tipple describes it for Fred. Tipple is the substitute when the radio commentary switches to “Hindi.”
The radio is Fred’s inseparable companion at the cricket ground. When there was no commentary during England’s 2006 tour to India, Duncan Fletcher put in a word for Fred and he travelled in “regal” company.
Fred was in the same vehicle as Ian Botham, David Gower, Nasser Hussain and Michael Atherton and was a welcome guest in the Sky Sports studio. Next day the commentary was restored and Fred was back in the stands where he enjoys his cricket the most.
Fred met Tipple at Kolkata last week and the two struck a friendship. The 38-year-old Tipple worked as the ground staff at Sheffield United Cricket Club. “It is where (Joe) Root grew up,” he informs with pride.
Tipple takes care of giving Fred every little detail, from weather to pitch behaviour to field settings. “Andrew is a very good commentator,” Fred compliments.
For Fred, cricket is all about visualisation. “Having played the game I know the positions. But cricket for me is in whites. I can’t connect when they say one team is in blue and the other in orange. That’s why I don’t like one-day cricket.”
And T20? “Not at all!”
His passion for cricket has taken Fred on 25 tours with the England team and “68” Test grounds. His group has loved the Jamtha and the people at the Vidarbha Cricket Association.
“It’s a lovely, clean and most spectator friendly stadium. The security is gentle and entry to the venue smooth,” adds Fairhead. A nod from Fred invites a wink from Tipple.
The players are back from lunch. The hearing plugs return to Fred’s ears. Rhodes is ready with his pen and scorebook.
Tipple and Fairhead expect an English dominance. The Barmy Army is boisterous and the Indians fans responsive too. Test cricket is at its best at Jamtha.