Pakistan - Old Trafford Test Review
It was a train journey from hell to get from Cornwall. My carriage was heaving. I had to move some poor woman out of my seat. They had not given me the table seat which I had requested. The conductress was grumpy because I hadn't stored by luggage correctly and marched me down the train to a bigger luggage rack. When, politely, I said "I can’t understand why a train going from Penzance to Manchester only has 4 carriages" she said it was because the platform at Lostwithiel wasn't long enough but she'd clearly taken a dislike to me. Anyway, I up-graded to 1st. In the end it cost another £90 but it was worth it.
My Travelodge is about 30 minutes by tram from Manchester in Ashton. The room's big but basic which is fine with a kingsize double bed. This is just as well because it seems that I never booked a room for Pete, my son-in-law from Bristol, who’s joining me on Saturday and Sunday. I was concerned about this before I left Cornwall because I'd found the voucher for my room but not his! When I got here I checked: no other room on Saturday in the name of Tinto or Carne! And they are fully booked with no vacancies because of a big conference nearby! Oh dear! I think Pete and I will have to be very friendly and share the king size! I haven't had time to tell him yet.
I hadn't even unpacked when Midnight arrived in his car to take me to his place which is another 30 minutes out of Manchester in a nice setting just off Saddleworth Moor. "We'll do a little detour,” he said, “and I'll show you some of the sights." Saddleworth Moor ring a bell? Midnight's ghoulish idea of a sightseeing tour was to take me to a bleak spot overlooking a small stretch of water in the middle of nowhere to stand at a stretch of barbed wire fence on which there were a few forlorn, dying bouquets of flowers and some sad black and white pictures of the children murdered by Brady & Hindley. He's threatening to take me to Hyde, which is nearby, to see Shipman's surgery.
Higgy was at his place and we went off into Mossley for a few pints and a curry followed by a few brandies and an evening of post-Brexit triumphalism from our Mancunian friend.
DAY 1 Friday 22 July
Everything is well ... the sun's shining & I'm looking forward to Day 1 at the Test.
I got to the ground to find I’m only a few rows from Midnight and Higgy and in the afternoon I join them. Only a few rows too from Nigel and Helen, Nigel suffering from his usual pre-match hangover. Old Trafford was pretty full. It's hardly a ground of beauty. What architect dreamed up the two horrible red boxes for corporates at one end and the press at the other and which committee approved them? There’ll soon be another red box when they complete their Hilton development on the other side of the pavilion. That, too, by the way is pretty ghastly. Here we have a potentially pretty pavilion in Manchester’s reddish brick but pasted on the front of it is a bloody great sight screen. Didn’t they think of that when they turned the wicket round? It’s no better, by the way, from the inside of the pavilion because you can’t see out.
England were beaten at Lords where they batted poorly and couldn't cope with Yasir Shah's leg spin. Jimmy and Stokes return from injury and it's ironic that it's two bowlers, Finn and Ball, who make way for them when it was the batting that was at fault at Lords.
Cook won the toss after losing for 6 consecutive times against Misbah. Of course we batted, on a wicket that did very little. There was a hint of swing and a bit of seam movement but basically this is a batting track. Good toss to win. Hales didn't convince but Cook was good and Root sublime. They both got tons and their partnership of 185 put England well in control. But Hales was bowled by Amir through a big gap between bat and pad, Vince slashed wildly at a wide one and was caught behind and Ballance chopped onto his stumps. All three whose places are under scrutiny failed to convince. Today Shah was no threat. All the batters played straighter to him than they did at Lords and attacked him. Woakes, a clever choice as night watchman, and Root on 141 are still there at the close. At 314-4 and plenty of decent batting to come it looks as if we are in for a big score.
Midnight managed to get Higgy and me into the Members at lunchtime, though we still had to queue for the beers. There was a very pleasant surprise when Howie, whom I haven’t seen since the Oval in 2011 for an India game, turned up, married now but still living in Geneva. He sent his best wishes to all the Addis.
I had mentioned in an email to Saint about the Brexit triumphalism I had suffered at the hands of Midnight last night. Saint’s response was to commiserate and refer to him as whining Manc. When I mentioned this to Midnight he said that Saint part of the "metropolitan elite." Saint? Oxford? I don't think so.
DAY 2 Saturday 23 July
I met up with Pete easily: he was on the same bus to the ground as I was! And he had a print out I had sent him showing that I had booked him a room after all! So I phoned the hotel and of course they did have his booking. Panic over, although they had set up a single bed in my room anyway. Midnight, Higgy and Paul, the quantity surveyor from Oldham, were already in situ.
Given England's dominance the cricket was actually quite slow. However, Woakes looks very solid. He stayed with Root till nearly lunchtime. Another 100 partnership. His calm, untroubled stay at the wicket just highlighted how scratchy Hales, Vince and Ballance look. Stokes marched in and briefly flayed the batting until the first review of the whole match, such is the benign pitch they are playing on, showed that he'd got the faintest of gloves on the ball. Not a happy man! Bairstow was belligerent. Rooty's a legend and was really only out because at tea Cooky had obviously told them to step on the gas. The declaration came with an hour to go soon after Rooty got to 250, his highest score, and Pakistan have already lost 4 wickets, largely due to Woakes’s excellent bowling. At 57-4 a win for us is almost certain. It is set to rain a bit tomorrow, although the forecast does seem to be improving.
