Writing Portfolio


Cricket after work

It used to be the case that, if you wanted to go to a cricket match during the week, you had to either book leave or throw a sickie because a day's play was exactly that, starting at around 11 and ending at some point in the evening, with (of course) breaks for lunch and tea.

Back in 2003, though, some bright spark at the ECB had an idea - what about reducing the length of the game? How about, say, twenty overs a side? A match could be over and done with in around three hours. What with most major grounds having already installed floodlights, matches could be played in the evening which would allow people to go to a game after work. The TV people, they reckoned, would like the idea too.

Thus was the phenomenon that is Twenty20 created. Obviously, the rest of the cricketing world ran with the idea at a much faster pace than the English, the result being that the Indian Premier League has revolutionised the professional game in a similar way to World Series Cricket a generation ago, while no international tour is complete without some Twenty20 games.

In England, it has proved to be a very popular format; the record attendance at Lord's for a domestic fixture (not including one-day finals) is for a Twenty20 game (the London derby between Middlesex and Surrey, of course). Now I've been to Lord's for first-class county games where not much happens for several hours and there are only a few hundred spectators (in such circumstances, they don't bother opening some of the stands); it's a world away from the exciting atmosphere of a sell-out crowd at a T20 game at the same venue.

Perhaps inevitably, T20 has been accompanied by efforts to jazz the game up - although efforts to do this were already under way, coloured kits having been adopted for the fifty-over format a decade previously. Talk of doing away with the county format for T20 came to nothing, although most of the county teams went for new names, hence the Leicestershire Foxes and the Kent Spitfires (Warwickshire have gone a step further and rechristened themselves the Birmingham Bears). Some counties didn't bother (Somerset are still just Somerset) while Middlesex experimented with being the Crusaders and then the Panthers before going back to being Middlesex (more daringly, they became the first high-level men's professional team in any British sport to play in pink shirts).

They actually won the T20 Cup back in 2008 (the club's only trophy since the glory days of Mike Gatting), although the normal state of affairs has been a failure to get out of the group stage. For 2015, it has been a case of normal service with the club languishing at the bottom of the South Division of what is now the NatWest T20 Blast.

Still, just because your team is not doing too well at the moment doesn't mean you withdraw your support. Dad and I try to do an annual pilgrimage to Lord's, and in recent years our focus has been on Middlesex's T20 games (it's the after work element that I like; provided I can leave the office on time, grabbing a pastie on the way, I can get to my seat before play begins). Last Thursday they were hosting the Sussex Sharks at the Home of Cricket, and we were there among a crowd of just over 18,000.

St John's Wood Tube station was heaving, and the reason wasn't because a load of Beatles fans wanted to go to the zebra crossing on Abbey Road. There were guys up from the City in their suits (and, in a couple of cases, the MCC 'city' ties which are more discreet than the club's traditional egg-and-bacon neckwear), families in replica one-day cricket shirts, old blokes in Panama hats and groups of friends who had to meet up at the station because only one of them (usually the last one to arrive) had the tickets. Not a big game on paper, but a 6:15 start on a weekday evening guaranteed a big crowd. It was a warm day, too, although there was some cloud-cover at the start which quickly cleared for a lovely summer evening.

Sussex - sorry, the Sharks - needed to win the game to go to the top of the division. Visiting teams always seem to up their game when they come to Lord's, a phenomenon observable in the county game as well as internationally; having such a prestigious venue as your home ground can be a curse as well as a blessing! The visitors won the toss and elected to bowl first. Middlesex's batsmen did not exactly set the world on fire, averaging six an over during the power-play (the first few overs during which only two fielders are allowed in the outfield) although the odd boundary did result in some fire in front of the Mound Stand - there were some gas-bottles lined up between boundary and stand which shot out jets of flame whenever a batsman hit a four or (more rarely) a six - not that we in the stand really needed that, as it was a hot day in any case and the heat from the fire-blast wasn't exactly welcome!

Other razzmatazz came in the form of some gymnasts in pink leotards doing jumps between overs, a football-style mascot waving at the crowd (yes, Middlesex has one of those), loud music (between overs) and on the big screens there was shown a series of dance moves based on umpires' hand-signals performed by people who resembled extras from Eighties work-out videos; could this be the next big dance craze? Probably not.

On the field, Middlesex somehow made it to three figures (highest scorer: England one-day captain Eoin Morgan) while the visitors' fielding was superb; this is an aspect of cricket that has really improved over the past twenty or so years. How do they manage to throw it to within a yard of the stumps while running near the boundary? Practice makes perfect, I guess.

During any cricket match at a big venue, there comes a point when the average (adult) spectator would like a drink. Beer is overwhelmingly the beverage of choice for the cricket-watcher (it is not for nothing that Marston's Pedigree has been marketed as the England team's official beer for several years), and although the rules on bringing booze into the ground are a bit more liberal for domestic games than they are for internationals (officially you're allowed to bring in two pints but they're not as hot on searching bags at the turnstiles) most fans head for the bar at some point. But when to go? At a Test match you don't get out of your seat until the end of the over but at T20 there's more of an 'anything goes' approach, especially in stands that aren't behind the bowler's arm. 

Down at the bar, the staff had hit on the novel idea of pouring pints in advance to speed up sales, and what with the match being broadcast on TV they'd put up a screen at the back of the bar so punters wouldn't miss anything exciting (and in the fast-paced world of T20, you could miss something exciting - a boundary, a wicket - very easily); I caught at least one Middlesex wicket - a well-taken outfield catch - in this way.

Middlesex's innings ended on 133 for 8, and after a quick (ie. barely enough time to queue for both the gent's and the bar) the Sussex reply started; from the off, it was obvious that they were the better team with 12 runs being scored off the first over. England international Luke Wright raced towards a fifty (he was eventually out just short, at 47) and we got chatting with our fellow-spectators; not just Sussex fans (they'd got the train up from Brighton for this) but groundstaff from the County Ground at Hove; one of them was a former professional while another didn't actually work for Sussex but ran the pub that the groundstaff like to drink in; they had a spare ticket so they invited him along!

As the beer flowed, the crowd became more raucous, although they'd been loud to begin with, albeit in an excited rather than a rowdy way; this, I thought to myself, was a snapshot of the modern-day English at leisure. Cricket, beer and sunshine; what more could we have asked for?

Sussex, of course, won the game at a canter, knocking off the winning runs with five overs to spare for the loss of just three wickets. Satisfied with our latest Lord's experience (if not the result, which in the context of such a great atmosphere didn't seem to matter so much), we made our way home, getting the bus across to Camden so we could hit the Northern Line and avoid the crowds at St John's Wood.

A key ritual of the London summer, going to a cricket match at Lord's, had been completed.

No comments: