All far from quiet on the Western Front
Posted in npower Ashes Series 2009
“Where are your seats, mate? We’re in block E. Just look out for the pair of us in black and white stripes,” I began.
“Can’t see you, mate. Where exactly are you?” replied Tim, a friend from my journalism post grad course.
“Above the entrance to the block, just to the… crickey! My seat’s right behind your’s.”
And so the day in Headingley Carnegie’s West Stand (formerly the Western Terrace) began.
My university friend Ben, who had got tickets (via twelfthman/ecb.co.uk) and I weren’t the only convicts in English cricket’s most infamous stand.
Seeing a kaleidoscope of outfits was something of a relief, having been the only ones in fancy dress on the train over from York - a surprise on npower’s official fancy dress day.
With the Yorkshire sun beating down from a virtually cloudless sky, the scene was set for the next chapter of another intriguing Ashes series.
Surely England could not be as bad as the day before?
Michael Clarke and Marcus North’s burgeoning alliance did not bode well, save for the Aussie fans sprinkled around – notably the ‘Fanatics’ decked out in yellow and Merv Hughes’ official party, both to our right.
The seven dwarves several rows in front were missing someone important. Now who could that be?
Never fear. More akin to Cinderella arriving late for the ball, a burley Snow White appeared to rapturous applause - on a par with that for Clarke‘s serene fifty.
As Australia’s lead mounted, so did the trips downstairs to the bar. For the record, we held out until the players too enjoyed something refreshing.
Rehydrated, the tourists’ vice-captain honed in on his third century of the series, but it was not to be: Graham Onions secured a solitary breakthrough before lunch.
Following brief banter with colleagues past and present underneath the West Stand’s concrete frame, the convicts dined with esteemed company including a doctor and vicar (both genuine, sadly in plain clothes).
Dessert spilled over into the afternoon session (a trait more commonly associated with corporate clients) but fortunately not onto our hired outfits.
The discovery at 2.01pm that the bars had just shut for another hour and 29 minutes came as a crushing blow. We would have nothing to ease the pain of Australia’s mounting lead for the time being.
A light aircraft trailing a ‘Get well soon Freddie’ banner proved the only distraction from a fascinating session where the batsman looked to push on, possibly towards a declaration. Surely not with three and a half days remaining?
With North and Co showing heightened adventure, wickets duly fell. Ravi Bopara’s deep midwicket catch to remove Mitchell Johnson was right in front of our seats. The ice creams I was queuing for behind the stand at the time were well worth it.
Soon Stuart Clark’s lusty hitting filled the void as the Dickie Bird clock behind us ticked down until 3.30pm.
However, Stuart Broad’s second Test five-for and his sixth victim, to end the innings, eased our misery on the stroke of tea - temporarily at least.
With amber nectar flowing again, we strapped ourselves in for the rollercoaster ride of England’s second innings.
A sedate start buoyed the spirits of the home fans, many of whom began to exchange songs with their antipodean counterparts.
With excitement levels rising around us, the aforementioned Ms White became the centre of an international incident.
Having been serenaded by a gentleman in a hotdog costume, the innocent young thing was torn between her English sweetheart and the Fanatics’ offer of living in ‘a sunny paradise’.
The football season’s first set of full-time scores only brought personal woe, York City conceding two late goals to go down 2-1 to Oxford.
Worse was to follow in the shape of another batting collapse sparked, in my opinion, by Ben’s trip for ice cream.
As Australia cemented their stranglehold, much of the West Stand’s paying public determined to enjoy the day’s climax.
Outlawed ‘beer snakes’ reared their ugly heads and a few fans were ‘invited’ to leave their seats.
A witty ‘Fanatic’ appeared in a scarlet fire-fighter’s uniform – a day too late to deal with the false alarm at England’s hotel during Friday’s early hours. With him he brought yellow Fireman Sam-style hats for the rest of his party. A nice touch.
Soon England’s hopes of avoiding defeat were virtually extinguished.
Each of the five wickets came as a hammer blow, particularly to those with tickets for the remaining days at Headingley.
As the sun-kissed crowd filtered out, many heading for Headingley’s hostelries, England’s Ashes hopes hung in the balance.