Just before tea Midnight smuggled us into the Members where it was decided that rather than traipse out to Midnight's village for a curry we would go drinking in Manchester which was a much better idea that took in very characterful pubs. One of them, the Peveril of the Peake, apparently named after a Walter Scott novel, was in the middle of an intersection of two roads. Its facade on all sides was made up of what look like the ceramic tiles that line the sides of Victorian fireplaces. Victorian kitsch it might be but it is very characterful. We ended up in Manchester's smallest pub which had two tiny little rooms covered in pictures of football memorabilia and where the bar staff brought your beer to the table. Pete and I drank light session beers so were fairly sober at the end, even after about 6 pints.
Paul is a Brexiteer and Conservative whom Midnight had threatened me with as someone who is more extreme than him. Actually, he isn't - no one can be more extreme than Midnight who in all things brings a football supporter's black and white. Paul and I had some very interesting discussion about Europe, Labour and the state of the world. It's good to see how the other half thinks.
DAY 3 Sunday 25 July
Wickets fell steadily but there was rain which took the players off for an hour in the morning & again in the afternoon. Misbah put up some resistance with a 60 partnership with Wahab Riaz so the innings didn't end till just after tea. I wasn't surprised that Cook didn't enforce the follow on as his bowlers had been out all day and there's plenty of time in the game but most people seemed to think it was a spineless decision. Nonetheless, by the end Cook & Root are still there. 98-1, declaration after an hour of play tomorrow? That should give us enough.
We left a bit early because of the rain and missed the last hour of play so we had rather too much time in the city pub that Midnight took us to, apparently one where all the whores of Manchester used to congregate but there were none in view tonight. Pete staggered off just before 8 to get his train back to Bristol looking distinctly pasty. I wasn’t much better when we swayed our way to the tram station, starving because Midnight’s priority was booze and not food. I got off an Audenshaw, one of the posher places on the route, which isn’t actually saying much, while he and Higgy carried on to Ashton. I was reassured by Midnight that I’d be able to get something to there. Something to eat consisted of a choice between two sad looking takeaways opposite the station. I opted for the Indian. I discovered the next morning from Higgy that Midnight had told him that not long ago the Indian had been exposed in the local press for having rats round the back. Thanks for letting me know. Actually, although I was I was fragile in the morning that was the drink and not the korma.
DAY 4 Monday 26 July
To a rather empty ground, though it did fill up later, Cook and Root batted on rather pointlessly for another 40 minutes to declare eventually setting Pakistan an impossible 565 to win, although with Cook getting his fastest 50 and Root giving a masterclass in placement it was fun. There was a steady clatter of Pakistan wickets. There was loud Pakistan support, though. Our Lower Family stand which was right next to the Pakistan team's balcony was full of green flags. Cardboard messages were held up by giggling teenagers, one saying something about Pokeman and another reading “I’m only here for the press-ups,” alluding to Misbah and his team’s celebrations at Lords. No press-ups here but every run was cheered and hooted.
Jimmy was superbly accurate. So too Woakes. Root was dropping hints to his captain all afternoon that he wanted a bowl. Finally he had an over after tea and had Wahab top edging to Cook. With his 4 effortless slip catches in the 1st innings he completed a perfect game. No doubt who was man of the match. Only Broad was wicketless. The downside of the day is that Stokes is injured again.
So we won by 330 runs. Winning the toss had helped on a good wicket for batting but Root was masterly. Misbah said he was the difference but Cook too and Woakes and Bairstow were all important in their big partnerships with Root. Most impressive was how by playing straighter to him and attacking him they all emasculated the threat from Yasir. Woakes again impressed with his bowling - 7 in the match - & his batting: he's a genuine allrounder. But Hales, Ballance & Vince still have to prove themselves.
We spent the afternoon where the members sit with some of Midnight’s admirable Lancashire colleagues, good solid northerners with none of the blasé arrogance of Lords. We met poor Mossie with his mates on his stag do that was marred for Mossie by the fact that anti-biotics meant he couldn’t drink. Andy Thompson from the Barmy Army joined us, fresh from a fact-finding tour in India that involved something like 11 flights, 12 hotels and 5 cricket grounds in about 10 days. He puts some effort in! So he had plenty of good tips about India, although sometimes it sounded as if he was still in sales pitch mode. There was also chat about Bangladesh. The ECB is still cagey about whether the tour will go ahead. The general feeling was that, reluctantly, most people will stay away because of the security situation.
We stayed for the presentations and then Midnight took us to a couple of pubs in Manchester. After only a few pints we left and passed the amazing ornate gothic Manchester Town Hall on our way to Chinatown for a very tasty meal. Midnight couldn’t resist engaging some poor German woman on the table next to us in some Brexit claptrap which obviously completely bewildered her. We walked back under the gaudy, dragon covered Chinese gateway to the Metro and said our goodbyes. I've got to know Manchester better this time than I ever have thanks to Midnight. There are some impressive buildings, plenty of good pubs and even in Brexit land the people are pretty decent.