Trent Bridge, April 2016 – The Beginning
Around eighteen months ago, on the eve of my first season back watching cricket I’d begun to have doubts about this new venture of mine. Had I the patience required to sit and watch a sport I’d ignored for the better part of two decades for a full day – possibly, up to four full days – in less than inspiring weather conditions? Having decided to write about my experiences, I also wondered if I actually had anything to say.
These doubts grew with every lap I made of Trent Bridge as I tried to kill the, what would turn out to be, almost four hours before play finally began. What had I let myself in for?
Confession number one: In my piece Lancashire v Nottinghamshire, 17-20th April 2016. I described that game as my first taste of live cricket. In fact, five days earlier I had undertaken an impromptu dress rehearsal.
I’d arrived well before the start to discover that, in spite of the previous evenings forecast to the contrary, the wicket wouldn’t be coming out from under its covers any time soon. I wished that I was still at home under mine. What had been envisaged as a dry run for the year ahead was in danger of turning into nothing more than a wet walk. Round and round the ground I wound, no run nor wicket to be found. My enthusiasm was on the wane.
The only development of note that transpired that morning was the sad news of James Taylor’s premature retirement from the sport aged just twenty-six. A day which might have ended my return to the summer game before it had even officially begun was saved by the appearance of Kumar Sangakkara.
Coming in for Rory Burns shortly after the belated two o’clock start, he and Arun Harinath put the Nottinghamshire attack to the sword as they compiled 142 runs in 33 overs – 83 of which came from the bat of the former Sri Lankan Test star.
He plundered Jake Ball and Harry Gurney for 11-run overs each. Samit Patel fared even worse, milked for 15 from just four deliveries. It was a joy to watch. Sangakkara, down on one knee, driving to the covers was a proposal I would gladly accept.
With the last action before tea, he sent Ball to the rope once more for his fourteenth boundary of the afternoon – thirteen fours and one six. The soon-to-be England bowler would gain a measure of revenge after the break having the Surrey batsman caught behind with the very next ball he delivered to him.
Harinath went on to make a century, but it was Sangakkara who made the lasting impression. By the time I’d left Nottingham to journey home, any doubts concerning my new endeavour had been erased.
Old Trafford, May 2016 – An Early End
Confession number two: in my piece Lancashire v Surrey, 23-24th May 2016. I wrote how I’d been looking forward to seeing Sangakkara for the first time. In light of the admission above, it was obviously the second.
The only downside to a Lancashire victory inside three days was that it offered only a fleeting glimpse of the Sri Lankan – perhaps this was some manner of punishment for my secret trip to Trent Bridge.
A short twenty minute tale comprised of three shots. Tom Bailey was almost effortlessly driven to the covers for four. Kyle Jarvis lifted down the ground for another boundary. The final act saw a Neil Wagner delivery that was chipped up to mid-on and thus the curtain fell.
The Oval, August 2016 – A New Beginning
An August visit to The Oval found me sat with a friend who had brought his son along for a late school holiday treat – another first-timer whose debut at the cricket would be graced by Sangakkara, or ‘the man in the yellow boots’ as the youngster named him.
A half-century was brought up in only 47 deliveries. Despite this speedy rate of scoring, it was more a display of quick singles than a barrage of boundaries. Although, he still found time to desposit both of the Lancashire spinners into the crowd for sixes from consecutive overs.
Having driven Nathan Buck for four to the longest part of a particularly lengthy boundary on the off side – leaving his bat in an SE11 postcode it finally crossed the rope almost in neighbouring SW8 – an almost run-a-ball 67 came to an end as the next delivery was slashed to Haseeb Hameed at gully. A pleasing outcome as a Lancashire fan, but disappointing as a Sangakkara one. My friend would have to field cricket-related questions from his son all the way home.
Old Trafford, September 2017 – The Beginning of the End
And so to the present, the first day of the final game of the season. Also, the opening day of Kumar Sangakkara’s last County Championship appearance. Four weeks shy of his fortieth birthday, the Sri Lankan is retiring from first-class cricket. For me, this is actually the end of my year and I’m hoping it will contain a glimpse of the ‘man in the yellow boots’ with a bat in his hand rather than merely stood in the field.
Currently, though, glimpsing anything is proving difficult. Despite the floodlights already shining brightly, the toss is delayed for forty-five minutes as the sky is deemed too dark for even the flipping of a coin. Gloom probably doesn’t do it justice. Murk doesn’t go far enough. It’s like the morning after bonfire night. Thick, grey clouds hovering so low you could reach up and touch them.
The eventual toss comes down in favour of the home side who, I am pleased to see, put Surrey in to bat. With Sangakkara listed at number four, only two wickets need fall before I am able to watch him for probably the final time.
It takes until the twentieth over for a breakthrough. Rory Burns taking an ugly swipe at a Saqib Mahmood delivery he could have left well alone and succeeding only in spooning it up into the clouds before it finally falls to Shivnarine Chanderpaul at mid-on.
Five overs later, Matthew Parkinson and Mark Stoneman choose to reenact Shane Warne’s ‘ball of the century’ from on this very same ground in 1993. Lancashire’s young blond, leggy pitching the ball well outside the line of the stumps only to spin it back and upset the England batsmen’s furniture. Stoneman playing the part of Mike Gatting, albeit a somewhat slimmer, left-handed version, duly stands around surveying the damage and looking suitably baffled.
With only a short time left in the morning session, Kumar Sangakkara makes his entrance – yellow boots conspicuous by their absence – and is given a guard of honour by the Lancashire players. An act of respect that he repays by feasting pre-lunch off the home side’s spinners, racing to 13 from his first six balls.
Parkinson is eased into the offside for a couple and, soon after, driven to the covers for four. Stephen Parry is flicked over the back-pedalling fielder on the midwicket boundary for six with no more effort than turning the page of a book.
After the break the Sri Lankan returns to the field clad in a jumper, summer has well and truly left us. The Lancashire attack return with a plan. A succession of bouncers from Mahmood finally tempts Sangakkara into a hook which finds only the waiting hands of Rob Jones at fine leg. 14 runs from sixteen deliveries and then gone.
His innings, much like the English summer, much like the cricket season, over far too soon. Sangakkara would have one more outing at the crease a couple of days later, finishing his first-class career with 35 not out in a losing cause, but by then I had already walked off into the distance, my year at an end.