Richard Nevin has a day out to remember.
After my appraisal of a day out at Edgbaston last summer I mused on the cost of tickets for this summer’s Ashes test and if the steep cost would affect the attendance. Well, it didn’t, both personally and publicly, and this year’s pilgrimage for me came on the second day of the first showdown against Australia in front of a packed house.
All eyes (well, those that understand cricket) were on this part of Brum and ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2022, our capacity to hold these type of events, the people that travel to them and the infrastructure were all under greater scrutiny than in the past.
Edgbaston is well able to host a five day test, the vastly improved facilities over the last few years making a huge difference, rendering the ground as one of the best in the country (I’ll let you argue that one amongst yourselves).
I’ve walked, used a taxi and taken advantage of public transport and aside from the occasional inconvenient set of roadworks on the Bristol Road, the journey to the ground is generally slow, but not frustrating. The idea of walking seems to be particularly popular, on my journey across town the day after my visit I saw many cricket lovers hiking their way westwards from anything up to four miles out – a damning indictment of transport links or an indication of a changing attitude to exercise? Who’s to say but on a fine summer’s morning I have to say a pang of jealousy hit me as I headed home for the TV coverage.
A lot has been made of the reaction of the more boisterous parts of the Edgbaston crowd to the Australian players coming back from their ball tampering suspension. Curmudgeonly harrumphing was more than evident from the media, on social media and amongst other fans but it never seemed to be anything other than pantomime fun; witness the reaction of David Warner when fielding in front of the Hollies Stand.
Comparison is often drawn with football crowds and while there is a certain element of crossover it’s not really valid. Both are noisy, sarcastic, sometimes inventive and often repetitively annoying but the edge existent in the national game is non-existent in the gentleman’s game. Boorish it may be, but never nasty and although hard to accept for the old timers, it’s now a common part of big tests in this country.
At the close of play, we decided to take in another big Brummie event in town so it was time to give the shuttle bus system a whirl, almost literally given the theme park style of queuing in the car park. Side by side with the many Aussies choosing the same city-bound transport, the feedback was very supportive towards my hometown although many mentioned the interminable roadworks. It was ever thus, but hopefully not as common come 2022.
Buses seemed plentiful, the staff helpful and friendly and while we were never going to belt it down the Bristol Road, cricket and football conversation killed the time and plenty of indigenous people were positive about the second city.
Back in the centre we headed up to the annual Jamaican Festival in Victoria Square. First held in 2012 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the island’s independence, I have conspired to miss each of the three days every year since then for one reason or another but it seemed the perfect location to enjoy after a day at the cricket.
We arrived to a dizzying mix of sights, sounds and smells. The endless array of food stalls displaying the very best in Caribbean cuisine, bars serving rum and Red Stripe, a main stage featuring local and Jamaican sounds and a sound system pouring out good vibes.
In fact the best feature was the atmosphere, young and old enjoying a fine evening, warm, relaxed and utterly joyful. It was akin to a summer version of the Frankfurt Christmas Market, a chance for all colours, creeds and classes to get together and enjoy themselves shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, an uplifting scene in what has been a dispiriting time in this country recently.
We left as the sun set, walking down Colmore Row I felt ten feet tall. So proud of what Birmingham could offer, international sport for international visitors, a free event for visitors and locals alike demonstrating the very best of not only the city but of human nature.
There is a lot of work to do for the next three years or so but I believe Birmingham will excel as a host for the Commonwealth Games and my day out only served to strengthen that belief. It was as though the city had a smile on its face all day. Let’s hope it’s still beaming in 2022.