Thursday 24th June 2021 – The Vitality T20 Blast – Edgbaston, Birmingham
For a small moment on Thursday early evening it felt like it was 2019 again, when Corona, Covid-19, social distancing and furlough were words that meant very little to us. If you focused your attention away from the action and towards the stand on the east of the stadium, there was a party going on. The T20 game was created to bring a new audience into cricket, one that would appreciate the event and experience as much as the game. And here they were, having the best time ever.
Alas, in our current severely restricted world of capacities, social distance and clear boundaries, excusing the pun, between the action on and off the pitch, it was all rather worrying for the Birmingham Bears and the authorities at Edgbaston.
The 25,000 capacity stadium is known for its lively atmosphere when crowds are in. It sits on the fringes of the University district and a 20 minute walk from the city centre. The test match a few weeks ago against New Zealand had seen Whilst capacity of the stadium had been reduced, there were still tickets available for a few groups from other universities in the West Midlands for the visit of the Derbyshire Falcons on a night that threatened rain but delivered a decent game of cricket as well as enough off the field antics to necessitate a letter of apology from the club.
This was my first visit to Edgbaston, as the 2021 cricket tour headed to the Midlands and a mile or so walk from the hotel to the ground gave a few clues about the attendees. It was a mix of cricket fans, dressed for the game and students who had taken the opportunity to don fancy dress, or outfits that you would normally see later in the evening in the clubs and pubs of the city centre.
Our seats in the Skyline terrace afforded us a decent view of what was going on in the stands and at the crease. Whilst times change, fads come and go, celebrities pass in and out of the spotlight, most of the fancy dress has stayed the same. Super Mario Bros, The Simpsons, Vicars/Priests/Nuns, traffic cones, those annoying blokes from the 118 ads (does anyone under the age of 25 still remember those?). There was a Boris Johnson, although he looked more like a very slim Donald Trump and a group of hotdogs, with two girls dressed as ketchup and mustard bottles.
They started the game in their correct seats before slowly migrating around to the east side of the stadium where they crammed into one stand, which was lively to say the least. We heard it was “coming home” and then that they didn’t want to “come home or go to work but stay there and drink beer”. Somewhere in the celebrations a cricket game happened.
Derbyshire Falcons, having been walloped by Leicestershire on Tuesday night, put the hosts into bat and soon were among the wickets, reducing Birmingham Bears to 23-3 after three overs. Ed Pollack provided the swashbuckling resistance though, hitting 46 off just 21 balls, with all but 2 runs coming in boundaries but the Bears lost their way in the middle of the innings and if it wasn’t for decent knocks from Burgess and former England all-rounder Tim Bresnan, they would have fell way short of the 167 they finally got.
Our view of proceedings at the top of the stadium offered superb views of the Birmingham skyline and the ominous looking cloud. Edgbaston’s smart phone app allows you to order drinks and food direct to your seat, which kept us well lubricated as Derbyshire started their innings, needing just over 8 an over, and hope that the rain would keep away.
We had no worries on either score as the sun came out and bathed the ground in sunshine, whilst the Falcons third wicket partnership between Tom Wood and Leus du Ploy of 90, with both scoring half centuries setting them up for the win. With the run rate falling and victory probable, the first of at least five pitch invasions started, coming from the east stands. After every one the same announcement was made about a £1,000 fine, life ban and referred to the police. It didn’t deter the second, third, fourth or fifth one (the final two coming simultaneously) incursions onto the pitch, and despite three lines of stewards, the winning runs scored by Guest at the start of the last over saw dozens pile over the fences.
The following morning, Warwickshire’s CEO sent me (and all other attendees I would imagine) an email where he said:
“The behaviour of a small number of students after the match finished was disgraceful.
“With society having spent the last 15 months managing the pandemic, to see a small number of people behaving in this way is heart-breaking.
“We apologise to you as our Members and supporters who respected social distancing measures. We will not let this company or crowd come to Edgbaston again.
“As part of this we are conducting a full review of the evening, which in no way will kill the unique atmosphere of Edgbaston, but to protect it for those who love the club and the game.”
Tough words and a really difficult one to take action on. The crowd brought a real atmosphere to the game, although it was very clear from early in the game that there was no social distancing in the stand – I wouldn’t have fancied being the stewards being asked to enforce that.
It had been another decent game and within ten minutes of the winning runs being scored, thanks to a taxi (remember them?), we were back in the hotel with a beer in hand. Edgbaston’s reputation as a lively venue had certainly lived up to its reputation.
More photos from the evening can be viewed here.