“SCARBOROUGH at festival time is first-class cricket on holiday.”
So proclaimed former Yorkshire Post cricket correspondent JM Kilburn in a remark that resonates down the years.
Nothing encapsulates the spirit of cricket more than a visit to North Marine Road.
For generations, people have flocked to the east coast to watch the annual festival that this week celebrates its 125th anniversary.
All the greats have played at Scarborough – Bradman, Grace, Hammond, Hobbs – and sampled the unique atmosphere of cricket by the sea.
In an ephemeral era, the festival remains a source of stability, a cricketing palliative for all the game’s ills.
The spirit of Kilburn and everything he stood for – cricket in its most unadulterated sense – hangs heavy in the North Yorkshire air.
It is embedded in the red-bricked pavilion, in the timeless trappings of the Trafalgar Square end, in the very fabric of a festival that captures the essence of the county game.
Of course, the Scarborough festival began long before the first brush strokes of Kilburn’s pen.
It began as a series of first-class games between invited teams, teams made up of guest cricketers.
The inaugural Festival was comprised of four sides – Yorkshire, MCC, Scarborough and Rangers CC.
Over the years, a number of private teams have been represented – including Mr HDG Leveson-Gower’s XI, Mr TN Pearce’s XI and Lord Londesborough’s XI.
During the inter-war years, and for many summers afterwards, Mr HDG Leveson-Gower’s XI versus the tourists was often regarded as the sixth Test match.
In 1938, Leveson-Gower’s XI beat Bradman’s Australians – a team that included no fewer than six Test players.
The Australians were easily the most popular visitors to the festival until, in 1964, they refused to take part for commercial reasons and because tours had become more extensive and gruelling.
More than 15,000 spectators crammed into North Marine Road to watch Bradman captain the Aussies on their visit to Scarborough in 1948, the Don’s final first-class appearance in this country.
Typically, cricket’s greatest batsman signed off in style.
Bradman scored 153 out of the tourists’ 489-8 declared and, during the game, was made an honorary life member of Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
The Gentleman versus Players contest was another popular feature of the festivals of yore.
Games took place between 1885-1962, at which point the distinction between amateurs and professionals ended.
Thirty-eight such matches were played at the venue, the Players winning 15, the Gentlemen four, with 19 games drawn.
Sadly, many of the old style fixtures – involving such combinations as a Michael Parkinson’s XI and a Sir Tim Rice XI – have disappeared.
The festival, in many ways, is a shadow of its former self.
Yet its spirit endures through Yorkshire’s annual visits, which this week sees the club take on Sussex in the Championship and CB40 competition.
It also retains an indelible place in the players’ affections.
In an interview with the Yorkshire Post this week, Yorkshire batsman Jacques Rudolph proclaimed Scarborough as his favourite ground in the world.
Coming from someone who has played cricket all around the globe, it was no idle declaration.
Rudolph spoke of the “special aura” of North Marine Road, the “unique charm” of county cricket by the sea.
Like many of the pilgrims who have flocked here this week, the South African is a romantic at heart – a man who appreciates the game’s rich heritage.
So, happy birthday to the Scarborough Festival.
But will it live to see another 125 years?
The game, alas, is changing before our eyes; who knows what the next 25 years will bring, let alone the next 125?
But let it be pronounced from the highest rooftop: should the Scarborough Festival ever die, county cricket, too, would be pronounced dead at the scene.