Countyside: as Gooch as it gets
A two-minute walk from the Ford ground, home to the Essex County Club, brings you to a statue of a batsman in action, following the ball after despatching it to the leg-side. Dark in hue, weather-worn and apparently of an ancient vintage, it transports you to the past — a past master, probably departed, you think.
Closer inspection suggests it has a recent provenance, and that the man himself is very much among us, sharpening his wit with the aid of a commentator's microphone. The bushy moustache reveals to you it's Graham Gooch, even before you read the plaque.
Gooch is quite a legend at Essex — it’s estimated he scored more runs than even Jack Hobbs, his work ethic is legendary, there is a cricket school named after him right next to the Ford, he played a first-class match just before he turned 47.
Thus when Gooch speaks, you pay attention. Gooch says that the pitch being used for the India-England Lions game would make bowlers wish they plied some other trade. In a match between Essex and Nottinghamshire, over 1550 runs were scored on a pitch two strips away earlier this week. Twenty-eight sixers were hit and they finally ran out of balls — the coaches had to hand over practice balls for the match to continue.
One of the plunderers was Andy Bichel, whom you can run into as you walk around the ground. He lives on an Essex property close to the arena, as does Danish Kaneria, who was one of the unfortunates to suffer at the carnage.
Kaneria, incidentally, believes that India should have played their first-choice XI in this match because, he says, the pitch at Lord’s would be exactly like the strip in use here!
If you continue your walk around the ground, you would be in danger of stepping into what, erroneously it would turn out, you would think is a rather clean drain — they even have a name for it: the Can river. Right behind the press box, the Can is a regular gobbler of balls when big hitters are in operation.
Talking of the press box, it's a tight fit for the reporters in it. There is some elbow room, true, but lateral movement is restricted. Then there is a kitchenette which takes a lot of space. Willy nilly, you're forced to rub shoulders with the greats among the game’s scribes.
Though the club has great plans for expansion of the ground and the facilities, the fourth estate has failed to register in its consciousness. The press box will remain as it is.
“I asked what plans they have for the press, and I was told they had no plans,” says Greg Lansdowne, the affable Essex Club communications officer.
True it is, poor old sports journalists must go through indescribable horrors in their endeavour to get first class treatment — just as sparks must fly upward.