Summer 2017

Edgbaston 2017: by Five0

DAY 1 Thursday 17 August: COOK & ROOT SET FOR BIG SCORES

So here we are for England’s first day nighter. This seems a rather pointless exercise but over 70,000 tickets have been sold for the first 3 days which is more than were sold for Trent Bridge or Old Trafford against South Africa, arguably more attractive opponents than a West Indies weakened by divisions between the senior players and the Board and by the lure of the T20 leagues. For me it has novelty value, which is maybe what 70,000 other people feel.

England’s best team is now slightly clearer than it was at the start of the South Africa series, which was a strange sequence of four one-sided Tests of which we won three. The ideal balance of the team is five specialist batsmen, with Stokes, Bairstow, Ali and three seamers. However, there is still plenty to sort out, especially among the batsmen. Cook will try out his twelfth opening partner since the retirement of Andrew Strauss. A stiff, military Jennings has been found out and so in comes Stoneman who has been my pick for a couple of seasons since it was obvious that Hales wasn’t a Test opener. At 30 years old he has plenty of experience, first with Durham and now with Surrey. He’ll be an aggressive foil for Cook. Westley looked solid but unspectacular against South Africa and deserves a chance to nail down the number 3. But Malen at 5? I would have gone for Hales.

As for the bowlers, who will partner Jimmy and Broad? If he’d been fit, I would have picked Woakes but if he isn’t I am happy with Roland-Jones there.

The West Indies are pretty much unknown as their big names, Gale, the Bravos, are not here. They are really a second team. Their most experienced player has just 37 caps and they’ve only won three games in their last eight away series. But they are said to have some fiery bowlers who could cause some grief. Most commentators though have written them off already. I’m not so sure.

At 1.30pm the ground is filling up and Joe Root wins the toss and bats. He confirms that Woakes needs more overs under his belt so Roland-Jones is playing.

We’re in the Wyatt, almost behind the wicket with the Hollies stand safely in the distance to our left. Irish has managed to get us seats right in front of the wall above the entrance to the stand so we have a convenient shelf on which to put our drinks plus the copious number of salad boxes containing all the dips, marinaded chicken and raw vegetables that Irish has brought along – he still looks very slim but his grip on his diet is clearly loosening.

Next to me is an old (well, probably younger than me) guy, clearly obsessional, in a flat cap, earphones, a variety of pencils and a scorebook. I do manage to engage in a little bit of pre-match conversation which I’m pleased about because very soon I can see that he is quite cantankerous. He shouts at everyone, even in his peripheral line of vision, who is standing up when the ball is bowled in case it prevents him from seeing what’s happened. As the day goes by, however, it is quite handy to glance down at his book to see how many fours Cook and Root have scored.

Irish’s delightful friend Katie, the theatre manager, was the first of our party to join me followed soon after by Irish and Guy, Juliet’s ginger-haired brother with the honking laugh. Irish was cursing that his metal cutlery had been taken from him at the gate. It seemed a no-brainer to me but he swore (I mean, swore) that these knives and forks had travelled the world and had great sentimental value to him.

England is an unusual team in that the tail comes at the start of the innings rather than the end. It was no surprise therefore when after cracking a couple of juicy fours Stoneman was out for 8 followed soon after in similar vein by Westley.

The feebleness of the West Indies attack now became obvious. Only Roach, much reduced in speed, looked even a tiny bit threatening. The rest was bog standard. Cook and Root purred along. At one point Cook, scoring at more than a run a ball, looked as if he was trying to stake a place in the T20 squad. By lunch at 110-2 it should have been pretty much honours even but Cook and Root were going so smoothly that it was actually looking pretty ominous for the West Indies.

Mid-session I spotted Chris who lives in Scunthorpe and whom I have seen in Dubai, India and various places with the Barmy Army. She came up for a quick chat, alarmingly close to our flat-capped scorer, although he tolerated her presence. She’s here on her own: dedicated follower.

