This is the time of year when I begin to wish my life away a little, looking forward to the beginning of the cricket season. Easter too, obviously, but principally the cricket season. The season traditionally begins (more or less) with a fixture at Lord’s between the Champion County (of the previous season) and MCC. MCC, in this case, used to mean a selection of players who the selectors thought might be in with a shout of playing Test cricket that season. The selection used to be mulled over in the press for days before the match, with much speculation as to what it might have to say about what was in the selectors’ minds.
For the last four or five years I’ve made a point of booking a day off work for the first day of the match – to give myself something to forward to (so that I can drag myself through the last of the dark days, the horrors of the end of the financial year and the appraisal cycle and so on) and it can be quite wonderful – the jollity of the later train, the feeling of life returning to the earth and the warmth of the first watery sunshine of Spring, the smell of the freshly cut grass, the feeling of being with people who are exactly where they want to be and so on (removes small onion from inside pocket). I’m getting quite choked up just thinking about it.
Sometimes there is even some decent cricket – a few years ago I saw Alistair Cook and Matt Prior (neither of whom I’d really been aware of before) bat all through the first day to put on a double century opening stand. It’s also quite a good opportunity to get your picture in the papers, as the press always turned up to report on the first day of the season, making reference to handfuls of diehards, anoraks, thermos flasks and thermal underwear.
So this year I checked which day the match was going to take place. It’s usually about the second week in April. This year it’s on the 29th March. And it’s not at Lord’s, it’s in Abu Dhabi.
Derby? Blimey, that’ll be a bit chilly in March, won’t it? It’s bad enough in June, and they won’t have the pies sorted out – they never do early season …
No, not Derby – Abu Dhabi. Abu ******* Dhabi. One of the United Arab Emirates, I believe, next door to that other home of the modern game Dubai. They are also going to be using the match to trial the new pink ball. In fairness, part of the reason given by MCC for holding the match in Adu Dhabi is that they did not feel that it would be possible to stage a cricket match in England as early as 3rd April, and there is some force in that.
I see, however, that the first matches of the English season (University matches) begin on 3rd April and the first County Championship matches on the 9th. By the first week in June 9 or 10 (out of 16) CC matches will already have been completed. By comparison, according to Playfair for 1960 (masquerading, for some reason, that year, as the News Chronicle Cricket Annual), I see that the first match of the season was on 27th April and the last on 10th September. The reason for this elongation is to make room for that cricketing equivalent of the cane toad, Twenty Twenty, which has now squatted the whole of June and most of July (at which point I’m afraid I’m retreating to watch league cricket).
Now this could all work well. We could have a freakishly warm April and a glorious May. Perhaps, to be frivolous, global warming may have this happy side effect. But I suspect that the truth of it is that I can look forward to another Spring spent swathed in sweaters, ducking in and out of the Fox Bar and watching the umpires sucking their teeth as they inspect the pitch. Which, now I think of it, is more of less where this blog came in.