Diary Australia

Nottingham diary

20 August 2015

1:00 PM

20 August 2015

1:00 PM

There are few things better than a week off work, flying to the far side of the world to watch Test cricket. After 40-odd summers enjoying the game at the SCG, this is my first trip to England to watch our wonderful game. So when the Heathrow immigration officer asks my plans in the UK, I reply quite seriously: to watch Australia retain the Ashes. With that response he says I must return to the back of the queue. He is joking, but I am not.

Before Nottingham I have a couple of days in London to potter. My cricket-mad nine-year old was pestering for a Duke six-stitcher, the ball with which Jimmy Anderson has taunted our batsman. They are unheard of in Sydney but abundant in London, or so I thought. Of course, I will head to Lillywhites in Piccadilly, known affectionately (by store marketing, I suspect) as the best sports store in the world. You would think such a shop would have row after row of pristine Dukes. But when I ask attendants for directions to the said ball they look at me like I had requested a rod of plutonium. Finally, the shop finds its Dukes – it has three of them.

My hotel in Bloomsbury is home to a group of South African 13-year olds on a UK cricket tour, who tell me they fear Mitchell Johnson as much as they worship the great Jacques Kallis. As an Aussie elder, they ask for my cricket advice: keep your elbow up and the seam straight, I say. My Dad’s celestial wisdom had held me in good stead as a 4th X1 middle-order mainstay and an inelegant change bowler. Enjoy the match, one boy laughs. Is this his premonition? I also had agreed to a London meeting with James Acheson-Gray, head of a local PR firm and a cricket enthusiast. Perhaps we could meet at Lords, talk business and have a tour, he asks? He does not need to ask twice. Mr Acheson-Gray is also a former Great Britain amateur champion of Real tennis, the forerunner of modern tennis and he graciously shows me around places I would never normally see, like the ground’s Real tennis court, the space-age media centre and the actual pitch.

The Home of Cricket is named after Yorkshireman Thomas Lord and the current location was settled in 1814 after twice moving over 30 years earlier from spots in north London. Lord’s is home to the Marylebone Cricket Club, the game’s international rule-makers whose colours are red and yellow. But the famous ‘bacon and eggs’ were not the MCC’s original strip and, until 1866, it was sky blue. But financial trouble and the intervention of gin-distiller William Nicholson saved the ground. His bottles were sold with a label of red and yellow and, not long after his 18,000 pound donation secured the freehold, the MCC’s colours changed for good.

The Lord’s ground is small and its surface certainly slopes – the grass is much like green velvet – but it has a magic quality and, for a non-believer, my visit is almost religious, which prepares me for the fourth Ashes Test at Trent Bridge.

Nottingham is a pretty town with pleasant architecture and loads of interesting bars and restaurants. But there is one disappointment – there is precious little to remind you the city is the home of the fictional Robin Hood. No Little John Hotel, not one Friar Tuck chip shop or a Merry Men library (there is a Maid Marion lager). Before the match, the local Hooters restaurant is serving lager and bacon butties and, as anyone who has drunk pints before 10am knows, such refreshments can create a convivial mood and that’s exactly what is evident around the ground before a single ball is bowled.

So with the beer and butties, my mood is excellent. Enter Stuart Broad who rips through our batting line-up and 94 minutes into the session Australia is all out for 60. We Australians are numb but the rest of the crowd boisterous with much singing and drinking and teasing (one barman asks: ‘Do I detect an Australian accent, sir? How is your day going? No, seriously, thanks for your participation’).

Post lunch, the pitch dries out, England bats and Joe Root goes on to make a ton. English humour takes over with Nottingham Police even tweeting: Reports of Aussies in trouble at Trent Bridge. But the best joke of the day goes to a nearby wag: Rolf Harris is the only Australian who won’t be out by lunch.

At stumps everyone repairs to the Larwood & Voce hotel (whose front door is an actual cricket crease with stumps) to sip Pimms and Guinness. My mate and I reflect that had the score been the other way around and England all out for 60, the mood would have been quite different and with locals fuelled on a day’s grog, my second night in Nottingham might have been less pleasant than it was.

The next day, apart from a Mitchell Starc six-for and second-innings runs from our openers and Adam Voges, the remainder of the test is miserable. The following morning we lose and my wife texts that Michael Clarke is set to retire. A sad end to a great career.

But there is a bright side and it is this: I love an Australian win but I am uncomfortable seeing the inventors of this great game constantly humiliated. Cricket must flourish and their Ashes win, while painful for us, will stoke interest in England and that can only be good for the future.

I take the train back to London and arrive in time to sit in a Notting Hill pub and watch the Wallabies play the All Blacks. And there is good news at last – we win.

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