A Visit To Manchester, Mostly For Lancashire v Middlesex but also Some Real Tennis and an Evening With King Cricket, 12 to 15 September 2016

The view back to MediaCityUK when strolling from there to Old Trafford
The view back to MediaCityUK when strolling from there to Old Trafford.  The tall building is TheHeart.

This was my last away trip of the cricket season. Possibly because this was to be Middlesex’s last away match of the season. I decided to take in pretty much the whole match, driving up to Manchester on the first morning, staying three nights and returning to London on the final evening of the match.

Knowing Manchester reasonably well from business trips, I found TheHeart Serviced Apartments, a suitably located (MediaCityUK) facility, getting a late booking deal there; a two bedroom apartment for the price of a studio. Not a spacious apartment as it turned out, but plenty of room for just me and Benjy the baritone ukulele.

I also pre-arranged a couple of visits to the Manchester Tennis and Racquet Club in Salford, to play real tennis while up there.

Monday 12 September

I set off early from the house, hoping to avoid the rush hour; I largely succeeded, taking the M6 toll road to avoid the Birmingham crush. I expected to miss some of the first session with the September 10:30 starts and was pleased to arrive at Emirates Old Trafford (Old Trafford) around 11:00, thus missing little cricket.

Keith Hayhurst, Lancashire’s historian, was our wonderful host for all four days. I thought the instructions said to go to the Committee Board Room, but when I got there the only person to be found in there was Paul Allott, just finishing a phone call. Paul kindly took me to the suite on the opposite side of that floor, where Keith was hosting a small group of us.

Lancashire had won the toss and inserted Middlesex, much to the surprise of most observers. Middlesex batted well all day.

It was that stage of the season when eyes are on other scores as well well as one’s own; in Middlesex’s case at the top of the table, in Lancashire’s at the bottom. Most of the excitement elsewhere was at the top, where Yorkshire were making a surprisingly awful start against Somerset, despite being at home and having won the toss.

The hospitality at Old Trafford was excellent, but I only partook modestly that day, without alcohol and choosing fish, as I was driving and due on court in Salford at 17:30. About an hour before my tennis match, I took my leave of Old Trafford and drove across to Salford, finding the tennis club building second time around – I wish I’d reviewed this link about the building’s look/history before setting off – but still got there in good time.

The tennis club building is quite extraordinary. Darren welcomed me and gave me a guided tour. A rackets and a squash court as well as real tennis. There is even an old-fashioned skittles alley behind the dedans gallery of the real tennis court.

The tennis court surface differs considerably from that at Lord’s; slower and far more sit-up bounce – perhaps as different as playing modern tennis on clay when you are used to fast hard courts. Still, I won my match and then headed off to find my apartment in Salford Quays, running into a few strolling Middlesex players along the way.

After checking in, a quick stroll to the Booths supermarket myself so I could snack and have a quiet drink while I strummed for a while to end the evening.

Tuesday 13 September

I had arranged to play tennis again at 7:30 and to meet Richard Goatley before the start of play at Old Trafford 10:00/10:15, so it was an early and well planned start to the day. I drove from Salford Quays to Salford proper for my game of tennis this morning, a truly excellent match which was as close as close could be: 5/6, 6/5, both of those deciding games going to 40-40 deciding points. Despite the dead heat scoreline, I was credited with a win for that match as I received fewer handicap points than my handicap entitlement. I felt I had done well winning both days on that beautiful but “alien court surface”.

Reproduced with the kind permission of the Manchester Tennis and Racquet Club
Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of the Manchester Tennis and Racquet Club

After a juice, kindly provided by my opponent, I changed, dropped the car back at TheHeart and walked, across the bridge and along the canal, to Old Trafford.

Richard and I met just before play started and found a quiet place in the stands to have a chat about the proposed new City-based T20 tournament in the context of our strategy work. It was an unusual conversation, as Richard was bound by an NDA, so could say little, but I could still float ideas and make suggestions based on rumours/leaks that had found their way into The Telegraph and Times by then. Both prospect theory and game theory came into it, much as they did, coincidentally, in a different context, on the final day of the season 10 days later.

