Grounds for optimism?

Essex v Kent – Bob Willis Trophy – Aug 1, 2020

Saturday August 1, 2020 marks the start of the County Cricket season of first class cricket in England…close to 200 days later than planned; and we all know the reason why!

As ever, the start of the cricket season is one of optimism and excitement – the restoration of life as we know it but not quite today. The County Championship has been cancelled this year and replaced by the Bob Willis Trophy (perhaps a format for the future and one Bob often discussed or proposed at length!). Three ‘conferences’ of six teams, each playing each other once with the top two teams (from three conferences…yes, I can’t work it out either) contesting a final at Lord’s in late September/early October (should be interesting in terms of temperature and hours of daylight!) but we cricket followers know this.

Two games were due to be pilots for wider opening of sports venues and I was lucky to get a ticket for Surrey v Middlesex at The Oval but the pilot was withdrawn just under 24 hours before the start…so the match, like all the others would be played behind closed doors. Optimism and excitement dashed before we even start! But I had a plan to see some live cricket this season.

All of Essex’s games are behind closed doors but there could be a chance of glimpsing something from the top floor of the multi-storey car park across the dual carriageway which passes the ground. How much could I see and would it start a trend? How many other Essex members or cricket ‘nuts’ would gather in a car park to watch cricket from a distance? Would any be tempted to climb the parapet and end it all if it got too much? No worries on that score – the City Council have made the top floor jump-proof!

Taking a few long lens photos helped a bit but it wasn’t until I come to review them in relative comfort that I realise what’s going on – hardly ideal but better than the other prospect of seeing nothing at all this season which seemed likely at one stage during the Spring and early Summer.

So, apart from the ‘this is the closest you can get view’ at the start of this blog, here’s a couple of close ups of Jamie Porter in full flight and flow – it’s almost as if nothing has changed!

Porter on the point of delivery – have no idea who the batsman is as he’s out of sight!
And here, next ball, in full flight – literally!

And it gave me food for thought…what other grounds could offer this ‘free but very restricted’ view and feel for a match? I’ve watched cricket on many grounds – ranging from the splendour of the Lord’s Pavilion to the delightful local ‘ovals’ in Australia – but where could you find a space or two to watch a ‘behind closed doors’ match?

The one which springs to mind is from the top of the Old Fort in Galle (as experienced by the BBC several tours ago and the Barmy Army in 2018 – each for reasons we all know) but you’re so far away everyone is so small and the basics of the game (the score, current batsman and bowler etc) are at best guesses and as for the nuances of play…well, that’s not what you can expect!

Here are a few shots of other grounds from afar – fortunately for me, no play was in progress or planned when I took these photos!

The SCG (on the right) from the Sydney tower – not that you can see what’s happening!
Mount Manganui ground from Mount Manganui – again you wouldn’t see much!
Seating at the Old Fort, Galle
And just how close you are to the action!

But for all this, it’s been a great effort by all concerned to get the first class trophy up and running as it is and to provide as good remote access and information as possible.

There are grounds for optimism – The Oval, Arundel, Edgbaston, Bristol, Taunton, Trent Bridge, Riverside, New Road, Hove and ‘Fortress’ Chelmsford – to name a few but can we hope that the optimism the ‘new’ season brings can spread to other aspects of life as soon as we can.

So, if you hear of a cricket ‘nut’ on the top of a multi-storey car park trying to watch the match…he’s just renewing his love of the game and trying to bring some sense of ‘normal’ back to his life!