The county season 2008 was poised for a dramatic send off. Both the top and bottom places were at stake even as the final day of the season began. I decided to catch the action at Hove where the hosts Sussex (sharks) were facing Yorkshire (snaps here). As always the action starts early morning at Southampton under misty conditions. I miss the first service to Hove but before long I am on the Southern train bound for brighton. This journey is a new first for the direction taken from southampton. A few pages of sherlock holmes and a few kids on the seat ahead of me are enough to keep me entertained for the 1.5 hour sojourn. As we head south-east, the attraction swings from distant hills to the left to the ever closer coastline on the right. Hove is the last but one stop to brighton. And the first thing (line) that strikes you on reading the heritage board outside hove station - "Hove is separate from brighton !". That much for satiating the hovian pride.
The Sussex county ground is a 10-min walk from the train station towards the beach. To me, Hove reminds me of the first game for india in 1999 world cup vs South Africa here.
As it stands at the start of the day, Yorkshire are safe but Sussex need to save themselves from defeat to avoid anxiety of relegation. However if Kent were to lose at canterbury, both the teams playing here were to be safe. So the day began with a few butterflies in the stomachs of sussex supporters.
Murray Goodwin showed no signs of nerves though and began by 2 superb straight drives. Followed by a drive through covers to race to 78 before long. But the hero of the morning session was young Yorkshire spinner Adil Rashid. Just 20 years old he is. Bowling all the 15.3 overs from the sea end in the morning session, he picked up 4 wickets in the session making it 5 wickets for the innings. Truly masterful performance and looks a sure england prospect. By the end of the day he had picked 7 of the 9 sussex wickets. Another emotional moment of the morning session was the coming to the crease of Sussex skipper Chris Adams. After captaining Sussex for 11 long years, this was to be his last hurrah in the middle. And fittingly the Yorkshire players gave him a guard of honour as he walked to the crease. I was reminded of the sort of formation the ball boys do at Wimbledon when the prince enters for the presentation ceremony. But chris adams .. what a career he has had at Sussex .. not the least bringing sussex their first championship in 2003. Following it up with back-to-back titles in 2006 and 07. It was not for nothing that the atmosphere was heavy with emotion at the end of the day.
But coming back to proceedings, lunch brought news of Kents' demise at canterbury at hands of Durham and both Sussex and Yorkshire could breath a sigh of relief. Both groups of supporters shared a healthy laughter, albeit at the expense of Kent. The proceedings thereafter were only academic. So I shifted focus to the 2 young pre-school kids a few rows from me. They were busy playing with their tiny dinosaurs who were jumping all over the place. This is in between the chips, cakes, drinks, colas their mother was fuelling them with from time to time. so by the time they were having their lunch, I had reached for my apples to keep in sync.
One of the most amazing experiences was a chance to step on to the field at lunch time and experience some on-the-ground atmosphere. It is truly a heavenly experience to get to walk around a playing wicket at the middle of the day. And with the outfield full of kids playing cricket, balls were flying all over the place. It was touching to see this celebration of cricket in all directions. For one, I got to have a look at the bowlers run-up marks, grab one of the polystyrene markers and rub shoulders with a few groundsmen.
Among the international players playing were Matt Hoggard and Matt Prior. And watching Hoggard bowl to prior, one couldnt help but think of divisions in england camp :). Among others were Luke wright and jacques rudolph. Meanwhile soon news came in of "Durham crowned new champions", as Nottinghamshire couldnt muster the win they needed to win the championship.
The day ended with an emotional adieu to Chris Adams. But not before Murray Goodwin was named Player of the season for sussex, not the least for his sterling century earlier in the day. so the day turned out to be ones of emotional ups and downs. And towards the end even Mohammed Sami was hitting sixes. I managed to catch Sami for an autograph. One thing however struck me - whenever the ball was hit for six, it was invariably lost, and that too when it had landed in the crowd !
among other things, on the sidelines was a sale of cricket-related books. And one could lay hands on any biography/autobiography you could think of. There were autobiographies of Richie Benaud, Henry Blofeld, Vivian Richards, Sunny days, Dickie Bird , you name it and it was there. I also caught a glance of "Cricket" by Neville Cardus.
To soak in the atmosphere, I had a stroll around the family area and the members area. Here cricket seems to be just one of the entertainers. People are chatting around, relaxing and reading books. I too joined in with an ice-cream on the sidelines. and more importantly, they know their players and seasons, so its nice to eavesdrop on a few lessons in cricketing history.
By the end of the day, one cannot help but think - whatever "happens" to cricket in other parts of the world, here in a small country town, cricket will always remain "cricket".