Paul Edwards delights in the start of four days Championship cricket at Liverpool
Aigburth is rather more than an outground. Whereas Southport and Blackpool both need a fair amount of preparation to be done before they can be turned into venues which can host Lancashire games, Liverpool has the air of a place which could accommodate county cricket at the drop of a bat.
Now it should be understood here that I am not criticising any of these grounds, all of which I like very much. I am merely pointing out what seem to me to be the differences between them, and to describe Aigburth as Lancashire's second home is not journalese: Southport has hosted 39 first-class games, Blackpool, 98 and Liverpool, 183.
In twelve months or so, that number could have increased to 188. The much anticipated announcement that Liverpool will host at least four of Lancashire's eight LV= Division One games in 2011 offers cricket lovers on Merseyside the delightful prospect that championship cricket will, for one season only, be a regular attraction rather than an annual treat. Watching Lancashire's batsmen carve out a clear advantage against Hampshire in the warmth of a late summer evening, it was easy to welcome the opportunity that Old Trafford's redevelopment has put Aigburth's way.
This is a grand ground in more ways than one. It may lack the intimacy of Southport or Blackpool - it even comes second to Taunton or Chelmsford in that respect - but it makes up for this with its smooth and spacious outfield, its view over the Mersey to the Clwyd hills, and its mighty pavilion. "The idyllic location is dominated by a three storey pavilion that was, at the time of its inauguration, the finest in England," write Tony Onslow and John Sturgeon in their excellent history of the club. That inauguration took place in 1881 and the building still captures one's eye, even in an age when we have become used to huge football stadia, their size only dwarved by their soullessness. So consider how impressive it must have looked in the heyday of Victorian Liverpool, when the city boasted wealth and squalor in equal measure.
In the 21st century, Liverpool has become a confident metropolis, keen to attract visitors and gloriously capable of offering them a warm welcome. So Lancashire supporters asked to make the journey down the East Lancs Road on a few occasions next summer should not consider themselves inconvenienced; they should think themsleves fortunate, for they are going to one of the classiest cricket grounds in England.
Finally, I have been enlightened as to the specific essay in which Neville Cardus describes Trent Bridge as a "Lotus land for batsmen, a place where it is always afternoon and 360 for 2 wickets". Moreover, the vexing matter could not have been resolved in a pleasanter way. The Lancashire scorer Alan West telephoned me yesterday morning to say that the words appear in the essay "Cricket Fields and Cricketers", which itself can be found in the book Days in the Sun, although it has since been much anthologised. It was pleasing to get the issue cleared up, but it was even better to receive a call from Alan, who, as some Lancashire supporters will know, has not been in the best of health recently. His many friends will join me in wishing him a full and speedy recovery.
Photo: Simon Pendrigh
(c) Lancashire CCC Ltd