A day at the cricket at New Road, Worcester.
My day job is a 9-to-5 admin job in telecommunications. It’s one of those information handling/processing roles that got out of hand; managing my workload is a gruelling affair. So, by the spring I’m ready for a break. This time I booked the four days off after Easter (to bridge between the bank holiday and the weekend). Doing this at short notice affected my prospects of planning a holiday at good value, so instead of Corfu or Strasbourg I settled on spending time at home and going on some day trips.
On my Friday off I drove over to Worcester to watch the first day of Worcestershire vs Northamptonshire in Division Two of the County Championship. Getting to the ground is not difficult: off the M5, you head into and through the centre of the city, cross over the Severn river and the ground sits just to the left. Car parking is in a playing field of the neighbouring King’s School.
The reason for my visit was to experience New Road for myself and see if the regard with which it is held by the cricket public, as one of the most attractive grounds in the world, is the case or not.
The ground is situated on the bank of the Severn, and enclosed by hedges and trees in blossom. As I parked up, the riverside trees clear to offer a view of the cathedral on the far bank of the river. Unfortunately, as is often the case with the restoration these buildings require, the west window was obscured by scaffolding.
From direction of the car park I entered the ground and could immediately see the playing surface, with some low-level seating in front of me and the modern pavilion in the background.
I headed for the Basil D’Oliveira stand, a modern row of open seating blocks. As with many modern stadia, its toilets are nestled beneath the stands forcing one, on entry and exit, to have to duck beneath steel girders. Climbing up to the top of the stand (which was better than sparsely occupied) I surveyed the scene, on a cloudy day with a chill breeze. New Road has quite a large playing area, I thought. To my left were the extremities of the playing field, the wicket covers, the electronic scoreboard, a hospitality marquee, the modern pavilion and a lovely tree in blossom.
In front of me, as a backdrop to the game in progress, was a Premier Inn which, it is fair to comment, somewhat spoilt the ground’s appearance due to its being an ugly, obtrusive four-storey beige block. This building incorporated the hotel and also some of the County club’s own facilities: wedding and conferencing rooms and a “sports” bar (which meant a marble bar surface, shiny gold lager pumps and a lack of atmosphere or substance). It’s functionality as a cricket building could be discerned from the sightscreen: a huge dirty grey tarpaulin that was unceremoniously hung from the balcony seating.
As for the cricket itself, conditions favoured the bowlers. Northants had a quartet of strapping seamers who pounded in beat the bat repeatedly. For the hosts Darryl Mitchell and Moeen Ali battled at a decent run rate – two late wickets in the morning session left Worcestershire at 92-3 at lunch.
By that time, I’d gone to explore around the ground. I’d wanted to watch the cricket with a view of the Cathedral, which apparently was only visible from the seats around the member’s pavilion. This was reached by a perambulatory walk beneath the Premier Inn (all of the modern buildings are on stilts, due to the risk of severe flooding caused by the ground’s proximity the Severn) and then down a narrow passage in front of an old stand containing the corporate boxes and the media.
The pavilion corner was quite a distance away from the action, but the view of the cathedral was magnificent – it loomed through the trees and over the cricket, like a cat preying on a mouse.
I spent the lunch break wandering around looking for something to eat, settling for a hot pie and sausage roll from the snack bar beneath the D’Oliveira stand. For the afternoon, I’d decided that the best place to watch the action was from the lower level seating near the car park, square and very close to the wicket.
As watching long-form cricket is a placid, sedentary, peaceful business that regularly takes place in normal weekday working hours, nine-tenths of the crowd (of around 600-800 I guess) were over 50. Overhearing some of these talk about the cricket, the club or most of all their lives in retirement, made me worry a little on what I’m going to do and when I’m going to be able to do it.
When the action resumed, Moeen reached his fifty, but then the Northants bowling quickly got on top of the remainder of the Worcestershire batting and the innings subsided to 188 all out.
I took a break from the cricket, heading out of the ground to explore the city. From the bridge, the cathedral is wonderfully situated on the top of the bank before a bend in the river (perhaps in better prospect than even Durham).
I approached by a pleasant walk along the river bank (there were dozens of swans on the water) and then went upstairs to the equally pleasant College Green (the view of the cathedral is taken up by the bulk of the college hall in the foreground).
Inside, the cloisters and the cylindrical, large and spare chapter house are in good condition. The church itself is quite sombre and gloomy (with much artificial lighting), with the dark stone and window glass. I didn’t have much time to explore, but the splendid memorial chantry to Prince Arthur took my attention the most. The exterior of the cathedral is quite weathered (due to the local sandstone), but the building is pleasingly proportioned and its tower is superb.
I then took a stroll through the heart of Worcester, which was quite large: there were plenty of shops and many old, attractive buildings (particularly the façade of the Guildhall, a splendid Queen Anne building).
Back at the cricket, I’d missed quite a lot of action: Northants were already five wickets down. I took a seat for the last hour, but there was only twenty minutes of that time gone before the umpires declared bad light and play clearly was finished for the day. I walked back to the field, got in the car and drove home. Was it worthwhile coming out here? Yes, most definitely: Worcester is a very attractive city to visit and to watch cricket and I’d be glad to go back again soon.