Summer 2016

Sri Lanka - Headingley Test Review

Headingley in May. Whilst we were not expecting great weather, the word 'unsettled' so beloved of the forecasters did not do it justice.

After an uneventful journey from Gods Country (Lancashire) to Injun Country (Yorkshire) Higgy and myself arrived at our seats to find that England had lost the toss, and been inserted. The ground was about half full, with the sparse crowd boosted by sections of noisy kids with their banging balloons, their teachers probably having taken a cue from the recent 'authorised absence' court decision - bugger teaching them to read and write, let's all have a day at the cricket studying the Western Terrace!

A large selection of rip off food outlets were in situ within the ground and my personal highlight was a stall offering baked potatoes at the bargain price of only £5 each. Fillings were extra. Unsurprisingly, at this particular stall, there was no queue.

As the players trotted out we noticed they were all wearing black armbands and there was some conjecture as to why. Liverpool's Europa Cup Calamity the previous night, perhaps?

A very sedate start on the field and the main discussion point was whether Cook would reach the 36 runs he needed to become the youngest player to accumulate 10,000 runs. This question was answered in the negative just before lunch when Cook wafted at a ball outside off stump and nicked off. He was quickly followed by Compton and Root, both for ducks. Sri Lankan bowler Dasun Shanaka took 3-6 on debut in a fifteen minute spell, not a bad effort considering Geoffrey Boycotts repeated urgings on radio that:

"This bowling attack couldn't get my mother and grandmother out....."

In front of where we were sat was a Man Mountain of considerable weight and girth who seemed to require the toilet every twenty minutes or so. Looking like an extra from 'Game of Thrones', this monstrous figure took almost a full over to ponderously clamber along his row each time, causing some consternation to his fellow spectators and a fair degree of amusement to ourselves.

At lunch the weather improved somewhat and at one point a strange yellow ball appeared amidst the clouds. This was Higgy's cue to disappear to the Headingley Taps with the Barmy Army Drinking Team, whilst your writer bravely stuck it out at the ground watching England subside.

Vince drove the wrong ball and was dismissed for 9. Stokes hit three majestic fours, then tamely holed out.

Suddenly England are 83-5, and I begin to hope that Mrs Boycott (either mum or granny) is due in next to bail us out.

The one batsman everyone expected to be out, however, is still in. Alex Hales has reverted to defensive mode and is clearly determined to make a score. He is joined by Jonny Bairstow, who bats entertainingly and expansively, and England recover to 171-5 at tea. Agonisingly, I am holding a tea-score bingo card from Yorkshire Tea offering a years free supply of tea if the interval score is 170. Damn you, Bairstow, for taking that last single.

That is it for the day, as the rain sets in, and we both adjourn to the Taps to drink with the Barmies. I meet a pleasant couple called Chris and Carol, ex-Liverpool and now living in Auckland, New Zealand. Amongst other things, I learn that Billy Bowden's 'crooked dismissal finger' is not a gimmick, but in fact caused by severe arthritis!

Higgy and I visit a couple of decent hostelries on our journey home, finishing off with a local delicacy for our evening meal - steak pudding, chips and gravy from the Chinese Take Away food outlet - to give this shop its politically correct description. I don't want to end up in hot water like Dave Whelan!

Whit Friday dawns and in my part of the world a pagan festival called the Band Contest occurs on this day every year. Over 100 brass bands march through the local villages strutting their stuff, and this is of course accompanied by frenetic alcohol consumption. A Wicker Man is being constructed on the village green, and visitor Higgy seems a little perturbed about his possible role in proceedings. As we reach the station at 9am roads are already being closed to accommodate the festivities. When we board the train to Leeds we find ourselves sat at a table opposite two loved up yuppies, who even have matching laptops out, and they entertain us with their yuppie computer-age conversation before lapsing into a bout of prolonged and inappropriate snogging.

If only Barbara Cartland had been writing her love stories in today's computer era.

"She sighed gently as he inserted his dongle into her laptop slot....."

The yuppies were blissfully unaware of a family of scouse 'Flintstones' - on their way to the Western Terrace of course - who were stood behind them, guffawing as they gleefully tucked into a cool bag full of Magner's cider, already halfway to oblivion.

