After the shambles of Lords, with its social niceties, champagne corks and consistent defeats, it is now back oop North to Headingley, where a slightly harsher atmosphere and much harsher weather, pervade. The fans oop North are rough and tough, and only a win is good enough, as I think the Milky Bar Kid used to sing.
This week Higgy is my guest and we will commute to the grim East by train, meeting Lofty in Huddersfield, where he is staying at the Hotel Ersatz. In a touch of irony Lofty tells us his hotel is run by an Indian family, and the first thing that becomes patently obvious is that he is rather disappointed by the standard of his breakfast. ‘Reconstituted’ oblong shaped bacon and surplus powdered egg from WWII seem to be the daily fare!
Lofty is currently in the middle of a house move, with his current property having been sold, but the new one not ready for occupation. As Higgy put it, he must be the only homeless multi-millionaire we know! However, he seems in fine fettle, and on day one we receive a call from the new UK phone Lofty has purchased to get around the exorbitant roaming charges being levied by Jersey Telecom. This Chinese device seems to be operated from a satellite above Beijing, with the signals then being routed via St Peter Port and Berlin! But at least it means we can confirm to him that we are in transit on the eastward train.
The walk to the ground now goes past a BT junction box, which has been subjected to graffiti. Not the usual kind though! This reads as follows:
HERE. 25th AUG 2019
I reckon that just might stay on there for ever!
At Headingley we pay our customary visit to the splendid Station Diner for coffee and sandwiches, then assume our seats in the ground. Lofty, the man who is selling his house because he can no longer deal with the stairs, has booked us seats on the top tier of the new Stand…… and this morning, the lift is out of service! By the time the top is reached via the stairs, Higgy and I are breathing hard and Lofty requires oxygen!
For any future visitors to Headingley I will describe the new stand in case you think of booking it. The building is like a gigantic breeze block, and on the top level at least, is absolutely freezing. There are central heating radiators next to the lift shaft which are pumping out heat 24/7 to benefit nobody in particular and once out on the terrace, the East wind whips in straight from the North Sea. Our seats are padded and quite comfortable, but the fatal design flaw becomes apparent very soon.
There are not enough gangways. Nearly everyone in our huge row is drinking, and pissing, and drinking again, and pissing again, and being on the end of the row we are up and down more often than a sex workers nightie. On the plus side, the view is great and we are right behind the bowlers arm, but it is such a shame – with a little more forethought and less desire to cram bums on seats, the experience could have been fantastic.
Still, we are in position on time to witness the rout. There is some pathetic batting on show during the first morning, and for once, it isn’t the England top order! The Indian batsmen are unable to withstand the England pace attack and they are skittled for 78.
In circumstances which seem strangely reminiscent of Melbourne Boxing Day 2010 England manage to reach 120-0 by the close. To most, the match is as good as over as a contest, which is not the best news given we hold tickets for all five days. Thank you Virat Kohli, and please remind me again about your teams new, uncompromising, ‘never a backward step’ attitude, will you?
Today’s highlight on the Western Terrace is a group of lads dressed as seagulls, who chase up and down flapping their wings pursuing another lad who is dressed as a carton of chips. When they catch the poor bugger, he is floored and subjected to a multiple pecking by his mates. Hilarious!
Off to Huddersfield for some evening entertainment then. “I’ve found a nice wine bar which is far too posh for the likes of you two!” exclaims Lofty. We sit outside said posh wine bar to be regally entertained by any number of drunken vagrants and ne’er do wells passing by on the other side of the road. Next, the obligatory and excellent curry at a new venue for us all – the Chilli Lounge, which I would be happy to recommend.
Day two starts cold and grey. It is freezing at the top of our stand again and underseat heating would be more use than the padding. Lofty is not cheered by another breakfast of reconstituted bacon and is finding it hard going. England lose their first wicket on 135 when Burns plays down the wrong line and is dismissed for 61. This represents a vast improvement though and Burns does seem to have tightened up his technique somewhat.
Malan is in next and as I have been advocating his selection for some time it is pleasing to see his first scoring shot, a scorching drive through the covers. England progressed steadily throughout the day, aided and abetted by poor Indian fielding, including overthrows which were loudly jeered by the the raucous crowd. Lacklustre field positions set by Kohli were also a feature – runs seemed freely available almost everywhere. The Western Terrace even revived the infamous ‘Mitchell Johnson’ song for a while, but aimed at Mohammed Siraj rather than the Australian quickie. However, India did get a stroke of luck eventually, having Malan caught behind off a strangle last ball before tea for an imperious 70 runs. Both Malan and Hameed have done enough in this Test to retain their places in my humble opinion.
