Cricket: Sun shining on West Country

Iain Fletcher talks to the fans hoping for a great day out at Lord's
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The Independent Online
THE SUN has definitely shone strongest in the West Country this summer - except for a brief moment of much-hyped darkness - and this weekend the traditional ritual of August Bank Holiday traffic jams crawling westwards will be reversed when the country folk of Somerset and Gloucestershire up sticks and converge on a small plot of land in north-west London - a field not even big enough for a few head of cattle.

There is a great prize at stake, however, and the ante has been upped by the close proximity of the opponents. NatWest finals are always special occasions full of passion, but sprinkle a local derby upon the day and just wait for the noise to greet the players as they leave the Long Room at 11 o'clock. Nervous already, they will be left in no doubt of the importance of the game to their fans.

Gloucestershire have already won a Lord's final this year against the hapless Yorkshire, but this one is different. It will be played in front of a full house and between two counties who because of their size are traditionally viewed as underdogs, and when restructuring of the County Championship is mused upon, potential merger candidates.

"That is ridiculous when they say that," explained Ken Mitchell, 61 and a lifelong fan of both Somerset and Gloucestershire. "Our cricket has tradition, and besides, there can't be that much wrong when both one-day trophies are going to the West Country.

"A bad England side can't be blamed on the counties. This final is a great fillip to the West Country and will bring a fresh, enthusiastic flavour to Lord's. Both sides have great teamwork and team spirit, that is why they are there and maybe the people in charge of England should look at that."

Mitchell's opinions are echoed by many others in the area. Tom Pearce, a long-term Somerset fan, believes this final is special precisely because of the local derby aspect.

"Both counties are desperate to beat each other, it is a traditional rivalry and gets the supporters going. I can't wait for the game, I think it will be brilliant and allow the country to see how good some of the players are on both sides. I was there at our last final in 1983 and we haven't had much to cheer since then, but what I've noticed is that since the players have developed confidence the performances and results have improved. They deserve to go to Lord's and to meet Gloucestershire is fantastic. It's a great day for the West."

Not surprisingly both clubs have experienced a large increase in interest in the past fortnight. With only 4,500 tickets allocated to each county, demand has outstripped supply. "The Monday after the semi-final there was a massive queue at the ground when I arrived at 8 o'clock and it didn't stop for days," explained Sally Donaghue, the executive assistant at Somerset.

"There is a fantastic buzz about the ground and people have been buying memberships to try and get tickets. The Lord Mayor of Taunton has already asked for an open-top bus ride whether they win or lose. Success creates a definite vibe and we have that here now and, to be truthful, it is absolute chaos, but the kind of chaos you want."

Freddie Wraight, marketing manager at Bristol, has experienced similar mayhem. "We had people sleeping out for the first tickets for non-members. It has been absolutely mad here with people wanting hospitality next year. Some of it started from the first final but the fact that this is against Somerset has really caught the imagination. I don't think Lord's knows what will hit it on Sunday. The noise and atmosphere will be fantastic. Nothing breeds interest like success and the West Country is successful at the moment and it is great."