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Sunday, August 30, 1998 Published at 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK

Playing cricket on Lord Lucan's pitch

Cricketing traditions die hard in Castlebar

The Irish love their sport. But cricket is one game that has so far failed to capture the public imagination - or has it? The BBC's Kieran Cooke reports.

The stumps were made out of shovel handles, slightly thicker than the regulation cricket kit, but they looked the part - which could not be said about some members of our team. The newly formed County Mayo Cricket Club struggled to field 11 players.

An Anglo-Irish relic who played in a pair of ancient plimsolls with no laces was an early casualty: chasing his cocker spaniel from the pitch he sprained an ankle.

I had been lent a pair of white trousers for the occasion: unfortunately most of the buttons were missing. Straining to make a throw from the boundary I felt a rush of wind round my legs. The three women sitting on the bench behind were poleaxed with laughter.

[ image: Lord Lucan: Among Castlebar's aristocrats]
Lord Lucan: Among Castlebar's aristocrats
The match, against a civil service team from Dublin, was played on the square in the west of Ireland town of Castlebar. For more than 200 years the town has been associated with the Lucan family.

At one stage this aristocratic family - one of whose members famously rode into battle for the British Crown in the charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War - controlled more than 60,000 acres in and around Castlebar.

In 1974, the seventh earl, Lord Lucan, disappeared. A nanny in the family's London household had been murdered, Lord Lucan's estranged wife attacked. Since then the earl has allegedly been sighted riding horses in South America and on luxury yachts off South Africa.

Castlebar's landlord

The police have never tracked Lord Lucan down. His son insists he is dead: the absent earl is still technically landlord to many people in Castlebar. We played our match on what the older locals refer to as "Lucan's cricket pitch". Perhaps his Lordship, or his ghost - was watching.

It was a game characterised more by enthusiasm than cricketing prowess. With our opponents batting first we committed serious fielding errors but also produced some heroic moments.

A former English first division footballer now living in the west of Ireland, drafted into the team for no other reason than at least he had played some sport in his life, made a dazzling overhead catch.

We were helped by two stars originally from Pakistan - Wakir and Ahmed - doctors in the local hospital - and Ahmed's 14-year-old son, who spoke in a broad west of Ireland accent and bowled with devastating accuracy. The civil service was all out for 60 runs.

Spencer connection

During an extended rest period in a local bar there was more talk about the Lucans and Castlebar. "The whole town" said a man cradling a dark pint, "is dancing with history. We still keep up with all the aristocracy." The Lucans married into the Spencers. Lady Diana's family has a street in the town named after it. Last St Patrick's day there was a Lord Lucan and Lady Diana look-alike competition in the town.

I was number nine in the batting order: at first it looked as though I would not need to present myself at the crease. The crowd, of at least 20 by now, shouted encouragement as our batsmen hit out. But then players started running into their own stumps and giving away easy catches.

As I put on my pads, we had 58 runs on the board, chasing their 60, as I watched the bowler start his long run up. I steeled myself, recalling the occasion, some years ago, when Ireland had defeated the West Indies - due, some said, to the after effects felt by the visitors from a tour round a local brewery.

Somehow, I connected with the ball. It sprang off a fielder's foot and darted on. Doctor Ahmed and I ran furiously between the wickets, so carried away we did not even stop after our team had won.

I now look forward to a glamorous career with the Mayo cricket club: there is talk of a return match in Dublin. We might even go on tour.

But nothing could possibly equal scoring those winning runs on Lucan's pitch.

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