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Nottingham Castle

How To Fall In Love With Cricket

2 May 05 words: Howell Lovell
Some people think of Cricket as an interminably tedious sport where men in white stand around, before trooping off for tea and cake

Some people may think of Cricket as an interminably tedious, impenetrable sport where men stand around in white clothes doing nothing very much before trooping off for tea and cake. But a new season is underway and it is surely better to learn to love this wonderful sport....

The Ground

If you have lived in Nottingham for any period of time yet not visited this sporting gem, then shame on you. Trent Bridge is a place with history. Cricket has been played here since 1838 and it is reputed to be the third oldest ground in the world. As you enter the ground, an immediate sense of sporting heritage hits you. Put simply, there is an aura about the place. From stands named after illustrious former players, to the old pavilion with its clock plum in the centre regarding the pitch with detached grandeur, there since 1886, everywhere there are reminders of the past.

But the ground is far from being a museum. It is also surprisingly modern and boasts a sparkling new stand, all gleaming white tubing topped with an airy, curving roof. The ground has had to keep up with contemporary trends partly in order to keep its international status and is now an eclectic mix of the traditional and the new, which works strangely well.

Unlike football grounds where the fans are herded in like so much cattle, there is a sense of calm and of space, an idea that the ground hasn’t been built solely for the purpose of cramming the maximum amount of people into the smallest area, but also with an eye for how it looks and feels. Watching a county match here, you can spread out and let the game wash over you. This is not the manky meat pie and plastic glassed lager land of footie. Take your own food and wine. Relax and enjoy!

Most areas of the ground are open to everyone on a county match here, and so you can explore the ground at your leisure. Each stand gives another vantage point, a different view of the game. County matches here manage to convey an intimacy and warmth despite the grandeur of the place. Granted, if you feel the urge to get up and chant, “Stand up if you’re one nil up” or some such witty gem, you’ll probably be on your own, but it’s a small price to pay.


Internationals

On big matches here, the ground gives off an altogether different vibe. For an international, there is an unmistakeable buzz of anticipation in and around the ground. On a test match morning, the area outside the ground, around the river, is awash with programme and souvenir sellers, dubious smelling burger stands and groups of spectators who, having realised that the game is as much an opportunity to be watched as watch, are dressed as Vikings or Elvis, Barney Rubble or George Bush.

Even if you’re not into cricket, it’s hard not to be swept up by the general sense of occasion. If you really don’t like it, you can always get slowly sozzled at one of the all day bars which dot the ground and spend your day observing the crowd. As in airports and on ferries, normal drinking etiquette is suspended during big cricket matches and it becomes perfectly acceptable to drink steadily through the day and early evening, starting around ten in the morning.

This summer, the Australians visit these shores and face the strongest England team for a decade or more, which theoretically has a reasonable chance of victory. There is huge anticipation therefore for this series and it is probably the last chance to see leg spinner Shane Warne perform in an Aussie shirt over here. Warne is one of crickets true greats, and reason enough to see a match on his own.

But unfortunately if you want to see the test this summer, be prepared to pay a minimum of £120 to a tout, or you won’t get in. The ground sold out in days for the match even though tickets were on sale a full year before the event. However tickets are never sold in advance for the final day as games often don’t last the distance, so if you have a free Monday and are prepared to queue, you could witness a bit of sporting history.


The Game

A perplexed American trying to get his head around the game once said to me, “Now, have I got this right? The game goes on for five days, and most of the time nobody wins? Jeez….”

Cricket has suffered in the past for being too cautious and too happy to settle for deadlock. No longer. The game has entered a golden age and is now more attacking and entertaining than ever before. One of the main reasons for this has been the Aussies.

The Australians have pioneered a new, more aggressive approach to playing the game. Batsmen score more quickly enabling the team to have more time to win. This has been adapted by almost every other international team with the result that the game at this level has become much more attractive to watch with draws a fairly rare occurrence. Teams who used to play not to lose now play to win. Another important factor in increasing the attractiveness of the game is...


The Twenty 20 Cup

Introduced in 2003, the Twenty 20 Cup is a little like Sid Vicious singing My Way: both familiar and very strange all at the same time. It was introduced in an attempt to bring extra revenue to the game with a new format. Games were played under floodlights(starting at five and finishing by 8.15) the plan being to attract a new audience who could attend after work. The shortness of the game, each side getting less than half the time to bat than any other form of cricket, lends a dynamic explosiveness to it. The essence is distilled. Things happen quickly and the game can shift from one side to another at any time. Each ball matters.

There was initially some nervousness on the part of the powers that be about the new format. Would there be sufficient interest? Would the format’s shortness turn it into a travesty of a sport more known for tradition than innovation?

The results shocked everyone. People loved it and attendances for the matches were the highest they had been in domestic cricket for at least half a century. If you’re not sure about cricket but want to give it a go, then this is as good a place to start as any. There’s a buzz about the game, it generates an excitement not usually seen in domestic cricket.

Watching a match here under floodlights is a fantastic experience. The lights intensify it and the ground is usually packed with a refreshing range of people. On Twenty 20 nights, Trent Bridge buzzes with life. So ignore the boring old farts, who complain it’s just not cricket and come along and check out the future of the game. As of yet, Nott’s have made little impact on the competition, yet they have a squad suited to this form of the game and with the wind in the right direction….


The Team

Some people may think of Cricket as an interminably tedious, impenetrable ‘sport’ where men stand around in white clothes doing nothing very much before trooping off for tea and cake.Two seasons ago, Notts were dreadful and were deservedly relegated. But after recruiting wisely (amongst others, all rounder Mark Ealham and pace bowler Ryan Sidebottom) they managed to turn things around and have regained their rightful place in the top league.

Former international Ealham (right) has been a revelation injecting aggression and runs into the middle order batting as well as making a large contribution with his niggardly medium pace. Sidebottom has also proved to be a genuinely threatening opening bowler and allied with established players such as world class keeper, Chris Read and captain Jason Gallian, Notts will be looking for another successful season this summer. The only question mark hanging over the team is the departure of the petulant talent of pseudo Englishman, Kevin Pieterson, though the arrival of New Zealand captain Steven Fleming should compensate and unlike Pieterson, Kiwi skipper Fleming has some class off the field as well as on it. Notts then, unlike their footballing counterparts, are a team most definitely on the up.

So there you are, just a few reasons to get out and watch some cricket this summer. It’s true, cricket has often been its own worst enemy, happy to portray itself as a stuffy, class ridden game. But things are changing fast and the game is in the midst of a renaissance. But if none of this has convinced you: so be it. I tried. You’ll just have to be content with watching Forest in Division Two…

Also on LeftLion: Cricket kicks off

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