Meanwhile I was getting WhatsApped by Paul Raven aka Gary Glitter who was in the next block with a couple of his Dartington Cricket Club mates. The arrangement was to meet at ‘lunch’, which is actually tea in this new world of pink ball cricket, at the real ale bar just behind the stand where a pint would be waiting for me and a gin and tonic for Irish. How convenient to have a real ale bar behind the stand. (Indeed the bar, catering and toilet facilities at this game have been as good as it gets.) The only problem with the arrangement with Gazza was that he wasn’t there. I finally tracked him down at another real ale bar further away. The burley bald-headed Chris was there with the beers. Irish and their other friend, Brummie Dave, obviously had a problem finding them too so I necked Pete’s gin and Chris and Gazza shared Dave’s pint which was shame for him because he turned up just as they were supping it.

It then got rather messy because we transferred to the other real bar on the sensible grounds that it was less crowded. There were some rather nice leather wing-backed chairs and a Chesterfield so we spent most of the afternoon, or should I say evening, session in comfort watching on the screen as Cook and Root moved towards their tons.

I returned to my seat to cheer Root converting, at last, a fifty into a ton. It was effortless albeit against a very weak attack. Then up came the 200 partnership, apparently Root’s first, and finally Cook’s 31st hundred. The ground rose to a man, woman and child, with the exception of the curmudgeonly scorer next to me who was too busy with his pencils to cheer.

By this time the twilight dimness had gone and the ground under floodlights was bright and vivid. As far as we could tell the ball had not gone soft and the batters didn’t seem to have any trouble seeing it. It had been a lovely sunny day so as the light faded even though we put our jackets on it wasn’t cold. So far the verdict on day/night cricket is good.

Towards the end Root played down the wrong line and was bowled by Roach who deserved a second wicket. Malan didn’t look comfortable but he was still with Cook at stumps. 338-3 and I can’t see how England can lose this game.

There was more Gazza initiated entertainment after the cricket in a pub down town that “you’ll just love.” This was on account of its Georgian domed roof and its wide selection of real ales, though since I was on gins, Gazza was drinking Guinness and Pete had moved to malts there didn’t seem a lot of point. Pete, Guy and I couldn’t be bothered to get the last train back to Leamington so we took an expensive taxi instead, the number of malts he had necked causing Irish to misdirect the taxi as we neared Warwick.

DAY 2 Friday 18 August: COOK’S DOUBLE TON

There is rain about today. All week we have been checking the forecast which has ranged from no rain at all to rain all day. As Pete, Guy and I board a crowded train at Leamington, the best guess has moved from the morning’s forecast of rain at 3.00pm to rain at 6.00pm which sounds a lot better.

As we walk out of New St station it is starting to drizzle. Pete, Guy, and Katie, who we met on the train, decide to walk: I’m for the shuttle.

By the time I get to the ground at 1.00pm there is thunder and lightning and it’s pissing down. I get a pint and seek refuge in the real ale tent. Rain at 1.00pm was forecast and to be fair it soon brightened up and half an hour later I was in my seat in the Wyatt in bright sunshine. Play started on schedule.

It was rather predictable. Cook cut, flicked the ball off his hips and pulled as usual and was soon past his 150 and then on to his fourth 200. The West Indian bowling was toothless. The ball passed the bat only occasionally and there was hardly an appeal all morning. If there was a surprise it was that Malan stuck with Cook for a 150 partnership, albeit dominated by Cook who got 97 runs of it. I didn’t think Malan ever looked securely in but it must have done his confidence a lot of good.

If the West Indies were poor with the ball, their most notable deficit was the lack-lustre fielding. Chasing boundary balls was not their thing and most of the fielders gave up almost before they had started.

Lunch for me was a pint with Gazza and Chris in the real ale bar. They seemed to have lost Brummie Dave along the way.

Malan was caught off Chase on the dot of lunch so at 449-4 the stage looked set for a bit of wham, bam, thank you ma’am from our big hitters. But it was not to be as neither Stokes, Bairstow or Ali got even to 20. When a tired Cook was finally plum lbw to Chase for a magnificent 243 Root pulled the plug.

