Express & Star

Andy Richardson: Howzat for ticking off all the nation’s cricket grounds?

It all hinges on the weather. And after a blissfully hot one where there’s been hosepipe bans, drought and the unexpected use of umbrellas to shield us from the sun, rather than the rain, it would be ironic if a downpour wrecked my plans. That, however, is the risk I run as I look to complete a frankly absurd quest that didn’t come to life until long after it began.

Do I care if it rains? I don’t give a damn.

I’ll rewind. It’s February. I’ve decided to join a cricket club – Worcestershire, since you ask. It’s where we went as kids. The days were long, the weekends idyllic and as we’d moved closer to the ground during the pandemic, I envisaged late afternoons – post-work – watching leather on willow.

I hadn’t factored in the atrocious customer service, however, and so while I’d been keen to give the accounts team a not immodest sum to watch blokes chase after a tiny red ball, I thought better of handing over cash to an organisation that seemed disinterested. Besides, I could go as a regular punter and sit in a different part of the ground, as well as visiting other not-distant clubs, like Warwickshire, Gloucester and maybe Leicester too. What fun.

And so I shivered my way through spring, sitting with other balding, overweight, middle-aged blokes as leaner, fitter, younger guys did something that the older, less-fit guys probably wished they could still do. I bought gin’n’tonic at Worcester, got sunburned at Gloucester and found it so cold at Warwickshire that the only sensible thing to do was go back to the car and switch on the heaters – then drive home.

By the time spring was turning to summer, I’d caught up with my beloved father at Leicester – unarguably the best day of the season, though entirely because I spent it with my hero. Mind you, the cricket wasn’t bad and I’d ticked off my fourth ground.

And very pleasant it was too – I even got to park in the ground.

A friend had bought tickets for the Test Match at Nottinghamshire, which meant I’d be going to my five grounds – and if I wanted to continue my sojourn, the numbers were pretty low. There were 18 first class grounds and I’d visited five. I wasn’t planning to become a member of any specific county, so I might as well continue my flight around England and Wales.

Northamptonshire came next. Parking on street and an M&S Simply Food outside the ground, for picnics. Bliss. And then I spent an afternoon at Derbyshire. My laptop was open, I was working throughout the day. Who knew offices could look so green and pleasant?

Seven down. The Midlands complete. Eleven to go. My partner joined me for Lancashire, which was memorable for my driving into the members car park through the exit. They thought I was someone important and waved me through. Thanks guys. Old Trafford is mission accomplished.

Middlesex was glorious. The home of cricket, Lord’s, is one of the world’s finest grounds. I’d visited before and sat in a stand so tall I nearly got vertigo. The Oval, the home of Surrey, was similarly impressive. Ben Foakes was keeping, England’s number one. A fun afternoon out and only eight grounds to go.

Glamorgan was easy. Straight down the motorway and into Sofia Gardens. Durham was less straightforward – though after staying in North Wales the day before and collecting some essentials from Manchester, it didn’t seem so far as it might have been. Six to go.

Hampshire and Sussex were completed across three days. And Sussex is a ground to which I’ll return. Sitting in deckchairs, a stone’s throw from Brighton. On the inbetween day, I’d found myself at Pride. Fun. Giggles. Colours more sunny than a rainbow.

A quiet drive down to Somerset left me with three grounds to complete. Then Kent and Essex were completed across a Friday-Sunday, a brilliant winning-six-off-the-last-ball at Kent and an England U-19 versus Sri Lanka U-19 at Chelmsford keeping me in the hunt.

So now it comes down to mid-September, the last time Yorkshire play this season at Headingley. Do I care if it rains? I don’t give a damn. It’s been great fun so far, and long may that continue. Howzat.

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