The process of attending a Test match under the current circumstances was long and arduous. The ticket ballot, the e-mails of instructions, the permission documents, the lateral flow tests, all the paperwork of a bureaucracy in full siren mode…… it all militated against the casual supporter ‘dropping in’ to watch the evening session after work. Oh, I forgot, nobody is working in the office anymore. The other shame – well, a sadness really – was that no children were allowed to be present. It always does the heart good to see young boys and girls watching their heroes in action on the field of play.
For all that, I reckon the administrative staff at Warwickshire CCC did a half-decent job under what must be hugely frustrating conditions. The queues to enter were long but swiftly and efficiently managed. I wasn’t aware that my proof of negative Covid test had been checked but my companions assured me that it had. I was probably too busy admiring the impressive upper decks of two young ladies before I realised they were two blokes in drag. The girll who checked the contents of my rucksack was very chatty.
“You have been to Turkey for a holiday?”
“How did you know that?”
“From the luggage label.”
“Oh, yes. Are you Turkish?”
“Nooo! I’m from Georgia.”
“You have the same National Anthem as us, don’t you?”
“I am shocked. Nobody in England seems to know this.”
Truth to tell, that was the only shock of the day. New Zealnd batted with no rush, calmness personified, supported by orthodox technique, classic Test match batsmanship, slowly grinding the England attack into the dust and setting their side up for the coup de grace the following day. For drama in a 5-day game, you need wickets to fall in clusters. Once Conway had DRS to thank for his reprieve (what a nonsense that was; we all know he was out but the technology seems to have robbed the umpires of their common sense) and Root had dropped that regulation catch at slip, the writing was on the wall. It was slow-going, atttritional cricket at its fiercest, but New Zealnd knew what they had to do to win and set about it with clear heads and admirable application. The contrast between their batsmen, who adhere to the fundamental principles of a correct technique, and the England batsmen (Root excepted), whose feet and head seem to be all over the place at the moment of delivery, was stark. Too much white ball cricket, too much T20, too much slogging practice? Michael Vaughan, when interviewed after the game, swiftly put that one to bed. The Black Caps have been playing in the same tournaments and competitions, he said, so the England players cannot hide behind that excuse.
Two further points about the match. Why, oh why, did England go into a 5-day game when the pitch was dry to start with and only likely, given the forecast, to be baked even more dry, with no spinner? And why were several England players ‘rested’? They were playing county cricket, hardly resting. Bonkers. New Zealnd, for heaven’s sake, are not the push-overs they once were. Not for nothing are they ranked No. 2 in the world and contesting the final of the World Championship on Friday. I wish we had a five Test series against them. We have just played India in a five Test seies and another one is about to start. The Black Caps, I reckon, are everybody’s second team. They are a talented bunch, they play in the right spirit and who can forget their graciousness in defeat in that Super Over?
Aside from the cricket, you have to admire the enthusiasm of the Edgbaston crowd. The shenanigans and boisterousness in the Hollies Stand are not to everybody’s taste but they turn up in their droves, every Test match is a sell-out and they never stop singing. I have never understood why the killjoys in their high-vis jackets relentlessly chase down the ‘snakes’ of plastic glasses. Their meddlesome actions only inflame the hoi polloi to further antagonism and misbehaviour. I had to laugh at the comment of the chief of the security operations who claimed that two of his men had been injured in scuffles, one with a snake. Apprehend and eject drunks and hooligans, by all means, but what harm can be caused by a snake?
Finally, how was it that New Zealnd could make the ball swing and England couldn’t? Often, it is simply the ball. They are all hand-stitched so no one ball is exactly the same as another. England had one in their hands that just did not answer their bidding. It happens. I think the point was underlined by the fact that, once Broad had succeeded in his exhortations to get the ball changed (Why? Once you are given a ball, you should be stuck with it), things started to happen and he in particular, for half-an-hour or so, looked to be the class act we all know he is. But it wasn’t the ball that caused England’s defeat. It was poor technique with a bat in their hands.