Cricket: The day Light Blues turned pink

Sun shines on the start of the English cricket season to break with age-old tradition. By David Llewellyn
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The Independent Online
IT JUST wasn't cricket. Or rather, it wasn't the traditional start to the first-class cricket season... April in Cambridge is no sunbed. Not as a rule.

But yesterday, even with the earliest start to the season ever, the boundary was littered with lounging bodies and discarded sweaters.

Instead of being blue with cold the Light Blues and their supporters were turning gently pink, almost matching the cherry blossom behind the ultra-modern pavilion. Outside Fenner's, home of Cambridge University Cricket Club for more than 150 years and the scene of snow showers and icy blasts of easterly winds, the drivers of snow ploughs stared glumly at the blue skies and fleecy white clouds.

Ordinarily the opening of the season sees rugs wrapped around a brave handful of spectators. This year rugs were spread on the ground, houndstooth jackets rolled into pillows and one of the largest first-day crowds seen for some time gathered under horse chestnuts, trees in a surprisingly advanced stage of affoliation.

This trysting place on the first day of the season is a landmark for many, some of whom have been known to travel from South Wales. In fact these hardy annuals come from all parts just to be here for these hardy annuals. Lancashire must have been bewildered. The last time they were here, four years ago, it was far cooler. This time, sleeveless sweaters instead of the traditional three woollies were sufficient.

If that was not confusing enough, when the students won the toss they elected to bat. It had old sages and dusty dons shaking their heads in disbelief. The last time Cambridge had won the toss and batted first, opener J P R Mills was out first ball to J K Lever of Essex.

It grew worse. Instead of rolling over and reinforcing the argument that Oxford and Cambridge are not worthy of first class status, the students buckled down and defied the county's attack.

Admittedly Lancashire were not at full strength. Ian Austin, Neil Fairbrother and Andy Flintoff are on England duty in Sharjah, captain John Crawley, Warren Hegg and Peter Martin resting, and Michael Atherton missing with his back problems.

Normal service was finally resumed in mid afternoon. Then, as the clouds began rolling in, so the wickets began to fall. Ken Walker, who had ground out a half century, and James Pyemont were dismissed within half an hour of each other. Shortly after tea, with the temperature dropping and the crowd thinning, captain Quentin Hughes fell 16 runs short of what would have been the earliest first-class century in the history of the modern game, caught and bowled by the promising leg spinner Chris Schofield. Greg Loveridge, possessor of one New Zealand Test cap, and Richard Halsall soon followed. Suddenly order had been restored. Summer had arrived.