Cricket: Cold comforts of open day at Fenner's: Keith Elliott joins the anorak and vacuum flask brigade for the first thwack of willow on leather as the new cricket season gets underway

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A GOOD crowd, the regulars agreed. As the first ball of the 1993 season trundled down, there must have been 80 spectators, plus the obligatory black-and-white dog, shivering in the bracing Cambridge air at Fenner's.

'I was here a few years ago for the first game, and there were only four people watching. One of those was from the press,' recalled Tony Horn of Woodbridge, Suffolk. But then, it takes a special person to head for Cambridge University's cricket ground on a cold April day for a fixture that promised all the excitement of a first-round Wimbledon ladies' singles between two baseline players.

Looking round the ground, you might be forgiven for thinking that the local geriatrics had pleaded for a day at a first-class cricket match before they died. The Travel Pub's caravan isn't going to do much business today. Mobile hamburgers and hot dogs need a strong set of teeth and a reliable digestive system.

Most of the old codgers are tucked up in the pavilion. But at intervals round the ground are the true cricket followers, identifiable by their anoraks and sensible shoes, vacuum flasks and copies of Playfair cricket annual. Unlike football supporters, these are a solitary breed, preferring an unoccupied bench to watch the game. Out of season they might be train-spotters or stamp collectors. Some carry thrillers, ostensibly to wile away the lunch interval. But they will probably read a page or two if the pace gets slow.

Fenner's is a fine place to watch cricket. Functional flats, a multi-storey car park and an unlovely modern pavilion cannot conceal the elegance of Hughes Hall to the east and the towering spire of Our Lady and the English Martyrs church. The horse-chestnuts, earliest of leafy trees, have already shaken off their winter coat.

You can stroll in and watch for nothing here, though twice a day, a chap will tour the ground with a box that looks like it has been pinched from the Catholic church. A curious tourist doubly confused by the coin holes in the shape of a cross, asks what it's for. 'It's for those little extras that are not catered for normally,' the collector tells him. Nodding as if he understands, he puts a pounds 1 coin in the box.

Tourists drift in throughout the day. Fenner's is not on most itineraries but newcomers to Cambridge soon learn the art of exploring strange streets. The gates are guarded by a solitary attendant who wouldn't last a day at Lord's; he's far too polite. His job is to allow only members to park, but when two elderly Derbyshire supporters drive in, saying how difficult it has been to find the place, he directs them in rather than to the multi-storey.

It's not hard to spot the Americans, French, Spanish and many other nationalities who wander in and out, none the wiser. With no public address system to tell you team changes let alone who's batting or bowling, the game must make as much sense as a Bantu fertility dance. One tourist, eager to help out on the boundary, stops the speeding ball with his sneaker and limps out a few minutes later.

A few students drift in when the sun makes a short guest appearance during the afternoon. But few watch the cricket. Some study, a few go to sleep, a couple play football. They certainly lack the earnestness of their fellows on the field, who clap eagerly, dash around the field and holler excitedly when a wicket falls.

Is there something special that they feed first-class cricketers? The Derbyshire team all look bigger and stronger than the students. Despite an early wicket, the county side make the students pay for a couple of dropped catches as Morris hits two sixes and 13 fours for the first century of the season. They finish with 380 for 5. But the Light Blues delight the coterie of cricket buffs by bowling spinners for almost half their overs.

Explaining such subtleties to the German I met on the way out would have made interesting listening. He had spent a good two hours watching, and asks me: 'That was cricket?'

'Yes,' I said. 'Did you understand it?'

'No,' he replied.

'Nor do most English people,' I told him.

Pakistan reach agreement, Scoreboard, page 35

(Photograph omitted)

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