As Worcester cathedral clock chimed 11, umpire Dicky Bird stalked off towards square leg, opening batsman Tim Curtis took guard and Pam Westwood began to lay out her cakes. The coffee and walnut was first out of the box, followed by the lemon drizzles and three spicy ginger sponges clamped around fillings of fresh cream. Her fellow volunteers began slicing and buttering scones.
For Mrs Westwood and the other ladies who bake, yesterday was a special day at the Worcestershire County Cricket Club. The first official match of the season coincided with the 40th anniversary of the "ladies' pavilion", an institution revered wherever the game is played. There is no other like it.
On Test grounds from Perth to Port of Spain, Worcestershire followers have been asked "Do you still do those afternoon teas with home-made cakes?" The late Brian Johnston was a regular visitor. "He always came for his chocolate cake, bless him," said long-standing member Doris Grundy from her green canvas chair, positioned under a colourful hanging basket on the balcony. Seats here are for "ladies only". So are the florally upholstered armchairs in the panoramic bay windows with matching curtains. Gentlemen are welcome to sit elsewhere.
Even at Worcestershire, sexual equality has advanced in four decades. Before 26 April, 1956, "lady members" were confined to a tin shed in the corner of the ground. "When I came here in 1971, they weren't allowed in the pavilion area," said county secretary, the Reverend Mike Vockins.
The tea and home-made cakes have helped to bring the sexes together. "At three o'clock the men come belting up the steps like greyhounds out of a trap," said George Farrimond, the committee member who co-ordinates the baking rotas. Although each slice costs only 30p, such is the popularity of the teas that last season they made a profit of over pounds 3,000.
Some of the money goes towards replacing seats. The baking volunteers charge only for ingredients. But at least the latest acquisition in the ladies' pavilion should make their life a little easier at close of play.
Forty years on, they have a washing-up machine.
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