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Aug 1, day one: Edgbaston
8am: making a couple of sandwiches and boiling a flask of soup before driving to Edgbaston. The irony might need to be explained: Edgbaston is the capital of catering in British cricket. Worldwide indeed only Sri Lanka comes close, when they contract out their media lunches to the local five-star hotel. In the UK Edgbaston comes top by a street: for a Test they offer a four-course lunch, starting with smoked mackerel perhaps, some roast or proper Asian (ie not British) curry, followed by fruity desserts then cheese and biscuits. Next come Lord’s, Southampton, the Oval, Old Trafford, Trent Bridge and in last place, by a long way, Headingley.
Hence the irony of taking sandwiches to Edgbaston. Warwickshire’s media guidance says there will be no catering in their first-round Bob Willis Trophy game against Northamptonshire, only tea and coffee.
It is these little differences that you notice first. Or the notice at the bottom of the media stand at Edgbaston: “one person per lift.”
And I am averaging 36 already this season! Not with the bat unfortunately, or even the ball, but with the temperature gauge which they point at your forehead.
A very young Northamptonshire line-up is blown away by Olly Stone, who cranks it up against his former county, followed by a fine, compact yet fluent innings by Rob Yates, a 20 year-old lefthander tipped to go all the red-ball way.
One year ago to the day the Hollies Stand had been heaving and chanting its heart out on the first day of the Ashes Test. A year on it is accommodating two photographers, although 2500 spectators were due to arrive until the government brought down the curtain less than 24 hours before the games at Edgbaston and the Oval.
Aug 2, day two: Worcester
Test grounds are bound to feel more eerie and ghostly during lockdown than county grounds. Whereas Edgbaston was empty, even eerie, the game between Lancashire and Leicestershire at New Road feels more like a club match played by professionals, given the proximity - with social distancing of course - of those involved. One of the umpires hails me between overs. You can park beside the boundary and watch the game. No other written media in the press box - radio commentators only - but then this game at Worcester has no local interest, being between Lancashire and Leicestershire for lockdown reasons too complicated to explain in a sentence.
In addition to this plague and pestilence, Worcester has endured flooding with six inundations last winter. No wonder the turf away from the square is patchy.and the fielders have to use two hands as carefully as clubbies. The Pakistanis have also been practising here with nets on the outfield.
Otherwise the ground is as near to perfect as ever, in appearance. The Cathedral is partially obscured by trees in full leaf, rather than budding, as when photographs of New Road are taken at the start of a season, in April not August. The Ladies Pavilion survived the flooding, just, although it is of course closed, so no afternoon teas and homemade cakes.
Edgbaston did partly live up to its reputation by the way. They dished up a lunch on a tray which would have put many an airline to shame, then a member of their media staff offered home made cake at tea. “Nice gesture!” I could hear David Foot saying, the patron saint or doyen of county cricket correspondents.
Dieter Klein, Leicestershire’s left-arm bowler, hurt Lancashire’s allrounder Danny Lamb when he hurled the ball back and hit Lamb on the left foot, but it seemed to me that he did it spontaneously, without malice aforethought. On a beautiful summer’s day it was the nearest that a serpent came to entering the Garden.
Aug 3, day three: Taunton
Taunton is the home of county cricket in that probably a higher percentage of the local population care about what is going on at the county ground than anywhere else. But nobody is watching - except remotely of course via online-streaming. As the third afternoon of Somerset’s game against Glamorgan goes on, the number of views reaches 100,000 - the first time that Somerset have reached six figures in a single day of a first-class game - and 126,000 views by the close.
It is a wonderful form of compensation for those who cannot attend. Six fixed cameras - one slow-motion - and a roving cameraman, to go with BBC local radio commentary on the game. I hope it saves some sanity.
“Normally our Asian following is more Pakistan than India,” says Ben Warren, Somerset’s digital executive, who orchestrates what is basically a budding tv channel. Most views come from India, but brief ones and for non-gambling purposes one hopes, then longer ones in the UK, about half-an-hour a time. Pakistanis tuned in when Azhar Ali and Babar Azam were batting for Somerset.
It was as close to a perfect day as at Worcester, though not even tea and coffee were available, or water. By now I am fully conscious of the privilege of being able to watch 22 professional cricketers in action, on a midsummer’s day, and nobody on the field wearing a mask.
Aug 4, day four: Bristol
A cool and cloudy fourth day as Gloucestershire fight for a draw against Worcestershire on a pitch flattening out/dying.
One strange difference: when there was a sanitisation break at Edgbaston and Worcester, the players walked to the nearest point on the boundary where bottles were kept - apart from the batsmen and wicketkeeper, being gloved, and the umpires. At Taunton and Bristol however the players have their sanitising fluid brought out to them. A bit like the days before the tea interval, when amateurs like CB Fry and Ranji would have their butler bring out a silver tray with a cup of tea.
Will Brown, Gloucestershire’s chief executive, speaks - at a distance - of the bureaucracy involved in sending out their players, not in the first team, to play for their clubs at the weekend and all the covid precautions demanded. He adds that if counties next season are allowed to admit spectators to 30 per cent of normal capacity, as government suggests, that would be satisfactory at Bristol (capacity 8000) except for T20 games.
It looks as though county cricket will take a lot longer to get back on its feet financially than it did in 1919 and 1946, when crowds flocked to cricket for the relief it could bring.
Scyld Berry's County File series will return later this year, starting with Somerset.