Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Ashes, 4th Test, day 2 - My Story

Off to the cricket it was for our second day of Test cricket this season. Beautiful train ride down to Leeds if you overlook the 6am start. The vibes of Headingley were so obvious as we got close; loads of good spirit, which would have been difficult for those English folk after yesterday. Absolutely perfect conditions (con-di-ti-ons as the Yorkies say it) for cricket and even a few weddings – barely a cloud in the sky, no wind and mid twenties. Outside the ground, which is under reconstruction we mingled with folk in fancy dress, ticket touts, lager louts and enterprising souls flogging off anything from sunglasses to ham sandwiches for £1.50. The atmosphere continued inside – outside our aisle you could even have a bespoke cricket bat made up by Gray Nicholls; now I’ve seen it all. This was clearly a proper cricket ground all right, in spite of what the press say about the ‘West Stand’ and construction works. Unlike Lord’s, no alcohol allowed into this game, though you could bring flags of all shapes and sizes.

The Aussies resumed at 196/4, Clarke (34) and North (10) not wasting any time achieving their 50 partnership and Australia’s 200. Clarkey soon had his fifty in the sixth over; the 100 partnership and team 250 by the tenth, and the crowd were silent. The guys next to us from the Midlands said they’d be quite happy with a declaration by tea time as North racked up his 50 and Australia’s 300 in the 25th over, 72nd overall. Milestones dropped quicker than our odds of retaining the Ashes, the Clarke/North partnership reaching 150 off 251 balls. Clarke looked set for another hundred but fell on 93, LBW by Onions ten minutes before lunch. 29 overs bowled in the session, Australia 306/5.

The little league certainly brought the Western Stand to life; indeed it was ‘kicking off’ as one wag suggested as more and more boxes of four pints each were brought up into the stands as everyone panic bought to beat the mandatory one hour bar closure ‘some time between lunch and tea’. Copped a couple of ‘Go Blues’ from Aussies out the back on account of the Geelong jumper, all deserved though.

The new ball paid off immediately for the Poms, Haddin had no answer to the rising ball from Harmie, caught Ian Bell for 14. The joy was tempered when word got round the bar was now closed for an hour and a HALF(!) ‘You’re joking!’ went the cry from Aussies who remembered that Toohey’s ad from years back, ‘afraid not lad’ was the reply. The response was for a semi-spontaneous rendition of ‘Neighbours’, and the banter was officially on.

We had no answer for ‘Sand up… if you’re 1-Nil up’ but attention was soon turned to the poor old ‘Green Team’, whose job apparently includes deflating beach balls. ‘Geeeet a propeeer job; get-a-proper-job’ is all I can print. When some Aussies in the AST group fired up they were treated to a rousing rendition of ‘Especially for you’. Just let them bait the stewards I thought! And so it was on again; the new steward on the boundary line apparently looking like Gary Barlow from ‘Take That’, so he was treated to various chants such as ‘There’s only one Gary Barlow’, ‘He’s the fat Gary Barlow’ ‘Sing us a song if you’re Gary Barlow’ etc.

I can assure you this was much more entertaining than the cricket over the next agonising hour and a half. 350 runs went and gone, boring stuff. The Yorkshire tradition of blowing up long thing balloons (I kid you not), letting them jet off and cheering them onto the ground was the major activity. Poor old Ravi Bopara, who made a duck yesterday and put in a pathetic attempt at stopping four in today’s first over (ie he just let it go) copped stick. So it was pretty funny when Mitchell Johnson was caught near the boundary by Ravi off Stuart Broad for 27; all is forgotten! For ten minutes until the next misfield anyway.

Poor bloke next to me was dispatched to do a beer run after we saw some punters walking in with beers; returning empty handed ten minutes later. Didn’t help him but I was wrapt when Marcus North belted a six to bring up three figures in style, the Aussies now 406/8. Stuart Clark his partner after Siddle went for a golden duck, and proceeded to belt the case off the ball, smashing three sixes, the first going straight over bowler Swann’s head onto what will be the third tier of the new stand. He gave the crowd what they deserved after an extended middle session as Australia went all out for 445, North last man out for 110.

Broad was their best bowler but was still made to look good with six for; Jimmy Anderson opened today and bowled six straight before being taken out, the injury discussed before play eventually ruling him out, but he strangely remained on the field. Onions was canon fodder, and Swann, well I barely noticed him. Harmie went for a few runs but bowled OK. Not much imagination from Strauss, would have liked to see Collingwood roll his arm over for one or two before lunch or midway through the second session.

The final session’s first hour was incredibly boring as far as on field goes; off field it was in full swing, beer cup ‘snakes’ and then beer box castles the rage along with the balloons and more banter, and even a few ejections. Johnson came on second change in over 14 to cries of ‘who?!’ but soon wiped the smiles off everyone as he laid into Strauss and Cook.

More bar closure action, this time they shut our bars at 5pm without warning. Fortunately I’d just found out about a bar on the opposite side of the ground that sold bottles of Carlsberg cheaper than pints, so I was saved. Soon though this ‘Island’ bar was shut and that was that, perhaps mercifully as it was well and truly on. The opening pair put up quite a fight; it wasn’t until half five when Strauss was trapped plum LBW by Hilfenhaus. Poor old Ravi was next in, given out first ball LB despite clearly nicking the ball. You make your own luck in cricket but he was given a shocker.

What happened next is a bit of a blur. Johnson, with a great new haircut, ripped through not only Ian Bell (caught Punter) and Collingwood (LBW) but finally Cook to an absolute ripper caught by Haddin. The damage at stumps; England 82/5; Anderson needing a single to extend his record of 52 innings without a duck.

Almost felt sorry for the Poms today but after they got stuck into us at Lord’s they don’t completely deserve it; still that was a very different crowd and these guys, from all over but generally the North or the Midlands, were great craic and I’d love to come back here again some day.