Leicestershire v India, Grace Road, 28 June 2014
Leicestershire 2nd XI v Worcestershire 2nd XI, Grace Road, 1st July 2014
As a change from games overshadowed by the landscape or the elements, here is one overshadowed by the crowd. There was a crowd worthy of the name, for one thing, about three-quarters capacity, I’d say, enough to create an, as they say, vibrant atmosphere, but not so full that I had to remain rooted to my allocated seat and unable to circulate, and Duncan Fletcher’s insistence on making the game into 18 of India against 14 of Leicestershire had effectively reduced it to an exhibition match.
In the past, I’ve had mixed experiences with representative and tourist games at Grace Road. The game against Australia in 2005 was a bilious, lager-soused affair, much of the bile being secreted by “England fans”, scenting an early taste of Australian blood. A game against Pakistan (though there was less lager involved) was similarly fractious. As I reported last year, a visit from the England Lions involved such an army of ECB chino-clad functionaries with lanyards round their necks, security men with walkie-talkies, and sundry camp followers commandeering the ground that those few of the Leicestershire faithful who’d turned up felt we being evicted from our home ground by our own national team.
It has to be said that many of the regulars were notable by their absence against India : some resented having to pay an entrance fee on top of their membership, some didn’t want to watch an exhibition match, some simply preferred (it being a Saturday) to watch their clubs and some (including some of those who did turn up) objected to being excluded from the inner sanctum of the Charles Palmer Suite to make way for what appeared to be the Great and Good of the local Indian community, who also had a chance to meet the players. They might, too, have objected to the Indians being allowed to use the home changing rooms.
I have to say that the Indian presence felt less obtrusive than that of the ECB last year. The stewarding was fairly relaxed, the Indians seem to travel comparatively light in terms of support staff and, if I’d felt so inclined, I would have been close enough to have offered M.S. Dhoni* (after all, one of world’s most famous sportsmen) a high five (though I managed to restrain myself).
And, given the demand, (Dhoni is in the middle of this lot somewhere) I thought the Indians made a reasonable effort to make themselves available to their own supporters.
Having said that, although the crowd gave the impression of being mostly “India supporters” it was noticeable that a substantial proportion of them appeared to be supporting both sides at once (as, indeed, why wouldn’t they, given that they mostly live in Leicestershire and, in many cases, have grown up playing for and watching Leicestershire clubs?). Partly for that reason I can rarely remember feeling part of such a harmonious crowd at a large sporting event.
Inevitably, play was interrupted for a couple of hours by rain and it was good to see that the Indian community have adapted so well to the English custom of not allowing a bit of rain to spoil a Good Day Out. I have written before that any English event held in the Summer aspires to the condition of a Village Fete and all the old faithfuls were available here: the lads getting pissed at the beer tent, face painting, temporary tattoos (a luminous Virat Kohli was doing well). Trays of chips doused in tomato sauce were selling like hot cakes and we were treated to displays of dancing by local youth. The juniors gave us “We are India” to the tune of the Gap Band’s “Upside Your Head”
and the seniors what appeared to be a fusion of classical dance with the faintest hint of twerking.
Shades of my Blackpool and my Seaside Special of long ago. And if you couldn’t get to have your picture taken with M.S. Dhoni there was always Kali “the Destroyer” Fox.
On the field, there was a selection box of rusty Indian fast bowlers on view. As none of them bowled for very long the best I can do is to report that P. Singh is enormous (and could have a career in films playing giant bodyguards and warriors) but largely harmless, as is Ishant Sharma, whereas B. Kumar and (particularly) Mohammed Shami looked more threatening. None of them posed too many problems for Angus Robson and Greg Smith and it was a pity that their centuries (both “retired out” at tea) don’t have first class status.
Whether Angus’s big brother et al. will find it as easy to score off this fairly moderate bowling remains to be seen, though, if not, it does suggest that there is something about playing for England that makes batsmen lower rather than raise their games.
Angus Robson was back at Grace Road on Tuesday, in front of a much smaller crowd (consisting, in fact, of the members who had been absent on Saturday). Playing for Tooze against Worcestershire 2nd XI, he was bowled first ball. As I’ve suggested before, the gradient between the game’s pinnacle and its lower slopes is not, perhaps, as steep as is generally supposed.
* I think. Hard to recognise without his sunglasses.