At the other end and not subject to any selection discussions, is Captain Root, and he would progress to yet another superb century, which of course had his home crowd in raptures. Bairstow too provided useful support. In fact, all the England batsmen contributed in this innings, with one notable but not surprising exception. I’m sure you don’t need me to identify him, the cryptic crossword clue would probably read:
“West country domestic servant moves North to improve his position but fails miserably”
As the beer procession continued on our row, Lofty was getting a little pissed off with regularly having to stand up. One unfortunate youth returned from the bar with a tray of drinks and clumsily spilt beer in front of Loftys seat. The resultant outburst is worthy of re-quote:
“Don’t go spilling around here for f***s sake” What the lad made of that comment is anyone’s guess but it sure amused Higgy and I.
Off to the posh wine bar in Huddersfield again, this time sadly to see Lancashire lose to bloody Welsh Fire in the baseball, followed by an excellent Turkish meal in the Ephesus Restaurant afterwards, just to prove that we sometimes eat other things than curry, Freddie. Although I suspect Turkish food might not suit your palate any more than the curries, just thinking about it!
It is now day three and as we meet Lofty on Huddersfield station he is tucking in to a breakfast of KitKat and shortbread from the station shop – obviously the reconstituted bacon at the Hotel Ersatz has completely lost its appeal.
England are bowled out in just fifteen minutes this morning, but not before they have amassed 432. The TMS team on my earpiece helpfully point out that England have had a 350 lead 18 times since the war, and have in fact won 17 of these matches, so at least history is now on our side.
When India began their second innings there was at first some grim and doughty defence by Rahul and Sharma against the accurate England pace attack. The cricket is, to be honest tedious, and Higgys attention is instead diverted to the Western Terrace, where two lads dressed as Zippy and Bungle are cavorting around. As George seemed to be missing from their group, we offered to nip out to the fancy dress shop at lunch so that Lofty could join them, but this idea didn’t meet any favour.
India manage to reach 34 without loss, then Jonny Bairstow takes a stupendous one handed catch in the slips to dismiss Rahul. However this event is overshadowed shortly afterwards by my highlight of the whole Test. A small plane buzzes the ground trailing a banner, which reads:
“SACK THE ECB AND SAVE TEST CRICKET”.
I gather this banner was not shown by Sky Sports, but TMS were all over it, and I say hats off to whoever paid for this stunt. The ECB are ruining my favourite sport with their harebrained schemes, especially the accursed Hundred, and I am already dreading how cold and dark it is likely to be at the Old Trafford Test – which again we have five day passes for – because of the time of year that this will be staged.
F*** the Hundred, I say.
At 2.30, the hopeless bar on the top level runs out of beer, and coffee too, and I have to do a circuit of the ground to get the drinks in – the coffees I mean.
By the time I return to my seat, Midnight’s normally sunny disposition has evaporated and I am in full rant mode about the shortcomings of Yorkshire CCC, inflamed of course by our earlier ruined trip to Scarborough for the Roses match. The guy in front of me turns round.
“Not like a Yorkshireman to criticise Yorkshire CCC!”
I erupt like a Roman Candle, and my response will have to be imagined, dear reader, than printed here, as it would make our Editor very cross.
At the other end of the ground the Barmy Army have gathered in the Trueman Enclosure and their singing effort was being led by a small person in a blue baseball cap who reminded me of Jimmy Krankie. Even Higgy failed to recognise this individual using Loftys binoculars, but it gave me the excuse to quote an amusing anecdote about the Krankies I heard on the radio. They had been employed as cabaret on the cruise liner QE2 but when queuing to board the ship they were challenged by a passenger who objected to such poor entertainment.
“What the hell are you two doing here!?”
“Who were you expecting, Shirley bleeding Bassey” was their rejoinder….ha ha ha!
My brainwave level had sunk to these depths primarily because of the turgid cricket out on the pitch. I asked Lofty to come up with a four letter word to describe today’s play and he came up with ‘dreary’, which I think may highlight important issues about the educational standards on the channel islands.
The one spark of humour during the afternoon was provided by a pitch invader dressed in loose fitting whites and Ill fitting pads, and with a cricket bat. This joker managed to get half way towards the middle before being wrestled to the ground by G4S.
