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Cricket news - A New Road to old-school charms of English cricket

Worcester and New Road exist in a bygone era

They talk a lot about the past at New Road. They in fact revel in a form of unbridled nostalgia here. In a way, when they are not looking up at the skies for the perennial threat of rain, which they do a lot here in Worcester, the locals are generally looking back at the good ol' days. Over the course of the three days while Australia are here for their tour match, you hear more about the cricketers who were and had been here in years past than those in town and at New Road currently.

If anything, the only member of the visiting Ashes contingent who enjoys any sort of spotlight is former Worcestershire legend and now Australia batting coach Graeme Hick, who has sat in the away dressing-room at New Road for the first time ever, in the aptly named Graeme Hick pavilion. For good reason too. He was after all responsible for nearly a quarter of the runs scored at this ground for nearly 25 years. There is the occasional cheer for Travis Head, as a courtesy for his contributions towards the county team over the last couple of years as their overseas professional.

Most other cricketing conversations around New Road centre round names of a rather dated vintage. Like with almost every throwback in an Anglo-Australian context, a lot of it revolves around Don Bradman. They range from how he came to New Road on three occasions for tour matches in the 1930s and scored a double-century in each of them to his final visit here in 1948 when he scored a century and had a local newspaper headline declaring that, "Bradman had failed at New Road".

There are also discussions on how Jack Flavell-who took 1529 first-class wickets between 1949 and 1967, played 4 Tests and also managed to average 9.75 with the ball in a brief List A career-was the greatest home-grown fast bowler to play for Worcestershire. Not to forget Roly Jenkins, the county's best-ever leg-spinner, who finished with 1309 first-class wickets and also was posted on top of Worcester Cathedral during the second world war.

For good measure, Vanburn Holder, the former West Indian fast bowler turned umpire who spent a dozen years for Worcestershire and settled here, is spotted catching some of the action on Day Two. Just to break it up, there's also the fascinating tale of how Australians Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall once played an exhibition tennis match on the New Road outfield in the 1960s. There's also the recall to the fire a couple of days after Worcestershire won the county championships for the first time in 1964 at the famous Lea and Perrins factory, which produces Worcestershire sauce, where the roof and clocktower were burnt down.

Worcester and New Road exist in a bygone era. But so does the concept of tour matches. And you wonder how long this seemingly archaic addition to every Ashes schedule will continue to exist in an era where international teams have started opting for more custom-made options, mostly involving the use of their own resources, to acclimatise and also work on sealing cracks if any midway through a series in foreign climes. There's little that Australia could have gained from spending three days at New Road in a cricketing sense having finished the first Test some 30 hours earlier.

And on Friday (August 9), Tim Paine admitted that the most important gain for his team from the Worcester game was ensuring they could "keep the lid" on their celebrations post the victory at Edgbaston. "Yeah we enjoyed ourselves but having a tour game 24 hours away (2 days after), it wasn't overly big. I don't know who put that schedule that together but it seems to have worked out alright. I think the boys are actually pretty happy with it," he said.

The fact that New Road was packed for the first two days, with 70 per cent of the crowd who were non-members having paid 30 pounds each on both days to be there, tells you how much the Australians' visit meant to Worcester. Though they did get to see Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood steaming in, you wonder if they got their money's worth in terms of the Australian cricketers they actually would have liked to see in the flesh. Steve Smith, David Warner and even head coach Justin Langer had given this a miss. At least one young fan revealed to have had a humbling and goosebump-inducing moment, after having met his idol Steve Waugh and getting a selfie with him.

As you walk around the ground though you find visual and aural fragments of the last vestiges of what is left of the old-school charm of English cricket. It's not only the wall dedicated to every cricketer who's played for the county team and a mural tribute to the more high-profile names or the shrine to Basil D'Oliveira at the end named after him. It comes through loudly through both the idyllic ambience around the ground as well as the characteristically metronomic chorus of the English applause, which you hear unfailingly after every run and every piece of "good cricket" in an English sense.

The only time the clapping turns into a loud cheer is when tailender Charlie Morris, whose previous highest first-class score of 27 came against the Aussies in a similar fixture in 2013, makes his maiden half-century in his seven-year long career, even if by then the match has lost every bit of its competitive essence. There are a few modern-day English fans who come dressed as convicts on the second day to create a Hollies Stand feel but they barely get to have their voice heard over the resonating applause and are spotted duly around lunch-time already having fallen prey to a premature alcohol-induced reverie.

There's also not a single criteria of the stereotypical English county cricket audience that doesn't get fulfilled. You find a number of them filling scoreboards bought for 1 GBP each on a daily basis from the Tuck Shop. Some others seem to prefer filling up the crossword section of the local paper or read a quiet book, though breaking to clap for every run and wicket. There's even a dog in the press area for the whole of Day One. And at tea, every day, like has been the tradition for the last 60 years for first-class and one-day matches, there's a queue on the wooden stairway up the Ladies Pavilion for tea and specially baked cakes. Even the heavy rain and the early abandonment of the match on Friday didn't deter the ladies from having the cakes ready for the scheduled tea interval.

A sticker on the press box window is quite revelatory of how change isn't imminent at New Road. It's got "Rapid Cricketline" written on it along with a listed phone number claiming to be the official TCCB Service. The fact that the TCCB (Test and County Cricket Board) became the ECB back in 1997 is a sign of how long the sticker's been around. Dave Bradley, a local radio legend turned public announcer, informs you that Rapid Cricketline was a number you could call for radio updates on county scores at New Road. "I was still a boy when that number was last in use," Bradley, now in his late 60s then tells you.

Bradley and his announcements though are windows to an era which perhaps still only exists in these tiny and unglamorous citadels of English cricket. On Saturday, he walks to the middle while the umpires are inspecting the pitch so that he can then inform the anxious public over the public speakers about the state of proceedings. He also wishes members at the ground who are celebrating their birthdays or wedding anniversaries in between overs when not informing them about the many options for food and drink around the ground, including the amount of cake left in the Ladies Pavilion.

There are some Australians who could claim to have benefited a tad from their trip to Worcester-Head with his first-innings century, Marcus Harris with a few runs and Hick for another opportunity to visit his old haunt. But the likes of Mitchell Starc, who leaked too many runs despite bowling a couple of fiery spells, and Cameron Bancroft, who got out to two disappointing shots, wouldn't have enjoyed their visit to the same extent.

And certainly not as much as Hick, who was even presented a plaque by the club for his record-breaking contributions. Ironically, he had the Australian team cheering for him from the balcony while the Worcestershire team were indoors having lunch. Maybe not everyone at New Road, the ones who actually play in the middle especially, are as hooked on to history and the past as you'd imagine. Perhaps Worcester is moving on. But then again, you know it never will. And whether you have the Australians in town ever again or not, you hope it doesn't.

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