Waking up on a Monday morning in England’s second city, with no plans apart from stretching out a long weekend as far as possible, you would expect there to be plenty of choice for things to do. However it turns out that Birmingham has a coffin factory, a sea life centre and a closed gin parlour. Seriously, for a city that sprawls across its hinterland like broken washing machine effluence across a kitchen floor, Birmingham has very little to offer the tourist. If it wasn’t for Lenny Henry’s liberal checking out policy at the Premier Inn (incidentally, why does a city whose Visitor Information Centre is listed as an actual attraction need so many hotels?), we’d have been forced to go look at some old pens. And thankfully that sentence doesn’t include a typographical error, as visitors to the Pen Museum will testify.
It was thus blessed relief when we realised that the obvious solution was just a few miles down the road. Cricket! At a proper Test venue nonetheless! Yes, Warwickshire were at home and there was no obvious sign of rain (although the umpires were taking the players off due to bad light – obviously the floodlights weren’t permitted to be turned on or some such bollocks). A quick breakfast sandwich later, waffled down whilst reading on twitter that play was restarting, and we were driving the short distance to Edgbaston: a simple journey made complicated only by the fact that we were so busy looking for brown directional signs that we almost missed the fucking huge stadium to our left. Leaving the car in a not completely dodgy-looking side street, we grabbed our coats, wandered into the club shop and purchased tickets. At an eyebrow-raising £20 (unsurprisingly no reduction despite the morning session having finished), we coughed and found an uncomfortable, bum-numbing seat amidst the roaring mass of spectators.
51allout likes to think of ourselves as purists who appreciate the art of the long game. But conversely we don’t really buy into the trend (that has been going on for far too long) of celebrating the #DigIn. We shouldn’t really criticise jokes wearing thin, because let’s face it, some of our jokes are positively translucent, but the ironic (or serious, we can’t really tell the difference) saluting of defensive batting is getting wearisome. We raise this point because Warwickshire, batting after lunch in response to Lancashire’s 286ao, were barely plodding along: the scoring rate didn’t get above two runs per over all day. In front of a sparse crowd – presumably the vast majority of which were members – this was a poor advert for county cricket. The apparently soggy-bottomed pudding of a pitch did not help, but it was not a brave battle for survival in the face of electric bowling, or a gripping resistance against a devious spin attack, it was just turgid batting. Luckily the bar, once it was found within an otherwise empty stadium, was selling cola at £3.40 a pint to ease the pain. If ever an innings was designed to encourage the consumption of large volumes of alcohol, it was this, but having driven, we did the responsible thing. Mercifully, wickets did fall to break the tedium, but in truth the twelfth man was the busiest person involved in the game. Quite how the ball had to be changed twice within a few hours will always baffle us.
This was this writer’s first trip to Edgbaston. It is probably a brilliant place when full to the brim with spectators, when all the stalls are open and England are slaying the opposition, particularly in the wide open stands at the City End. On Monday, it was deserted, meaning long walks through wide empty concourses looking for somewhere selling something – anything! – to drink. From the one premises that was open we could also have purchased pasties and scones to eat, but luckily we’d packed some chocolate-covered pretzels that provided both lunch and tea. It was a strange atmosphere throughout the ground: the absence of any discernible way out made it feel like the Eagles’ Hotel California – luckily we did manage to leave via an exit cunningly labelled the executive entrance – and the ghostly vibe matched the cricket itself.
We appreciate that county cricket is a funny old beast and it must be incredibly difficult for the counties to host four-day matches whilst minimising costs and maximizing revenue. But such a slow afternoon of cricket, played out in a stadium probably only a few percent full, would have verged on the depressing if there weren’t some ridiculously shriveled topless old men in the Wyatt Stand to laugh at. It made us pine for the days when county cricket toured the out-grounds. Yes we understand (sort of) the economic benefits of having one large ground rather than several smaller ones, but Monday was a sad spectacle. Yet if it had been played out at Stratford or Leamington, for example, then it would probably have been a bit more special – though on the other hand if it had been played in either of those towns we wouldn’t have gone to watch it and we would have been writing about the history of nibs and ink instead.
To top it all off, we got sunburnt. On a day that was affected by bad light. In Birmingham. And we still don’t know who invented the pen.