High cricketing drama unfolds in Worcester as its magnificent cathedral looks on
Worcester's Cathedral (PC: Twitter)
Worcester’s Cathedral is an iconic image of English cricket. It’s Norman and Perpendicular Gothic form has loomed and brooded magnificently on the banks of the River Severn since 1084, during which time it has presided over the reign of 43 kings and queens from William the Conqueror to King Charles the Third.
Steadfastly it has observed the Magna Carta (King John is entombed within), the Plague, Fire of London, English Civil War, Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, Dissolution of the Monasteries, William Shakespeare, the Spanish Armada, Napoleonic Wars, two World Wars, Cold War, Moon Landings and the birth of the Internet.
In 1896, farm land just across the River Severn became New Road, the home to Worcestershire Cricket Club and ever since, the old cathedral has kept a steady vigil over the club’s fortunes. Visitors to the ground return its gaze ever conscious of its looming yet glorious presence.
The likes of Ted Arnold, Don Kenyon, Basil D'Oliveira (and his dynasty), Graeme Hick, Moeen Ali, Fred Root, Ian Botham, Reg Parks and Norman Gifford have all excelled under its appreciative yet emotionless glare.
It will have watched on as Leicestershire reached 701 for 4 in 1906, nodded imperceptibly in acknowledgment of Jack Mercer’s 10/51 for Glamorgan in 1936 and no doubt stonily marvelled as Middlesex’s Jack Robertson amassed 331* in 1949.
Even though it surely treats history’s twin imposters of triumph and disaster just the same, Worcester Cathedral might just have been twitching imperceptibly yesterday, wondering if Brexit, Covid, Vladimir Putin and the current financial crisis will combine to wreak more havoc than Napoleon or the Plague ever managed.
These and the ECB’s High-Performance Review were very much subjects of discussion amongst Worcestershire denizens and their Middlesex guests, wrapped in the warm and welcoming embrace of the Graeme Hick Pavilion.
Sausage sandwiches and pasties, not to mention cake and cups of tea were in ready supply as insulation against the late September chill and were particularly welcomed by an army of veteran cricketers who had descended upon the pavilion as part of ‘Ron’s Walk for Prostate Cancer’ raising vital funds for the Bob Willis fund.
Their good humour and goodwill were every bit as welcome as the tea and cake and the buzz of friendly conversation was a constant accompaniment to watching Middlesex build their first innings total.
At around 3.50pm however, all fell quiet. Eyes were focused on a moment of high cricketing drama. The crowd and certainly the Middlesex fans were as motionless as the Cathedral that looked on as implacably as ever.
Match goes on at New Road, Worcester (PC: Twitter)
Middlesex had gone to tea when Ryan Higgins had top edged Ed Barnard, still 8 runs short of the vital batting bonus point that would almost certainly promote them. Elsewhere whilst Sussex were rallying at Hove against Glamorgan, it was still odds on for a Glamorgan win, meaning that should Middlesex and Worcestershire draw, that one point would be a currency far more valuable than any dollar and certainly the tumbling English Pound.
With September Worcester weather predicted to curtail much, if not all, of the final day it would be the slim difference to take Middlesex up to Division One in the event of a probable Glamorgan win.
Stevie Eskinazi (who had just celebrated another superb hundred) and Luke Homan returned to the crease knowing that they had 3.4 overs to get those eight runs before the passing of 110 overs would slam the door on that point and probably promotion firmly shut.
Against a refreshed Waite and Barnard, would they look to walk towards danger and blast the eight needed in two hits? Not a bit of it. Occasional singles eased tensions and soothed Middlesex brows, but dot balls continued to relentlessly reduce those left available until finally, just before 4pm, Eskinazi leg glanced Barnard for four.
Around New Road, pockets of jubilant Middlesex fans, hitherto politely anonymous, ecstatically revealed their true colours. The batsmen embraced. Barring a cricketing miracle (that subsequently did not transpire thanks to Sussex’s sterling efforts), Middlesex were up.
The Cathedral remained as watchful and immovable as ever. It has, after all, seen such dramas many times before and hopefully will do many times again.
But to this author, it’s every stone, brick and stained-glass window seemed to be whispering insistently to the ECB , “Stop. There is enough malice and madness in the world, do not recklessly endanger something as good as county cricket in the pursuit of short-term financial gain.
"The values of money and franchised cricket can fall just as quickly as they grow you know”.
“Trust me. I’ve seen it all and far worse before.”
And the game has too.