Crowd Trouble at Grace Road

Leicestershire v Warwickshire, CB40, Grace Road, Sunday 13th May 2011

As I intimated in the last post, it was back to the CB40 on Sunday, where events are developing, and (as the Emperor Hirohito once put it) not necessarily to our advantage (played 6, won 1 (against Scotland), lost 5).

The match was being televised on Sky and was being shown in the Fox Bar.  If you adopted the right position, you could watch the action on the pitch and then turn to see an instant replay, with a bit of analysis from Bob Willis.  Live cricket on the TV (a thing I rarely see these days) takes place entirely within the bubble between the wickets ; watching live, I find that there are so many other distractions at these games (not all of them distracting in a good way) that it takes a truly compelling piece of cricket, or something grossly spectacular (a Napier-style blizzard of sixes) to focus one’s attention on the game. 

To meet the demands of Sky, the match was due to begin at 2.15, but I arrived a little early to soak up the atmosphere (as per the Cup Final).  Alec Stewart appeared periodically on the big screen, saying, in his awkward way, that he wanted to know about families who were involved in cricket in such ways as “Dad making the best teas”. Someone from match sponsors De Montfort University claimed that they resembled the Foxes because they, too, were “vibrant and forward-looking” (who isn’t, these days?).  The PA played Waterloo Sunset (“chilly, chilly is the evening time” reminding us how late the match was due to end).  Leicestershire played their customary game of football in their royal blue tracksuits (Taylor a winger, rather in the style of “Jinky” Johnstone of yesteryear and Celtic.)  The sparse crowd braced themselves against the Arctic wind, as if on the seafront at Bridlington.

Warwickshire won the toss and – unsurprisingly, given the damp and murky conditions – chose to bowl ; the next hour did provide precisely the compelling passage of cricket that I mentioned earlier.  I watched it from a position I usually avoid (because it’s permanently in shade and the extractor fans in the gents expel a miasma of disinfectant)  – the Bennett end.  Today there was no shade, because there was no sun.   

Cobb and Du Toit opened for Leicestershire.  Du Toit briefly played his stroke (the lofted on-drive) to great effect before the champagne (or stewed-tea-in-the-Thermos) moment of the day, as he edged one and wicket-keeper Ambrose twisted and leaped like a kitten pawing a piece of dangled cotton to remove him.  This brought Taylor to the crease (captaining the side, incidentally, in the absence of Hoggard).  I don’t know whether this was a deliberate plan to neutralise him (a great compliment, if so), but the lively young quick Miller angled the ball across him (I think he bowled around the wicket) to a packed off-side field, bowling just short of a length, so that the ball reared up awkwardly.  Taylor’s natural inclination is always to play the ball down (unless he can be sure he’s hitting it into empty space) and this he did for the first over or two.  Conscious that he was getting tied down, he cut fiercely, but could only occasionally penetrate the close-packed field.  Once he hit through the line, lofted it towards long-on and narrowly avoided being caught. 

Cobb, on the other hand, whose attitude towards hitting in the air recalls Werner von Braun’s in the song by Tom Lehrer (“I send zem up, as to where zey come down, zat’s not my department, says Werner von Braun“) cheerfully stuck his leg across and clouted it into the depopulated wastelands on the leg side. 

Taylor’s innings was about to move into overdrive (there is always a stage in his innings where he doesn’t seem to be doing anything special, then you glance back at the scoreboard and he’s about to reach his half century) when, on 32, he took a risky second run to Darren Maddy.  He’s probably too young to remember “Mr. Leicester” of yore even playing for Leicestershire, but he’s not a man to take a second run to and that – after a referral and a brief burst of the Clash – was the end of him.  And, to be realistic about it, the end of the match.

Cobb followed shortly afterwards.  We seem to have acquired Kadeer Ali (have-boots-will-travel cousin of the more famous Kabir), who is currently out of contract and was probably being paid cash-in-hand, who played doughtily for a 50 in a shirt borrowed from Nathan Buck, but it was dour, attritional stuff by 40-overs standards, and not really enough to take one’s mind off the biting wind.

As all this was happening, a cloud as small as a man’s hand appeared on the balcony of the Cricketers pub overlooking the pitch – that modern plague, a fancy dress party, yelling – Eastenders-style –Rickaaay as a wayward Rikki Clarke came in to bowl.  Later, as I made my way back to the warmth of the Fox Bar, I saw there were more of them in the Family Stand (no alcohol or smoking allowed), being closely monitored by stewards with walkie-talkies.  The main body, however, had positioned themselves at the entrance to the Fox Bar and were amusing themselves in their already paralytic state by antics such as moving behind the bowler’s arm and jostling and mock-applauding dismissed batsmen such as Matt Boyce as they returned to the pavilion.  Some long-standing members speculated as to how Peter Willey would have reacted to this treatment (bat wrapped round the head being the general concensus).

I don’t know who these people were – they looked a little young for a stag party, which is the usual explanation – but I think it might have been connected with the end of the exam season at Loughborough, and that they might have decided to combine a day at the rugby on Saturday with a visit to the cricket (which they seem to imagine, perhaps from watching Test matches on the TV, necessarily involves dressing up as a Nun and drinking yourself insensible) .  Whoever they were, it was an awful, boorish, brattish performance.  They seemed to have no understanding of the game at all, no respect for the players and nothing but contempt for the rest of the crowd.

One by one the stewards frogmarched them out of the ground.  They stood, resentful, on the wrong side of the turnstile, where they were confronted by our much-loved mascot, Charlie Fox.

My final image of the day is of a seven foot fox squaring up to a transvestite, the Incredible Hulk and Captain Hook, while a crowd of small children stood chanting “Eat him up, Charlie – eat him! eat him! eat him!”.  Perhaps they were confusing him with a wolf. 

I bet Bob Willis didn’t have anything to say about that.

(After I’d left, Warwickshire almost won by ten wickets, and Varun Chopra scored his third fifty, and almost his second century against us this season).

Down at fine leg, Mohammad Yousuf ponders the infinite perspicacity of the Prophet in prohibiting the use of alcohol, when he’d never even seen a stag party in action at a cricket match. 

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