Great Days

Driving to Sussex from Devon in the rain and gloom. It is 6.10 in the morning and it feels mad.

The rain clears around Portsmouth; soon after 10 we park and walk through Arundel. It is a small town which embodies a certain type of storied Englishness. Beautifully kept houses from many eras, antique shops, a War Memorial decorated with wreaths. A castle; a cathedral; vintage pubs which look welcoming and well-stocked.

You would not need to be told that this is the home of a cricket festival. Not one in the loose sense of the ICC Cricket World Cup, with all its noise, its forced crowd participation and its saturated and breathless media coverage. This is a festival of County Cricket as it still can be at certain times and in certain places: white clothing, red ball, Jack Russell selling paintings, others selling books. Modesty, tolerance, subtlety and elegance are built into the fabric of the day. A man playing an electric guitar made out of a cricket bat would look as incongruous here as a herd of pigs taking off from the castle ramparts.

If seen through a white ball prism, the day’s play is also full of incongruity. Will Beer, a man of thirty looking to leave his bit-part leg spinner’s career behind, bats through all the day’s 96 overs for just 76 runs. This is, by any standards, slow batting, but nobody tries to start a Mexican wave. People know what he is trying to do and they see no need to disturb him. In most cases they are simply happy that days such as these still exist. The sun becomes warm and the conversations grow slightly more animated; late in the day a few people drift away early for the alternative comforts of home, but most stay to the end. It is a time nobody wants to leave behind.

The next day, in Taunton, everything, on field and off, is faster, noisier, brasher. It is also more ephemeral, but this is not a condemnation. The game is completed in one day, it ebbs and it flows, the enthusiasm, knowledge and good humour of the immense Pakistan following is infectious and the play is of a standard far beyond anything which most of the players at Arundel have known. Many of them would like to, of course, but deep down they know they never will, and they might perhaps be happy with that.

It is one of the many strengths of the contemporary game that it can captivate and entrance in such contrasting ways. But amid the differences there are similarities; as at Arundel, an opening batsman is working to establish himself, although in this case he has travelled the road before. This is about resuming an interrupted career.

All David Warner’s trademarks are there; his century is studded with powerful drives and pulls, and he even casts off the cloak of inhibition which hampered Australia’s chase at The Oval. He lays the foundations for Australia’s victory; later the job is completed by Cummins and Starc.

Both of these, in their very different ways, have been great days, but this is not the time to consider which is best. Both are part of the pageant of modern cricket, and they can easily co-exist, with each reminding us of the virtues of the other.

Just as long as the will for them to do so is there.

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