I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again: for me, there are few better ways to spend a day than watching Test cricket. And when it’s done in the sun whilst enjoying a few cold beers with friends, all the better! There simply is no other sport like it; played for five days, a test of supreme skill and courage and a team sport built very much on individual battles.
What makes Test cricket amazing is not just this team vs. individual dynamic or the length of play but how it builds over the course of five days and the fact that a win on the last day or even in the final session, or on those wonderful occasions that live forever in the memory, the last over can be as riveting as a draw. Those who don’t follow the sport really struggle to grasp that fact- you play for five days, there’s no result (though a draw may feel like a win) and it’s mad exciting!
Though it’s been 20 years, I can still see South African fast bowler ‘Vinnige’ Fanie de Villiers standing with this arms aloft in the middle of the pitch having just taken the final wicket of Glenn McGrath to seal one of our most famous victories back in 1994. (We bumped into Fanie after watching South Africa beat India at the Cricket World Cup in 2011 and he loved hearing my memories!)
More recently, I was fortunate to see the Proteas win at both the Oval and Lords here in London in 2012 and the last Test I saw live was a wonderful victory against the old enemy, Australia, at my home ground of St Georges Park in 2014.
This past weekend, I headed up to Old Trafford in Manchester for the first time to watch England take on Pakistan in the 2nd of four Tests. My good friend Pete, whom I met in Budapest a few years back, lives in the city and we caught up on four years of stories over the course of the day.
Having lost the first Test, England needed to bounce back quickly in Manchester. They duly did, winning the toss and enjoying a fine first day to end 314/4 at stumps. This was built on centuries from captain Alastair Cook and No. 3 Joe Root and it was Root and Chris Woakes who walked out to take guard on a sunny Manchester Saturday morning.
What a day it turned out to be with Root pushing on from his overnight hundred to score a career best 254; the third-highest score by an English No.3 in Tests and two runs shy of Ken Barrington’s 256, which is the highest score by an English batsman at Old Trafford. He enjoyed fine support from Woakes who hit 58 before all-rounder Ben Stokes, with 34, and wicket-keeper Johnny Bairstow, with 58, propelled England to a huge 589 for 8 dec.
By this stage of the day after a good number of beers, both Pete and I were in fine voice; along with the great bunch of people sitting around us and the many folks dressed in all sorts of fancy dress, and there was some wonderful chanting as Jimme – Jimme, Jimme – Jimme – Jimme – Jimme Anderson and ‘he’s big, he’s bad, he’s better than his dad’ Stuart Broad opened the attack for England, By close of play, Pakistan were in serious trouble on 57/4 and they never recovered as England went on to wrap up an emphatic 330 run victory late on day four to tie the series.
It was uuuuuuuunnnbelievable watching Test cricket live again after more than two years and I cannot wait for our (South Africa’s) tour here next year – fixtures have just been released and it’s going to be a wonderful summer of cricket. Let’s just hope the Proteas are playing some decent cricket by then!