Just like the Birmingham Bears, I was delayed by the traffic.
“Ten minutes and we’re leaving,” I announced on returning to the family home.
“Why can’t I have a phone?” demanded the 1&only daughter.
“By tram. No. Why can’t we go in the car?” complained no. 1 son.
“Can I have a coke?” nagged no. 2 son.
Were Chopra and Brown’s team as moany and discontented as Mrs DG’s and my lot?
A sprinkling of rain fell as we got off the tram at Old Trafford.
“How much longer until they call if off?” queried no.1 son gloomily.
Finding dry seats in C stand, we heard the announcement that the game would start 30 minutes late owing to traffic delays on Daddy’s commute home (or similar).
“Now, we’ve got to sit here for 40 minutes,” muttered no.1 son, who in another Manchester sporting venue is anxious if we aren’t at our seats that length of time before kick-off.
Time well-invested back at the concourse behind the pavilion, buying treats. An ice cream to distract the 1&onlyD from the ignominy of being a year 6 pupil without a mobile phone; and another chosen in a split-second defection from coke by no. 2 son.
I try to explain to Mrs DG the prominence of Brendon McCullum in world cricket. I feel emotional as I summarise how his significance goes beyond New Zealand and can be credited with invigorating the English game this summer.
“So he’s the best T20 player in the world?” questions no.1 son, comfortable with definitive judgements, not the weighing of strengths and weaknesses, the application of context to performance and the sheer ambiguity of the game. “Is he good?” he asks as each new bowler is brought into the attack – frequently, as Lancashire bowl most of the innings in one over spells.
McCullum doesn’t live up to my encomium – although that’s been true of his whole trip to the UK as a batsman. The Bears’ captain, Chopra, and their other international captain, Porterfield, accumulate, but the innings doesn’t ignite.
As each bowler starts their mini-spell, I confirm to no.1 son that, “Yes”, they are good – as well as providing some context. The exception is Steven Croft, about whom for the sake of variety rather than a genuine assessment, I state, “No.” Despite me, Croft bowls well, as do the other spinners, Parry and Lilley, which suggests why the Birmingham innings falters. No.1 son and I comment on the variation in pace and flight of the slow bowlers, but most respect is accorded James Faulkner.
His run-up is pitched like a man trying to progress into the teeth of a gale. But what we appreciate is the accuracy of his back-of-the hand slower ball. He uses it as his default, rather than surprise, delivery and lands it on a length on off-stump repeatedly.
Before the game began, asked how many sixes we would see, I plumped for eleven. The first comes in the Bears’ twentieth over, when Gordon, who the big screen tells us has zero T20 career runs, hoists his first ball over the mid-wicket boundary. If my prediction is to come true, the Lancashire reply will be short and successful.
Mrs DG pronounces it ridiculous that a county is playing a city. I think about asking her views of a team known as ‘England’ playing another titled, ‘West Indies’.
She also detects flatulence innuendo: the Blast, which starts with a Blast-Off and the flaming jets and hot air expelled in front of C stand that signal boundary hits. I enter into the spirit with a plate of lamb rogan-josh, pint of ale and bag of Bombay mix.
We move upstairs for the Lancashire reply. The rows of seats are steeply inclined. No.2 son asks us to sit still as he is anxious about toppling off. The view of the ground, its hinterland and the setting sun is uplifting.
A couple of early sixes shorten odds on my pre-match prediction. But in back garden cricket fashion, each is followed by an out. Mostly Lancashire batsmen mistime the ball or middle it straight at boundary fielders, to no.1 son’s frustration and increasing disdain. Don’t worry, Faulkner’s coming, I reassure.
Mrs DG and the 1&onlyD are focused on the big screen. Tracking the required rate? Checking career records? Studying the umpire referrals of two run out decisions? No. Waiting to see if their selfie tweeted with #summerlive makes the cut. It doesn’t and they feel short-changed. Note to county grounds: make sure you display every photo submitted.
Faulkner does come and some of the time does strike the ball a bit more cleanly than his teammates, but keeps taking singles to bring Jordan Clark or Alex Davies to face – the latter plays a short innings comprising, almost exclusively, attempted ramps. When Faulkner does connect well the ball whistles to the upper tier of the stand at mid-wicket. The chase is on! Then off again when the expected rattle of boundaries doesn’t come and he falls to a good low catch at long-off.
Faulkner is replaced by Liam Livingstone, a cricketer in the odd situation of being more famous for an exploit at club level than in the professional game. Could he alter that tonight? 17 runs to win off the final over would do it.
A straight drive hit so hard that Brendon McCullum at long-on can’t even get close enough to essay a dive, raises hopes. Livingstone runs hard, losing and regaining the strike with byes run to the keeper. Nine needed from the final two balls and the Nantwich player swings Hannon-Dalby into the legside and just over the boundary.
It has come down to the final ball: family friendly cricket. Excitement more memorable than an ice cream and flake, a ride on a busy tram and fear of tumbling from a high stand; and at least on a par with seeing flames shot into the air in front of you. Whether it matches the thrill of seeing your photo on the big screen, we’ll have to wait for another visit to find out.
For the second time in two years, club cricket from the Wirral-Cheshire area has thrust its way into the early season headlines. In April 2014, Wirral CC were bowled out for 3, with ten batsmen out for ducks. One year on, and it’s the turn of Caldy CC to gain unfortunate prominence. Caldy lost a 45 over match by exactly 500 runs, with the opponents’ batsman, Liam Livingstone (Nantwich and Lancashire), the real news-maker scoring a reported world record one day score of 350.
Scanning the scorecard of today’s match, the eye rests quickly on Livingstone – 34 fours, 24 sixes – it travels to the bowling analyses – economy rates ranging from 9.7 to 17 – and then searches for one important detail. The toss. Did Caldy bring this tumult on themselves? Did they pass up the chance for a good thrashing by choosing what might have been cricketing extinction?
Caldy’s captain, it turns out, called incorrectly. Very little went right for him all day, but at least he doesn’t have to chide himself for bringing on his team this flood of runs, this paralysing margin of victory.
One other thought: as his team got ready to bat, 580 their target, at nearly 13 runs per over, did he impress upon his teammates that they should, “just play their normal game”?