Northamptonshire v Gloucestershire, Wantage Road, County Championship (Day 1), 16th August
Choices, choices! My choice on Monday was whether to travel North to watch Notts v Warwickshire at Trent Bridge or take the X7 to Northampton for the match against Gloucestershire. When I woke the sky was leaden, the cloud low and there was moisture in the air. Trent Bridge is splendid in the sun, but if muzzy Autumnal pathos is in the offing then Wantage Road’s yer man, so I chose the shorter trip.
A similar choice must have faced Andrew Hall, the Northants captain, when he won the toss. At 10.45 it was Autumn, and, presumably glancing down the Gloucester team sheet (Lewis! Kirby!), he decided to offer the opposition the first use of the wicket.
By 11.15, with one wicket down only, it was mid-Summer again – a smattering of high fluffy lambswool clouds against a ceiling of azure blue and a few tentative shirts being doffed. The ice-cream van rolled up at 11.30 with every prospect of doing good business, and, as far as incidents went for the day, that was it.
Or rather one long drawn out incident – a second wicket stand between Porterfield, the Irish international opener and 19-year old Chris Dent (a name to bear in mind for future reference, I think). Porterfield began quickly, revelling in the fortuitous sunshine and almost reaching his century before lunch. Dent was initially cautious and correct, with the air of a man who’d made a ninety the other week and wanted to see it through this time.
On and on they sailed, untroubled and serene, past the century partnership, then past their double century, on into the long afternoon, as all round the ground Playfairs were consulted to see if a record was on the cards. Now, as you might expect, seven out of Gloucester’s record wicket partnerships involve Grace, Hammond or Jessop, but an exception is that for the second wicket – 256 between one C.T.M. Pugh and Tom Graveney at Chesterfield in 1960.
The record was in sight as tea approached, but at the appointed hour (3.40), young Dent was on 92. I think they must have offered him another over to complete his century before tea and – I suppose – not wishing to be rude, he came skipping down the wicket, aimed a great heave over the pavilion, missed and was bowled.
The minute I’d left, of course (about 4.45) all hell broke loose. Gloucester collapsed from 242-2 to 302 all out and Northants lost two wickets for good measure.
Through the long day there were, of course, distractions. Since the last time I was at the ground floodlights have been installed. The ones at Lord’s, as I was reporting the other day, appear in keeping with the ground, perhaps because they seem to be in scale with the height of the other buildings, subtle lighting installed the better to display Old Masters. The ones at Northampton loom vastly over the ground, like giant fly swats –
or disposable razors (with a blob of shaving cream) –
And then, of course, there’s Christmas to think about. Uniquely, I think, the County Ground at Northampton has a sort of moving display screen (of the sort they used to have at Picadilly Circus) on the shed where they keep the covers and rollers that is extraordinarily distracting if you happen to be sitting opposite it. On Monday it was advertising the attractions for Christmas 2010 – Abba Gold on the 23rd December, and – of all things – a School Disco, on the 19th (£37.00, if you’re interested).
Given the average age of the Northamptonshire membership, the thought of them retrieving their old school uniforms from the nearest museum and shaking a leg to the sounds of what? – Freddie and the Dreamers? – Bill Haley? – Al Bowlly? – strikes me as frankly macabre. But I shall be there myself soon enough.
And in case anyone felt inspired to buy an early Christmas present, the Supporters’ Club shop was offering an attractive selection of novelty tea pots for sale –
Sometimes I think all County Cricket aspires to the condition of a village fete.