Given the non- televising of the plane and its banner, I texted a pal from Lancs to see if Sky had shown this village idiot. Obviously not, as the reply came back as follows:
“No, on Sky we just got that f****** w***** selling Cinch!”
Lots of punters left the ground before stumps today – including ourselves, and things got feral behind the Western Terrace as the bars closed unexpectedly early. Back to the wine bar and Chilli Lounge in Huddersfield, where Higgy insists on showing Lofty the ‘obscene’ Rainbow video clip to properly acquaint him with Zippy, Bungle and friends.
With only two Indian wickets in the bag at the start of day four, we are expecting another day of hard graft. With Kohli and Pujara at the crease, Higgy even fears a sizeable Indian lead going into day five. More confirmation is provided around Loftys breakfast issues when he purchases a sausage roll (just one) from a shop on Leeds Station called ‘Delice De France’ – which costs £3-99! Blimey, thank the Good Lord for Brexit, they are only a pound at Greggs!
The train to Headingley is even more packed than usual today and hundreds of fans are left at Leeds station as they are simply unable to squeeze on. This state of affairs really annoys me, you would think Northern Rail would be aware of local events and size their trains accordingly, especially with Leeds festival happening at the same time as the Test match. I bet the train carrying people to see Stormzy is even more overpopulated than ours!
Hallelujah, the sun is actually shining today. Still bloody cold though. I have a group of yuppies on the row behind me who spend the whole morning talking shite. Never has my earpiece radio been out of my rucksack so fast, or turned up so loud. In fact, if anyone is planning to buy me a Christmas present, another earpiece radio (red please, to match) would come in useful so that in future I can have one for each ear.
Pujara is surprisingly out after only fifteen minutes but Kohli is still there.
Meanwhile, the yuppies are onto politics now, bloody hell.
“The more educated you are now, the more likely you are to vote Labour!” They spout.
I sit there wondering if that quote was put out by Diane Abbott.
There is a strange looking individual on the end of our row who looks like Catweazle. He is sat next to Lofty and was yesterday too, but has not uttered a word to anyone.
I’m am massively envious and fervently wish that Catweazle was sat right behind me for some silence instead of the yuppie drivel.
As the Indian innings begins its latest crumbling spiral, an Indian lady to my right enquires about the availability of the empty seat next to me.
This seat is in fact ours, paid for by Lofty, but the lad it was intended for has not been able to come today. The lady asks if she can seat her two small kiddies together on the one seat next to me. Knowing the likely consequences, I politely decline. “I’d rather not”, I say. Next thing we know, the parents have moved out of their seats and enter the children instead. As expected they cannot keep still and one kid makes the fatal error of trying to push past Lofty while the cricket is live.
This attracts a small rubuke from Lofty – nothing offensive, he was quite restrained I thought.
“Sit down, and stay sat down, will you?”
Little did we know that Indian dad was stood just above us on the concourse.
“Hey mate, if you got anything to say to my kids, say it to me first, eh, innit!”
None of us said anything in response at the time so I will write it here instead:
“Hey mate! Can you please control your children and ask them to remain seated until the over is finished?”
“Miserable Old Gits”, I can already hear you thinking!
I’m not proposing to go through the Indian collapse in detail, suffice it to say the fat lady was singing from the top of the breeze block after about an hour, and eight wickets fell before lunch. We didn’t even have time to get out our sandwiches!
We decided to wait awhile to watch the presentation and let the crowd disperse and as we sat there an Indian couple who had arrived late took their seats for the first time, and gazed forlornly at the groundsmen watering the pitch, and their useless tickets. I felt genuinely sorry for them.
So, England win the match by an innings and 76 runs, with Ollie Robinson deservedly Man of the Match for his accurate and aggressive bowling and of course his haul of wickets. This has been a vastly improved showing by our boys, aided by the hostile and vociferous Leeds crowd, but as the next Test is once again in London my money is on an India 2-1 lead by the time we get to Old Trafford!
The final anecdote,as ever, deserves to go to Lofty. As we waited on Leeds station for our connection to Huddersfield, a group of Indian folk got out of the carriage as our train pulled in.
“Hey, if you’ve come to watch the cricket…. You’re too late!” Lofty helpfully informed them.
Five minutes later, as our train chugged on towards the Huddersfield wine bar, Lofty was fast asleep!
This has been an absolute ordeal of a Test match due to the weather, the travelling, and the lack of competitiveness from India, although obviously a great result for England.
I am hoping for more of a contest next time, Virat, please!