Wednesday 9 June: Getting out and about in Birmingham
It was felt rather surreal to be driving up the M5 from Cornwall in Steve’s van with Jack cramped up beside me on the front seat. In 18 months I haven’t been further than Taunton, where I was last Friday for my first day of live cricket since Port Elizabeth 505 days ago. At Gloucester Services the place was seething with Metropolitan Police on their way down to Carbis Bay to protect the world’s leaders at the G7. I looked in vain to see if Tom was there with his sharp-shooter.
Being in Birmingham was an odd experience. It was like learning all over again how to be in a big city. Crossing the busy Bristol Road which the hotel Steve and I are staying in is on was a bit frightening. And, crikey! bicycle lanes! We don’t have those in Calstock. I had to relearn the Uber app when we went off to meet Jack and Barry in The Shakespeare on Lionel St. How nice it was, though, to be able to wander into a couple of pubs and then end up in Milan Indian Cuisine for a superb curry. Life as we knew is coming back.
I managed to work out how to administer the lateral flow test that Edgbaston sensibly require us to take each day without gagging and sneezing. Negative: so it’s game on for tomorrow.
Build up to the Test
Lords last week showed up both the weaknesses of England’s batting on the one hand and how good a team New Zealand are on the other and why they thoroughly deserve to be in the Test Championship Final next week. Neither of our openers inspire much confidence and of the rest of the batters only Root really looked comfortable at this level. The bowling unit looked pretty good, though, and Ollie Robinson had an excellent debut, at least he did on the cricket field.
Robinson rightly had to grovel for his youthful racism and sexism and won’t be playing at Edgbaston as a result. It was the correct decision by the ECB but of course Secretary of State for Culture War Oliver Dowden, various Tory MPs and Boris Johnson couldn’t resist riding into battle as the warriors of woke. Keep politicians out of sport, I say. Still, this Test may well be overshadowed by the revelation of indiscreet tweets from the past by several other England players. If nothing else they testify to the undercurrent of racism in dressing rooms that former players like Azeem Rafiq, Michael Carberry and umpire John Holder have had to put up with.
DAY 1 Thursday 10 June
Jack and Barry made their way to our hotel in the morning. While Steve and I finished our breakfasts Barry went in the direction of the toilets saying, ‘I may be some while.’ I needed a pee and when I got to the toilets there was a queue. Barry certainly had been a while. He came out slightly bow legged, having discovered, late in the day, that there was no paper! He had go up to my room to finish the job.
We’re only a mile from the ground so we walked in. We had left plenty of time but the chaos we’d expected didn’t materialise. In fact, it was about the easiest, most efficient entry I have ever known. We showed the SMS message from NHS COVID-19 proving the negative test; moved up the queue to show our tickets on the very smooth Edgbaston app; had a brief and not very efficient bag search – Steve’s Swiss Army knife passed in unnoticed; and we were in!
If it weren’t for the masks we had to wear when we were in the toilet or queuing for a beer you wouldn’t have known we are in the middle of a pandemic. There was no social distancing in the seats. It felt like a normal Day 1 Test match crowd. It was actually a great feeling.
Root won the toss and we batted. The poor chap had to answer the inevitable question from Rob Key about how distracting off the field events had been which he parried that one with as straight a bat as he’d use defending a ball from Boult.
Steve and I wondered how long the opening pair would last. We gave it three overs. How wrong we were. Shaky Sibley and ungainly Burns not only saw off the new ball but on a slow scoring morning with the ball doing very little in the air or off the pitch they went in to lunch on 67-0. Job half done. ‘Proper Test cricket, this,’ we were all nodding sagely.
Sadly, normal service was resumed after lunch. Sibley was the first to go, caught behind for 35. Crawley, lamely hanging out his bat to the big-hearted Wagner, followed after 4 balls for a duck and Root scored 4. 72-0 quickly became 85-3. Steady accurate bowling from the New Zealand seamers was putting the Kiwis on top once again.
The afternoon was tedious. We had a 19 run cameo from Pope, a golden duck from the hapless Bracey, doubtless set to be a two Test wonder, and the loss of Burns for 81. If this was the kind of the Test cricket that we know too well, it certainly wasn’t the kind that we love.
It was a bit brighter after tea when the sun came out. A very assured Dan Lawrence ended the day on 67 not out with a Wood at the other end on 16. 258-7 at stumps exceeded our expectations. Steve thought it was honours even but I reckon that New Zealand will have been the more satisfied of the two teams.
Where to spend the evening? Barry had established from a group of octogenarians who were sitting behind us that a mile long walk up the hill to Moseley was the thing to do. Local advice proved sound. It was still pretty busy up there but the magnificent Fighting Cocks with its large red-brick beautifully decorated façade and strange copper domed tower was just the ticket. We had a table outside in the evening sunshine and tucked away 3 pints of Camden Pale ale, amber nectar. We finished off the evening in a Turkish restaurant.
Barry ended the day as he started with a toilet break. With our Uber only a half a mile away, he dashed across the road into the Fighting Cocks. Fortunately, Shazad, our driver, was very tolerant, oiled by a £10 tip.
DAY 2 Friday 11 June: In the Hollies
Yesterday we were in the R. S. Wyatt stand, the best place, we thought, from which to enjoy the raucous Eric Hollies. Today we were right in it, sitting next to a group of guys in their twenties dressed as hippies. I was there, mate! They were on it from the get go, bringing trays of four lagers two at a time. We prepared for the worst. Actually, though, they were fine – nice lads, who were very friendly and enjoyed their cricket. We had to put up with the odd beach ball and there were a few snakes but the stewards dispatched those fairly efficiently. We couldn’t argue with it.
