Paul Edwards travels from Hove to Birmingham and tries to put cricket in its place....
The press box at Edgbaston is now situated high in the huge new development at the Pavilion End of the ground. It offers a spectacularly elevated view of the cricket, the stadium itself and the city beyond. Expensive penthouse apartments compete with soaring offfice-blocks for the eye's attention. Through a gap in the stand, Eastwood Road stretches away, offering a view of prim terraced-houses with cars parked outside each home. The casual observer sees only an English city in high summer.
This has been a strange week in which to be a cricket writer. At Hove on Monday evening news filtered through of riots in England's cities. "Clapham's on fire !" said one rather excitable colleague. Then the rumours were confirmed: there was arson, looting and violence. Travel plans were changed as pressmen opted to stay in Brighton overnight. My original plans having included a change of trains at Clapham Junction on Tuesday, I accepted the offer of a lift direct to Birmingham.
By the time I arrived in Britain's second city, the trouble had spread. Although the centre of Birmingham seemed its normal busy self on Tuesday afternoon, travellers arriving at New St later that night were being given a police escort out of the area. As I left Edgbaston on Wednesday evening I saw the main Pershore Road closed by police cars in both directions. Unmarked cars and vans, their general purpose revealed only by their sirens, sped up and down the thoroughfare. I heard of more trouble the previous evening in Manchester, Liverpool, Wolverhampton, Gloucester......
Again the question can be posed, as it was about literary Brighton than three days ago: what has this to do with cricket? In one respect the answer's more straightforward this time because members of both teams playing at Edgbaston were asked whether their preparations had been affected by the riots. They answered the questions with the deadest of bats: "No, we haven't seen anything of them. We take our advice from our security people."
So the match went ahead and rightly so. As long as a sporting event can be safely policed, the players have a responsibility to participate. Sport is one of society's barometers. We play as children, and play more seriously still as adults; when we can't play, we often watch others doing so or try to help younger sportsmen develop their talents. I write about sport and do not regard it as a waste of my time. (You can disagree with that last bit if you wish.)
Simply to dismiss sport as "only a game" is to underestimate the way it can give its participants self-worth and its spectators entertainment. We have fought wars for values we believe in and the way those values are expressed in our way of life. Sport is bound up with those treasures, which are so important to us that we stop playing most professional sport while we attempt to defend them. But, without minimising the devastation to lives, homes and businesses this week, this country was not at war, even of the civil variety.
Thus, I think to describe the Edgbaston Test match as a "magnificent irrelevance", as somebody did on Wednesday is wide of the mark. This game is relevant, although it is too one-sided to be magnificent at the moment. It shows a city's people and their visitors going about their daily business. And it is worth a man's time to write about it.
Photo of Alastair Cook (c) Rui Vieira/PA Wire
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