Broad and Anderson had 40 minutes before tea at the West Indian openers. By this time, 6.00pm, the light was fading and the floodlights were on. If this were a normal Test the umpires would be looking at their light meters which prompts the question, can you go off for light in a day-night Test? The clouds were dark and a bit of wind was getting up. Everything seemed set for Jimmy. He didn’t disappoint. In his second over a beautiful ball to Braithwaite moved away late, split him in two and a very fine edge was gleefully pouched by Bairstow. 0-1! We were anticipating a procession.

Broad was back to his old habits of bowling too short but in fairness to Powell and Kyle Hope, they survived till tea although Stokes dropped a relatively easy catch by his high standards in the gully.

They came out after tea for another 7 overs, which I missed because I was in the Fever Tree queue. They are lovely people on the stall but they need a bit of training on how to serve quickly and, actually, Fever Tree is so popular that they need more than one stall. (It was pretty much the same problem at the Oval.) There were still about six people ahead of me waiting to be served when the rain started. I called Irish. The covers were coming on and it was clear there would be no more play. The West Indies did well to end the day on 44-1 even though they trail England by 470 runs.

Ah! The rain! We messed about a bit collecting the deposits on the cups and going to the shop so by the time we’d got out of the ground the last of the first tranche of shuttle buses was just moving off and there was still a massive queue. Unthinking zombies that we were, Pete, Katie and I joined the line in the pouring rain as, for no apparent reason, as the bus had gone, it snaked round the crash barriers.

The reason soon became apparent as successive groups of fans peeled away to walk back to town. After half an hour, wet and bedraggled, we did the same. As soon as we got onto the road, we found that Uber taxis were buzzing all over the place like flies over a rotting carcass. We hailed a rather dour eastern European to take us to New St. He charged us fifteen quid but he earned it. He tried every short-cut he knew but we always ended up in traffic. It took us an hour to get to the station. We took the last Reading train with a load of pissed up England fans.

DAY 3 Saturday 19 August: TWO COLLAPSES

The weather forecast promised sunshine all day but forecasts can be wrong. The 1.30 start to make up for yesterday’s rain was a waste of time. Jimmy bowled one ball before the rain came. It didn’t last long, however, and so it turned out that we started, as originally scheduled, at 2.00pm after all. Two rather pathetic West Indian collapses meant that the game was over just before 9.00pm.

I was the first to get to my seat and I saw Scunthorpe Chris again, giving us a chance to establish that we’ll both be in Auckland next year. Pete, my son-in-law (well, sort of), arrived from Bristol and in the Police Social Club (?) Irish located Freddie, who had driven up from London. It was good to catch up with our editor, the genial giant.

There’s little to be said about the cricket. The West Indies batting today was as abject as their fielding had been yesterday. For the England bowlers it was too easy. Only Blackwood, in the first innings, showed any fight with a sparkling 79 not out off 76 balls. Soon after lunch the collapse was complete when the Windies were out for 168. Root had no hesitation in making them bat again.

Irish had stayed up last night preparing a fantastic tandoori chicken with a creamy dip which he generously handed round. The chicken was, of course, too spicy for Freddie who munched on rabbit food. Our meal was enlivened by the way Irish and I contrived to tip half the contents of the yoghurt dip down my trouser leg, much to the amusement of Freddie who needed something other than the cricket to entertain him.

The second innings was more lack lustre even than the first. The West Indies subsided to 137 to lose by an innings and 209 runs. I suppose the highlights of that innings were Broad taking out Chase and Holder with successive balls and then in his next over bowling Dowrich to overtake Botham’s 383 wickets to become England’s second highest wicket taker. We therefore had on the field England’s two highest wicket takers and our highest scoring batsman.

England victories are great but one-sided contests like this don’t do the game much good and are pretty boring to watch. In fact the antics in the Hollies stand seemed to provide more entertainment than the cricket. It’s hard to see the West Indies recovering from this walloping which doesn’t auger well for my Day 4 ticket at Lords on 10 September!

See you in Adelaide...


Click here for other tour diaries