As for the cricket, Wood pulled and hooked himself to a sparkling 41 but Jimmy and Broad, useless with the bat as ever, didn’t do much. We ended with a barely par 303 with Lawrence left on 81 not out, a classy innings that bodes well for the future.
Broad, loping in from the Hagley Road, had Latham lbw for 6. But thereafter, despite some steady bowling from Jimmy, Broad, Ollie Stone and a tireless Mark Wood, New Zealand carefully and steadily, leaving most of the deliveries outside the off, carved themselves another strong position. Root didn’t help matters when he juggled and dropped a chance off Young when he was 7 and a bit later Conway on 22 was lucky to survive a low slip catch by Crawley which was deemed not to have carried on an umpire’s review. 28 year old Young, playing in his second test, looked very comfortable.
Barry and Jack like doing their own thing but Steve and I walked round to the food concourse at lunch to meet up for a pint, as you do, with my Cornish mates, Peter and Tim.
In the afternoon Jack and Barry decamped to a stand opposite but Steve and I stayed put, actually quite enjoying the amicable singing and chanting in the Hollies. It was good to be back.
Conway, who looked set for another ton, chucked away his wicket by slapping Broad to Crawley out in the deep for 80, but after his usual start of the innings jitters Ross Taylor was serenely stroking the ball around the ground. However, with four overs to go, and mindful, perhaps, of the fine he got for a slow overrate at Lords, Root brought Lawrence on from the Birmingham end and kept himself on at the other. Lawrence has a weird action. He takes a couple of steps to the crease and then his arms reach up in the air like a stick insect as he delivers the ball. It did the trick though. In the last over Young prodded a catch to Pope at short leg. He must have been sick with himself. Still, at 229-3, New Zealand should overhaul our paltry 303 by lunch tomorrow and we reckon we will end up with a first innings sizeable deficit.
Steve and I had actually left the ground when Lawrence came on in order to beat the rush for an Uber back into town to meet up with Jack and Barry. Some chance! We stood on the corner of Pershore Rad and Priory Rd for at least half an hour watching poor Mohammed’s slow progress towards us through heavy traffic. Covid space restrictions mean that restaurants and pubs in town are pretty much fully booked. Barry had managed to get a table at the Shakespeare in Lionel St for a few pints and then a table at the excellent Milan Indian Cuisine where we’d been on Wednesday. We never made it to the pub and got to the restaurant at 7.40!
Barry was on sparkling form with a wonderful wind up of Jack. At the end of the meal, they brought out a plate on which were four white cylinders of densely packed tissue that looked like a little stacks of mints. The waiter poured a jug of hot water on them and they expanded to twice their size. ‘You have one, Jack. They’re tasty,’ said Barry pushing the plate towards him. Jack, to savour it properly, held it a few seconds in his mouth and started munching. He grimaced and spat it out. ‘You bastard,’ he snarled
DAY 3 Saturday 12 June: Collapse
It was gloriously sunny and we were slapping on the sun cream all day. Steve and I walked to the ground as usual. Jack and Barry have gone home and we’ve got Freddie and my son-in-law, Pete, for company. Slowly and inevitably, New Zealand, overhauled our paltry 303. But, actually, by dint of some excellent bowling, especially from Broad, their wickets fell regularly enough and 388 all out was not too bad after all.
Ha! So we thought. Unfortunately, the wheels soon came off. Burns fell for a duck second ball and the rot set in. At the close of play we were 122-9 with Stone and Jimmy at the crease. End of, really. We won’t bother to come back tomorrow.
Irish Pete was due to replace Freddie tomorrow and had prepared one of his delicious picnics which would have included such delights as asparagus wrapped in smoked salmon, quails’ eggs with celery salt and strawberries and rose water. That’s Irish for you. Alas, the benefit will go to the neighbours.
DAY 4 Sunday 13 June: The End
By 10 o’clock Pete and I were squeezed into the front seat of Steve’s van threading our way through a leafy Birmingham to the M5. At 11 o’clock Steve switched on a crackly Test Match Special. We heard the gravelly, smoke-laden growl of Tuffers announcing that Stone had been caught behind off Boult. New Zealand were chasing 38 to win which they duly did in just under 11 overs – plenty of margin for us to get our money back, a small consolation for what Aggers described as one of the worst results he’d seen for a long time. It was pretty dire but to be honest it was only the latest in a long line. I’m reminded of another New Zealand thrashing: this time at Eden Park in 2018 when we lost by an innings and 49 runs after a collapse to 58 in the first innings.
I mentioned to Freddie that this is the 11th time I have seen a Test match at Edgbaston. ‘How do you know?’ he asked. Sheepishly, I told him that I have a data base of every game I have been to starting with my first Test at the Oval in 1963 when England were playing a West Indies team that included Wes Hall and Charlie Griffiths. I began it about 20 years ago because how many times do you say to someone ‘I was at that game? Or was I?’ or ‘Were you with me then?’ but you’re never quite sure. My Test matches for the first 50 years had to be added from memory, padded out by stats from CricInfo, but since then I up date it each time.
So I can tell you that this is my 88th Test, that I’ve watched Test cricket in every Test playing country except Zimbabwe and that I have seen it played in 38 different venues.
This game is also the 18th time I have sat with Freddie. That, however, doesn’t come near the 28 times I have been at the same game with Midnight or the 26 times with my late brother-in-law, Bill, and the 21 games Jamie aka Caddie has been with me.
Freddie’s 18 games include 5 grounds in England and 6 overseas countries. He’s got a good win ratio: 10 wins with 6 losses and 4 draws. Obviously a man to be with.