As afternoons go, it could not have been better really.
And hopefully it won’t be just a one-off.
I’m talking about the first (and some would say long overdue) visit of first-class cricket to this corner of Warwickshire and Rugby School on Saturday afternoon.
Warwickshire CCC – or should I say, the Warwickshire Bears, made the scenic surrounds of The Close at this most famous of public schools their home for the day to host visitors Glamorgan in a T20 cricket group match.
Having hosted 2nd XI and Development Squad matches at Rugby School in the past, Saturday 7th saw a little piece of local history come about with the first-ever first class fixture staged in these parts, which in itself was the first time The Bears had left their more-traditional home of Edgbaston in Birmingham (Warwickshire? I know, don’t get me on it!) for over seven years; the last home visit to an outground being at Stratford-upon-Avon.
The build-up to WCCC’s first visit to Rugby was one of quiet anticipation almost. A few bits in the local papers a few months ago when the fixtures were announced, brief mention to the public via various sources as and when tickets were to go on sale (which to be honest I expected to disappear within a matter of days), through to the local media reigniting their interest in the week and days leading up to the game.
Yet while The Close was a predictable hive of activity all week, it was only come Wednesday that the game was declared a sell-out with all 3,000 or so tickets sold (perhaps people were hedging their bets on the weather forecast).
When Saturday arrived, well, you could not have asked for a better day conditions-wise, and certainly setting-wise.
For all my interest in cricket, I don’t actually get to see many first class games. So it was good to have opportunity to see one. From that, it was slightly surreal (with a touch of excitement and anticipation as well perhaps) to actually walk 10 minutes from home to a game as well.
So, through the gates of Rugby School, onto The Close, a mooch around to see what’s what, find a decent shady spot – and literally on the boundary’s edge, and we’re set for the afternoon.
From a cricket coach’s perspective, it was interesting to see both sides go through their warm-up drills and routines, with bat, ball, fielding and catching – but that’s just the coach in me coming out.
As for the game, well, the Welsh visitors set things up for what was a comfortable win from the outset, fielding well, taking a couple of early wickets and restricting the Bears – who won the toss and decided to bat, to a fairly modest total of 126 for 8 off their 20 overs – which at one point looked unlikely whether Warwickshire would use their overs.
Once Glamorgan got padded up and came to bat, they continued where they left off in the field with a determined show with the bat, finding the boundary early on to set a platform and dull any hopes and local voices of a home victory, to the continued delight of the pocket of travelling Welsh followers. As the sun continued to bake down and the shadows lengthened, a clean hit for six straight down the ground saw Glamorgan close victory with 15 or so balls in hand for an easy victory by 8 wickets. Cue a very brief dance onto the field by a few of the visiting fans as the Bears trudged off.
It was ironic to also learn that Glamorgan were also celebrating their 125th anniversary of their founding on Saturday (July 6th 1888), and their victory was even poetic and a very fitting celebration given Warwickshire were their opponents in their inaugural county match (at Cardiff Arms Park in June 1889: a game they won by the same 8 wicket margin). You just cannot make scripts like this up could you?
But in some ways whilst Saturday’s result on the field was not a success that Bears fans were obviously hoping for, from a local cricket perspective (and purist like myself) the day itself, the occasion, call it what you like, certainly was.
Whilst Warwickshire will go away and contemplate their next move to rescue their Twenty20 campaign (Saturday’s defeat was their third in their opening three games inside four days – and it looks unlikely they will make Finals Day at Edgbaston), hopefully the powers that be in Birmingham will look back and view Saturday for the great occasion it was and Rugby School as one of their more regular ‘home’ grounds and stopping off points for next and future seasons.
As we hear more and more about the ECB trying to reach out to new audiences and the cricket players, fans and followers of the future, visits such as Saturday by counties away from the more traditional home venues to the scenic outgrounds and outposts around the county are the way forward, to connect with local fan bases who normally wouldn’t be able to trek across-county to see first class cricket.
So, whilst I may be saying this from a more selfish viewpoint i.e in the hope to again see cricket virtually on my own doorstep, please do come back for more of the same in 2014.