When Richard and I returned from our chat, Keith Hayhurst offered us a tour of The Point, the new conference/exhibition facility at Old Trafford. There was a food fair going on in there that day, heaving with people entirely unconnected with and oblivious to the cricket. Richard and I agreed that we were witnessing something very different from our imaginings and expectations. The facility is enormous and is flexible space for all manner of commercial activities; it was very interesting to see it for sure.

Lancashire played much better today and the ball seemed to be doing quite a lot more, in the hands of both sides’ bowlers. I had hoped to see young Hameed bat, as everyone is talking about him and I missed him at Lord’s this season, but he got a nine-ball blob. Young Rob Jones, his opening partner (whom I’d seen bat at Radlett a few weeks’ before), did much better and was not out overnight.

I indulged a little bit more in the hospitality today (and why not?), so after stumps, having walked back to my apartment and strummed for a while, a very light snack of fruit and nuts was enough; I went to bed early and happy.

Wednesday 14 September 

Setting off from MediaCityUK to Emirates Old Trafford
Setting off from MediaCityUK to Emirates Old Trafford

Not such an early start required on Wednesday; time for a morning strum. The walk across the bridge and along the canal from TheHeart takes about 30 minutes door to door. I timed it to arrive just before the start of play.

Lancashire batted better today, working hard to make the game safe. Rob Jones hitting a six to score his maiden first class/first team century was the highlight; his joyous celebration really was a sight to see and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up – click here for a 30 second YouTube clip of that big moment.

Keith Hayhurst gave me a tour of the pavilion today, including the famous stained glass window that he spent many many years hunting down.

Geoffrey Shindler, with whom I chatted most days, gave me some interesting background to the legal tussle that Lancashire CCC went through to secure the new development plans. We also discovered several shared interests and coincidences, not least a love of theatre and his daughter (Nicola’s) heavy involvement with BBYO, a few years after mine.

I’d arranged to meet Alex Bowden, aka King Cricket, after stumps. We arranged to meet in Sam’s Chop House, the scene of our previous (indeed first) meeting in Manchester some six year’s earlier, Ogblogged here.

It was a glorious evening and we worked out that I would have more than enough time to walk in to central Manchester while Alex commuted in from Macclesfield. I had told him that I had plenty of reading matter with me. Then a text from Alex:

Train’s half an hour late …hope that reading matter’s more than a pamphlet.

It was; indeed I took the time to catch up reading his site too, making a reference to pamphlet-length postings on that day’s posting/thread – here. 

We had a very enjoyable evening in the end; both the food and the drink in Sam’s is reliable and not ridiculously priced. Far more character to that place than the modern but sterile-looking places around MediaCityUK. We strolled to Piccadilly together, where Alex got his train and I grabbed a taxi back to Salford Quays.

Thursday 15th September

Early start again today, as I arranged to check out and then pay a final visit to the Manchester Tennis and Racquet Club (MTRC), where I had a very useful lesson with Darren at 8:30. We focused especially on picking up the low ball off the back wall, with some drills that perhaps work on that bouncier surface in ways that wouldn’t work at Lord’s, but taught me some useful techniques that I most certainly can now deploy at Lord’s.

Reproduced with the kind permission of the Manchester Tennis and Racquet Club
Reproduced with the kind permission of the Manchester Tennis and Racquet Club

I really was made to feel most welcome at MTRC and am very grateful to Darren, Stella and Steve for looking after me so nicely that week. I hope to get the opportunity to play again there on future visits to Manchester.

Straight on to Old Trafford, where they parked me up very conveniently and I was able to time my arrival almost perfectly for the start of play.

It seemed unlikely that this match could catch light on the last day; Lancashire had managed to blunt Middlesex’s attack and take enough early wickets to keep Middlesex cautious; much as Middlesex would have loved a win from this match, the draw points might just prove to be a useful buffer to assist in the final round. Lancashire had seemed most interested in a draw throughout.

Here’s the scorecard.

By tea it was clear that the match was petering out to a draw, so I (along with others) decided to bail out and miss the Manchester/Cheshire rush hour. The hospitality at Old Trafford really had been first rate, although again I didn’t take full advantage on a driving day, especially after eating and drinking lunch and dinner the day before.

Coincidentally I ran into Harry Latchman and Blossom at the service station on the M6 Toll Road on the way home – what were the odds on that? I got home in good time – around 8:30 pm and took an early night ahead of a busy working Friday.

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