This was my first experience of cricket in England: the opening day of the 2008 County Championship. One notable difference from Australia was clear at entry to the Oval – the price of the ticket was £12. Twelve pounds! There are days when the exchange rate makes that more expensive than a day of Test cricket in Australia. Queensland Shield games cost $8 at most.
Nevertheless, I paid for my ticket and sat down in the Bedser stand, about half an hour before play was scheduled to start. Much of the centre wicket area was under a plastic cover. The problem, as far as I could tell, was that the sun was out. After inspections at 11 o’clock and 11.30am, the umpires were confident that there might be dark and overcast conditions by 1.10pm and that was indeed when play began.
Three Wigan lads behind me were creative. They had brought a packet of Lancashire Tea, and were hoping for the Lancashire stars to sign it.
I was lucky to be there on day one, when the temperature soared to twelve degrees or so. There was once a day in Brisbane, in 1965 and in the middle of winter, when it was colder. And yet, day one was the warmest day of the match. It was eight degrees on day two. That’s cold football weather. Only in England would some people play cricket in such conditions, and thousands of others actually pay twelve pounds to freeze while watching it.
There were various people with their own little scorebooks, studiously keeping score. The reason for this, I realised, is that the scoreboards at the Oval don’t actually tell you anything. Want to know who’s bowling? No good looking at the scoreboard. Want to know which batsmen are out, how many runs they made, who took the wickets, and who’s left to bat? The scoreboard won’t tell you. And I don’t mean that it doesn’t tell you all of those things. No. It doesn’t tell you any of them.
All up, it was a successful day. The Wigan lads missed out on Freddie’s signature, but they got Mal Loye, Stuart Law, and Brad Hodge to join Sajid Mahmood in the most Lancashire-signed box of Lancashire Tea. I had seen Stuart Law and Brad Hodge for once on the same side, wearing the same team’s shirts, and jumpers, and whatever goes over jumpers.
I was really cold by the end. I needed a second jumper.