Week two of the County Championship and 51allout elected to venture out of our hovel and go watch some cricket. After a minute’s deliberation, we decided upon watching the first day of Gloucestershire vs. Hampshire, not least because this correspondent grew up with the latter’s Sunday League Kit in his wardrobe and a firm belief that Adrian Aymes should have played for England.
So we stuffed a knapsack with jumpers, sunglasses, coats and sun lotion and headed off to….
The previous time that 51allout had gone to the County Ground we travelled by train and got a bit pissed. This time however, hamstrung by the foibles of public transport on a Sunday, we drove. The ground was well signposted from the M32 and – despite being in a residential area (a pleasant area of large terraced properties, we sense this was Guardian-reading country) – there was plenty of free parking nearby. Luckily so actually, because the ground is hidden amidst its surroundings until you stumble across the entrance. Arriving at the gates, the man responsible for selling tickets seemed surprised that someone would need to buy one – judging by the high number of lanyards on display in the crowd, the majority of attendees were members. The ticket was £17.00, which is equivalent to 1,700 penny sweets (assuming penny sweets still cost 1p).
After an early wicket for Hampshire and a quick coffee for 51allout, the clock eventually ticked around to midday meaning we could get down to business: it was time for a snifter. Or a snorter. Or whatever the colloquial term for a beer is. One pint of (hand-drawn) St Austell Tribute – a very reasonable £3.40, cheers. Surprisingly little evidence of scrumpy though, considering the Westcountry crowd, the high sun and the quantum of middle-aged bearded reprobates in attendance.
Whilst the beer was good – and the £1.50 coffee drinkable, just – the food options were quite the opposite. With no catering van (and in the interests of “journalism”, opting to remain in the ground and not find somewhere better on nearby Gloucester Road), the only option seemed to be the cafe adjacent to the new pavilion. The pasta bolognese / pasta and vegetable options didn’t look very good and the breakfast options ceased to be sold at 11.30, leaving us to choose either some rather miserable sandwiches or some chips. With hindsight, hunger was probably preferable. The Mr Whippy from the ice cream woman was a nice dessert though.
Perhaps due to this being the home team’s first Championship game of the season, the atmosphere seemed to be one of reuniting: lots of old boys (and old girls) shaking hands with acquaintances and seasonal friendships being renewed after a winter apart. It was nice to see several kids in attendance – and playing pretty handily underneath the scoreboard – and there was an unstereotypically high proportion of females. The conversations we overheard were generally about sport (including the Liverpool vs. Manchester City score and the fortunes of City and Rovers), with two distinguished gents having a long discussion about Kevin Pietersen. We suspect they weren’t the only two across the country talking about him, but we’d be very surprised if anyone else said that in some ways “he reminds me of Steve McMahon.”
Despite walking as far around the ground as possible (some is off-limits due to building work), there were no celebrities in attendance as far as we could see; only a forlorn Danny Briggs walking past the club shop during lunch. The ground itself is in transition. The new pavilion has opened (and seemed mostly empty) and sits opposite newly-developed flats, complete with large balconies and large areas of fenestration. From what we could tell, only one was occupied.
With a new stand under construction, most spectators favoured the park benches or fold up chairs that arced around the boundary. This transition does Bristol no favours: the ground is 125 years old but has very few features that remind spectators of the county’s long history or the old familiar names associated with it (there’s a plaque to WG Grace on the gates, we think one of the stands might be called Jessop). As such, it is rather unmemorable. We dread to think what it is like on a day without sunshine. However we found a second-hand copy of Robin Smith’s autobiography for £2 in the club shop, which we duly bought. It should be better value than the chips; it probably tastes better as well.
The action however was rather lovely. Hampshire’s attack was spearheaded by new arrival Kyle Abbott and the familiar James Tomlinson. However their back up bowlers look toothless – Matt Coles just huffed and puffed and got angry, Sean Ervine and James Vince are far from specialists and spinner Liam Dawson is a top order bat. This made Jimmy Adams’ decision to field first rather strange, even if the pitch did look green from our vantage point. Captain Michael Klinger made 81, but it was his young teammate who starred: Will Tavare (sorry, we don’t know how to do the accent on the e) scored 135* on his Championship debut. Along the way he hit two sixes – one top edged over fine leg, the other over long on to bring up his century. We can only assume his uncle was disappointed at such frivolous, carefree batting.
So there we have it: our first day of live cricket this year featured a good century scored by a young man under acres of clear blue sky. Bristol was a good start to the summer – we just hope that when the rebuilding is completed there’s better catering facilities.