We arrive early and make our way through the bag searches and scanners that are now part of every international cricket match. We have no contraband, and anyway, my press pass might just get us out of trouble if we did. But I’m not working today – I’m here simply to enjoy the game.
First off, we go for a coffee in the Long Room. No, not at Lord’s – we’re at Headingley. My husband is uncomfortable because he’s not a Yorkshire member and has busked his way in on a borrowed pass. But the risk is worth it, because on the stairs Geoffrey Boycott is filming for television and he finds time for a cheery word.
In fact at Headingley, everyone has a cheery word. Although I love my own county, I like coming here second best. But on an international match day there is a feeling of hustle and bustle; gone is the laid back attitude of the Championship, where you can chat to Michael Vaughan or Dickie Bird as they wander about unfettered by security – the serenity is replaced by the antics of the Western Terrace.
Think English cricket, think Lord’s. Think middle-aged men in stripy blazers dozing after lunch. Think Champagne picnics on the Nursery Ground. Well yes, it exists, but it’s not the archetypal English Test match any more.
Instead, imagine a long terrace akin to a football ground. It stretches the whole length of the pitch, wicket to wicket. And it is full to capacity, bursting at the seams with knights in armour, cartoon characters, and miscellaneous TV superheroes. A personal favourite were the half dozen or so Mr T’s (from The A Team) who made a little lad’s day by slapping high fives and lifting him onto their shoulders to have his picture taken. My husband rather preferred the pretty blonde in angel’s wings and suspenders.
In the main, these are not drunken yobs – but they are drunk. The serious boozing begins even before the match itself, and all day the queues for the bars stretch way back under the stand, and the staircases and gangways heave with burly men in frocks carrying four pints of beer. But it is after lunch that the real cabaret begins.
This year, beer glass snakes have been specifically banned. Which gives the crowd on the Terrace even more cause for mirth as towers of plastic glasses are surreptitiously assembled to a great length, then burst upwards on hands held high and passed from person to person in an attempt to evade the stewards closing in. The approved etiquette is that once challenged the snake must be handed over, and more often than not this happens. The police look on in amusement.
The Western Terrace is fond of more traditional pastimes too. The Mexican wave, for example. Headingley is the only Test match ground I’ve seen where it goes all the way round – even the members join in. And the chants of ‘Monty, Monty, give us a wave!’ generally meet with a positive response from the spin king in question, as he grazes on the boundary. Of course, the Barmy Army anthem rings out; and choruses of ‘Michael Vaughan, my lord, Michael Vaughan’ echo around his home ground.
But in the true spirit of cricket, even the not infrequent ejections from the ground are well ordered. Miscreants are brought down from the Terrace by a couple of stewards, and taken to a small room underneath where they meekly give their names and addresses. To be honest, I think a lot of them are just glad to have an excuse to stop drinking – they look pretty glazed, in the main.
So with all this off pitch entertainment, what of the cricket itself? Ever watched South Africa bat? Unfortunately it’s something I’ve seen rather too much of already this summer…