Paul Edwards bids farewell to Guildford
Bill Clutterbuck is mowing his wicket. The fourth day of the match between Lancashire and Surrey was abandoned without a ball bowled some five hours ago and Guildford's groundsman has clearly decided to use the same pitch for tomorrow's CB40 game against Nottinghamshire. There has been much scraping and brushing of the blessed strip, although the rest of the square is still covered by sheeting weighed down with overturned benches or bags of sand or sawdust.
There is no wind and there has been no rain since play was called off. The beech trees and the poplars at the far end of the ground are held, as if painted by Poussin. Stillness. One wonders if cricket would have been played this afternoon had either side possessed a stronger chance of winning the game. It matters little now. Lancashire's players boarded their coach north long ago and the Surrey team have returned to their homes, although I doubt that many of them are grateful for the day off this wet summer. The press tent, which was crowded a few hours ago with representatives of the national press, now boasts a wreckage of crisp bags, half-eaten sandwiches and apple cores. One bloke is still tapping away.
Changes have already been made to this ground in advance of tomorrow's game, for which 2,000 tickets have already been sold, although Guildford CC chairman Robert Charles believes that twice that number may turn up. The forecast is good and this will be a big day for Charles and his club's army of volunteers. Black sightscreens have already replaced white ones at both ends of the ground. The advertising boards have been changed too. Clydesdale Bank will be Sunday's plat du jour.
Club cricketers make their way over to the nets in one corner of the ground. Guildford's first team are away at Normandy in the Surrey Championship this afternoon but I do not know if the game is taking place. Outside this ground, the bustle of a Saturday afternoon continues. Cars roar up Woodbridge Road and the air is filled with music from the "Guilfest". A poster in the Woodbridge Road Diner this morning announced that Jimmy Cliff, The Undertones, The Buzzcocks, Bryan Ferry and ABC will be performing. The slow train to London, its carriages gaily painted in red, blue and yellow livery, glides gently across the bridge at the far end of the ground.
Then, unbidden and unsought, a slow left-arm bowler begins his run-up at the Railway End of the ground. The ball he bowls is on a good length, but the tall batsman takes a stride and a half down the wicket and is perfectly postioned for the lofted drive. His bat describes a mighty arc of graceful power. The ball soars upwards and disappears into the car park beyond the sightscreen.
This morning Robert Charles had been talking with quiet enthusiasm about how important outground cricket is: how it gives an opportunity to his club's 220 junior members and Guildford's other cricket followers to watch great players without paying £65-100 for a Test match seat. As he spoke, one of his young sons rang him to say he was ready to leave for his match that afternoon and where exactly was his brother? A few moments later, three even younger cricketers made their way onto the outfield and began an impromptu game. They ignored the rain.
Robert Charles may have been Liverpool's chairman, Peter McEvoy, or Southport and Birkdale's Tony Elwood. These men believe that county cricket should be taken to the people who are keen to watch it, and in Guildford's case the borough council is very helpful. Negotiations for a new staging agreement with Surrey will begin soon.
"We've got some plans to develop next year's Festival in ways that will be better for Surrey and better for us," said Charles, who has been chairman at Woodbridge Road for about nine months. "Surrey have a view that this still a festival to be cherished. There are people here who don't necessarily want to go up to Kennington, and the county have an understanding and intelligent view that places like Guildford are very important to them because they provide a great service to the cricketing public."
We are a very different experience [from places like the Oval] because this ground is very intimate. At this Festival you can get much closer to the players than you do at major stadiums."
It is the death of afternoon. Bill Clutterbuck has finished his afternoon's work and he and his staff are off to the pub for a drink. A few security people roam around as I pack up my gear. On Tuesday evening I was their sole companion and here I am again, lurking about. In the intervening four days we have seen Horton and Croft and Pietersen. Children have queued up for autographs and most of them have gone away satisfied. The match was drawn but the other results from our time at Guildford will take longer to become clear.
Photo (c) Nigel French/EMPICS Sport
Article (c) Lancashire CCC Ltd