It was a morning of handshakes and greetings at Aigburth today.
Glen Chapple and Murray Goodwin exchanged the usual courtesies out in the middle, but their pre-toss ritual only mirrored those taking place around the boundary as friends met up for the first time since last September. As Richard Rae pointed out on the Guardian website, the first day of the cricket season lifts the heart more than any other in the sporting calendar.
So all must have been sweetness and light you may be thinking? Sadly, no, dear reader, for I have a tale of sin to tell. It concerns the Fall of Man or, more precisely, the fall of a quite specific man.
It happened like this: I was minding my own business in the press tent about half an hour before the start of play when a vague form loomed above me.
"I've come to tempt you," it said.
Thinking that I might have had a visit from Mephistopheles, I needed a moment or two before I could focus on the august figure of the Reverend Malcolm Lorimer, archivist, historian and the manager of Big Mal's Bargain Bookstall. I ventured the view that Malcolm's vocation suggested that he should be responsible for turning me away from the path of the temptation in favour of the sylvan grove of righteousness, but he was having none of it. "I've got some books you might be interested in," continued the clerical charmer. And thus it came to pass that I bought four Yorkshire yearbooks. So much for the innocence of spring.
In fact, Big Mal's Bargain Bookstall is well worth a visit for anybody watching Lancashire's home games this season. The books are reasonably priced, the conversation is entertaining, and all the proceeds go to Mark Chilton's Benefit and Lancashire Heritage (a fund which buys rare books and papers concerning the county's cricket). Where's the downside in that?
Then again, it was difficult to find a drawback of any description on Firday: the weather belonged to late June rather then early April, Ed Joyce batted beautifully for his 84 and Lancashire's seamers fought back well in mid-afternoon on a pitch offering only modest pace and bounce, a reminder that it was April after all.
And although Joe Gatting's 90 held up Lancashire's seamers, there were plenty of people in the 1,100 strong crowd who wanted to shake Glen Chapple's hand after the Lancashire captain had completed the 29th five-wicket haul of his first-class career for Lancashire and taken his tally of wickets for the county to exactly 750.
This is the Lancashire captain's 20th season at the club; he made his first-class debut against Sussex in July 1992. Almost six seasons later, on a freezing April afternoon at the same ground, Alan West scored his first game for the club, and more important than all the cricket yesterday was the sight of Alan in the press tent and well on the way to a full recovery after serious illness.
And so we had well contested cricket between two teams with a proud record of bringing out the best in each other. First days of the season don't come much better than this.
Photo (c) Clint Hughes
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