534 days, points failure and cat litter

It’s been 534 days since I last saw a live cricket match in person (December 3, 2019 NZ v England Seddon Park Hamilton to be precise) so as we enter the latest phase of the plan to return to ‘normality’ I grabbed the chance to go to a County Championship match – Surrey v Middlesex at The Oval. But what has changed?

In a way, everything but then in a way nothing. Back then – 500+ days ago – the last match I saw rain bring a premature end to the Test and the cricketing world was full of expectation. Tour planned to Sri Lanka, summer at home with great Tests in prospect, a new competition, building on the success of the 2019 Ashes series and one-day World Cup wonders. Full of expectation!

This all came to nought as we all know; new words and terminology entered the lexicon of life and our lives changed dramatically. Back then we had only heard of ‘furlough’ in old literary works, ‘test and trace’ seemed like something from a CSI drama series, ‘lockdowns’ happened in pubs after hours, international borders were only closed during conflict and wars, ‘social distancing’ was never heard of (unless it was someone to be avoided at the office Christmas party), ‘R-numbers’ probably something in algebra lessons of yesteryear, ‘bubbles’ were blown or sung for West Ham and so forth.

Lives changed – home working, schools closed, sanitation breaks, masks…We know, we lived through it. But also many tragically did not. Estimates of worldwide deaths range from 7,000,000 to 13,000,000 (I’ve written it out in full as ‘millions’ just distracts from the sheer scale of loss). Every one a tragedy, a family in sadness and grief; many more lives changed beyond imagination. And most of those tragedies in less-developed areas of the world; first world countries health systems coped (and creaked) but those elsewhere…beyond imagination.

So, life as we know it changed but as we wake from this enforced type of ‘hibernation’, a lot hasn’t. Rich countries are able to vaccinate their way to ‘recovery’ and ‘normality’ but others are not.

Today’s effort to wake from this hibernation saw me take myself off to the Oval for the self-affirming inner glow a cricket match can provide (well, for me, anyway). One change has been the new fleet of trains on our local line – I know, sad isn’t it, but if you used the old ones, you’d know why this is ‘exciting’. But no sooner said than done when a points failure delayed the journey and the ‘old way’s returned!

When you have travelled/commuted into/worked in London as many times as I have (at least 10,000 times for me), it was a surprise (and delight) to see that many areas of infrastructure has been cleaned or spruced up during the pandemic lockdown. Stairs and stairwells freshly painted and cleaned, seats cleaned and buffed up, H&S signs refreshed. But also many shops/offices closed and run down but then new fresh areas springing up. Change is all around. What we need to do now is go out and see what’s changed, how and why!

But I digress from the purpose – to see live cricket in person! Neither Surrey nor Middlesex have covered themselves in glory so far this season (started well over a month ago) so whilst they may not have that great a chance at glory or prizes this season…it’s live cricket!!

Systems and processes for pandemic-secure watching/attending were simple and effective. Although one steward did ask if I was Peter May but I replied that the great English and Surrey batsman passed away several years ago! He was asking if my seat was in the Peter May Stand – but the chance of levity could not be ignored!

Probably the first time ever that opposing captains have such great mullets! Would never happen in May’s days!

The weather was more March than May (although April in the UK was more like June and May has been more like April) but today was windy – blowing a gale in some parts of the ground by the end of the day; and cold! Cold like you’ve never experienced before! Well, you have actually but not at this time of the year!

From my allocated seat, the pitch was someway into the far distance (probably close to London Bridge than in Kennington) and from the first ball, everything was restored to what I know and love!

The green pitch and overcast conditions suggested an early fall of wickets but Surrey stuck to their task well and reached 95-0 at lunch with both Burns and Stoneman approaching their 50s and the Middlesex bowlers striving but not succeeding.

A short shower over lunch meant a delayed restart and something had changed in the collective Surrey ‘brain’ – the next two runs took 30 minutes – and in the Middlesex ‘brain’ too – much tighter bowling but then it was more overcast by then.

Both openers reached their half-centuries and at 135/0 looked well set to build a large score, bat once, bat Middlesex out of the game (weather forecast for tomorrow is even more grim than today) but, as we’ve seen before, one wicket brings two. But for Surrey it was even worse – two wickets became three, and then four, and don’t take your eye off the game…five and even six! Yes, six wickets in no time for 11 runs – 135/0 became 146/6 in the blink of an eye.

Blame can be attached to the Surrey batsmen – perhaps they wanted to stay in the warmth of the pavilion rather than go outside – but let’s not overlook the Middlesex bowlers who stuck to their task but the inspired change to bring Andersson back (yes, Middlesex have their own ‘Anderson’ but with two ‘s’) brought the breakthrough and the collapse.

But at tea, rain came to the Surrey rescue (for the day at least) and play was abandoned well before the scheduled end. Tomorrow’s prospects look bleak (weather-wise) and for Surrey but at least they have the compensation that Middlesex’ batting this season has been brittle beyond belief and Middlesex are experts at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!

So really, nothing has changed – cricket in the cold and rain, teams doing well and then badly and vice versa – but then everything has changed (and the famous old ground has a new development which looks very swish – and a warm, dry refuge from the rain/cold).

And one really odd thing – there are reports that New Zealand batsmen in the UK for a test series against England and the World Test Championship against India – are scattering cat litter across the net pitches (on a good length) to help them practice against the spin bowling that India excel at! Full of expectation (still!)

All very strange but then some things don’t change and others do – that’s life, I suppose!

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