On arrival at the ground we learned the true reason for the players black armbands, with the funeral of Tony Cozier due in Barbados later that afternoon.

Respect, man.

The mornings cricket continued in entertaining vein with Jonny Bairstow rapidly overhauling Hales, who sadly holed out rather unadvisedly on 86 after doing all the spadework.

A mini procession then ensued with Moin Ali out for a duck - he will be running out of credit in some peoples eyes unless performances improve - and Broad, bouncing in like Bambi, and then bouncing out again two minutes later after a rash drive. All this to the consternation of the local crowd who were worried that Bairstow might run out of partners, but he found a solid ally in Steve Finn, who stayed around long enough to allow Bairstow to reach his maiden Test century on home soil.

England were finally dismissed for 298 and then it was the turn of the Sri Lankan 'batsmen'. In yet another dismal "What are we doing here?" batting display they subsided to 91 all out, meaning a follow-on which effectively killed the game as a contest. Mercifully for Sri Lanka, bad light and rain curtailed play, and we returned to Leeds station for our trip home. Unfortunately, this was not to be as pleasant as the journey in.

As our train pulled in, a stupid and inebriated young idiot pushed in front of the throng of patiently waiting passengers on the platform. When the doors opened, he rushed on to the train without letting the departing passengers get off, and proceeded to 'reserve' seats for his group.

"Some people just have no class!" remarked the lady in front of me, and matters deteriorated further as we boarded the packed train and the numpty was challenged about his behaviour. Both myself and a passenger called Sean from Marsden were subjected to threats of "having our f***ing lights punched out" : a female passenger was told to "shut the f*** up": and poor Higgy, who had tried to offer sensible advice to avoid confrontation, was insulted in the manner of Stuart Broad at the Gabba.

Not a good reflection on cricket fans and as a chap stood next to me on board observed:

"My God. Has it really come to this?"

Higgy, Sean and myself thankfully departed the carriage from Hell at Huddersfield and retired to the Kings Head pub on platform one to recover our spirits after being subjected to such careless, vile threats.

I doubt whether you possess the mental agility to read this story, blond haired drunken tosser on the way to Liverpool Lime Street, but if by chance you do, be advised that the Addis Army do not forget a face.

On our return to my village at 9pm the Band Contest was in full swing, with all the pubs packed out and live brass band music on the village green, despite the torrential rain.

After a few more refreshing beers Higgy and I returned once more to the Chinese Take Away food outlet, where we encountered a brass band all the way from Bristol gorging themselves on chips and gravy. In an effort to bond I showed them a video of our musical and talented Addis Bristolian Tufty singing his "Blackbird" song which I had on my phone, but they seemed singularly unimpressed.

During dinner with two bottles of rather nice South African wine, Higgy demonstrated his complete ignorance of any other musical forms save Motorhead and also provided the quote of the day.

As Carole King appeared on the speakers the conversation revolved thus:

"Who is this then? I've never heard of her!"

"Its Carole King. She used to sh*g James Taylor."

"Oh. Chris Crabbe from the Barmy Army told me she wanted to do that as well....."

Sorry to Chris, both Jameses and Carole! No offence intended.....

This may be controversial, but we didn't travel to Headingley on the third day despite having tickets. The weather forecast was absolutely dire, although maybe not as dire as the Sri Lankan batting, and given that their second innings was completed in just 35 overs resulting in an ignominious innings defeat, I am happy with our decision, which was not influenced in the slightest by hangovers. The reality is that it would have taken us longer to travel there and back than the amount of cricket that was played.

Special mention to Jimmy Anderson for his ten wicket haul although I suspect I could have got a couple against this batting line up.

We will be attending Old Trafford tomorrow, in blazing Mancunian sunshine, where I hope we will see a proper contest between two decent teams, Lancashire v Surrey.

To anyone with tickets for the upcoming Durham Test - Five O, this essentially means you - deepest sympathies. The current crop of Sri Lankan 'batsmen' are walking wickets, and clearly the team are missing their recently retired stars terribly. Given the likely Arctic conditions in Chester-Le-Street , another one sided affair looks guaranteed.

My advice would be to book your Premier Lodge in Durham for just a couple of nights, no matter how comfortable the beds may be!

Regards, Midnight

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