I had been checking the Northern Cricket Union website on and off, hoping to catch a league match, but without success – fixtures are published but I never found a start time. That might be me, or just that spectators are discouraged in Covid times (unlike England, Northern Ireland hasn’t given up and given in to the macho “pchaw, I’ll be alright” crowd). It was with some excitement, then, that I spotted that the Ireland team would be playing in Northern Ireland, after some sell-out T20s in Dublin.
I managed not to over-excitedly book tickets weeks ahead, figuring that the weather might be changeable, but relented with a week to go, in case they hit the 500 limit. When the previous Friday’s match was abandoned after one innings, I was worried, especially with rain in the forecast, but the rain spread itself through the day, and they got a result even after a 2.5 hour delay to the start.
I knew it would be convenient, given the terms and conditions promised free parking at the ground, but still didn’t expect to be able to drive right in and parked at the Stormont car park next door – it’s small, but free all day, and a short walk to the ground. But I could have driven right in and parked more or less by the door, it’s that convenient. Adelaide was good, given you can park very close for $20 on the day, but this is better, and the convenience feels like a thrill after the hassle of attending any large-scale event.
The crowd wasn’t large, with 30-40 in to begin with, swelling to 100 or so in the afternoon, helped by schools and work finishing for the day, so tickets were not hard to come by. They were also a bargain at £15, so I wasn’t overly bothered by the tough refund conditions. So long as 9.5 overs were bowled, you’d see nothing back.
I had brought plenty to read but ended up chatting to fellow cricket lovers who were glad to see a game after cancelling their trip to Manchester – before the game itself was cancelled, and just because England seems too insane a place to visit right now. We passed the time before the game finally started, and then Brendan Taylor walked out for his final international innings. An overcast day didn’t look likely to provide conditions for a glorious end, and so it proved as Josh Little bowled both openers after a slow, solid start. He is a useful weapon.
Rain took the players on and off, with the number of overs gradually nibbled away at, and the usual comedy that cricket’s laws ensure – at one point they played through a shower, walked off as it ended and then didn’t appear again for half an hour as we sat there in the dry.
Covid-wise, we were asked to download the NI app, take a test beforehand and have a mask to hand for going inside, not that we needed to. It was all pretty relaxed on the day, other than us being asked not to handle to ball. Stewarding was in place, but relaxed – it is very straightforward to get on to the pitch, it’s just that almost everyone just doesn’t, as we’ve seen in England recently.
I thoroughly enjoyed the day, even though it was a fairly low-key game that Ireland won fairly easily, despite worries about losing the light if they went on too long, and losing a few wickets without too much batting further down. Chasing was much easier than trying to set a pace, though Ervine would have single-handedly scored plenty if he could have stayed there, and provided most of the runs in any case. The first ball of Ireland’s reply went for four as we strolled back from the ice-cream van, which set the tone, and Stirling did more or less as he pleased. He was given out at least twice and successfully overturned with reviews before eventually bashing one up in the air. Zimbabwe did much worse with reviews, with Ireland reviewing two, maybe three decisions that weren’t given in the field, and players trooping off afterwards (without screens, that was how we knew the decision went against them). The Irish umpires were perhaps being extra careful not to be perceived as being in favour of the home team, backed up by technology.
There were Zimbabwe fans there, too, who chatted happily to Raza when he came close. He was the highlight of the day for me, as I gestured to the umbrella I’d just put up as they played on in rain, and he shouted “Ump! Look! And these are the locals!”
Near as dammit, anyway.
The cricket ended some time before 7 – a long day, as I was there for the 10:30 start which didn’t happen, but one which whizzed by. Having parked at Stormont I took advantage of the last of the light to have a walk around the estate, which is a lovely spot, with the parliament building way at the top of the hill. Apparently the trees are planted 200ft apart at the start of the drive, spreading to 250 near the top, which gives a false perspective and makes the building look closer than it is. Clever. And perhaps good motivation for the runners who were using it for training: “It can’t be that much further! It is, though”.