You can say that I'm suffering from Ashes Fever if you like, but I swear that Northern Rail had even cleaned one of their trains this morning. The 6.23 Parbold Flyer out of Southport looked spick, if not span, and it thundered into Deansgate on time. Is there a big match on or something?
Journalists are frequently accused of hyping events. (We are guilty of other things, too, of course. I have lost count of the number of times in the last year that some giggling poltroon has asked me if I have tapped their phone. Are they confusing me with someone important? Do they think their conversations are worth bugging?) Well, today’s contest needs no hyping at all. The national news proclaims its significance; the billboards in Manchester blazon the matter; and as I write (9.55am) both press box and stadium are filling up nicely.
All tickets have been sold and they will all be inspected too. Whether travelling on Metrolink or attempting to gain access to the ground, this is not a day to try it on. Nearby businesses have cottoned on to the fact that this is a day to get some free publicity. At the Glamorgan game a fortnight ago we were pondering why the nearby Kellogg offices didn’t cash in on their proximity to Emirates Old Trafford with greater commercial awareness. Now we have a mighty banner, with the familiar font of the firm on one end, a printed archery target at the other, and the imperative challenge: “Hit this, Joe Root!” in the middle. All very fine, of course, but surely there are flakier, if not nuttier, England batsmen. At the side of the building there is a goodly portion of Kellogg’s most famous product with the slogan: “Best BOWL of the day”.
The ECB are in on the act as well. “#Rise for England!” we are all exhorted. Well, I rose at 5.30am this morning and that’s early enough for anybody to cast off their Tom Graveney jimjams, however patriotic they may be.
Yet the Ashes Test is not the only story in town this bright sunny morning; Emirates Old Trafford rather rivals it. One wonders what Jim Cumbes’s feelings are as he watches Jimmy Anderson run in from the Pavilion End to bowl the first ball of the Test to Shane Watson.
Kind, articulate, passionate and perceptive, Lancashire’s former chief-executive - he retired late last year – is the man most closely associated with the county’s battle to redevelop Old Trafford into the stadium which has welcomed 25,750 spectators this memorable Thursday.
It was a right battle, too. Not so much because it was too hard to convince the ECB that Old Trafford was ready to host an Ashes Test; according to Cumbes, a stunning 20-minute presentation did that job. No, the real difficulty lay in the strong opposition of a rival developer who objected to Trafford Council giving Tesco permission to build a mighty superstore in the borough.
Very gradually, though, that dispute is drifting into the shadows at Lancashire. Soon, it will be the concern of the historians. Today is for the cricketers and also for those who kept the faith and insisted that Lancashire should host an Ashes Test.
Before long, no doubt, the punters will be asked what their day has been like. It is called “customer experience”. In the press box, we cosseted souls get free tea, coffee and food and there’s even a back and shoulder massage thrown in if we want one. Very pleasant experiences, all of them.
It is easy to overlook the complexity of the operation to keep over 25,000 people happy for more than six hours, easier still to underestimate the remarkable scale and logistical intricacies of the media operation at a Test match. Some of Old Trafford’s staff ended their shift after midnight on Thursday morning and were in work again at 4.30am. They, like the players, will be tired folk come Monday evening. But when they get to their beds, they will enjoy the sleep of the just.
Photo (c) Simon Pendrigh