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Sport at Manchester’s ‘other’ stadium

Lancashire’s Old Trafford is used to living in the shadow of United’s famous footballing mecca.

India take on England in the fourth Test starting Thursday (Source: AP) India take on England in the fourth Test starting Thursday (Source: AP)

Old Trafford is about 1,000 metres down the road from its more popular footballing namesake. The Lancashire Cricket County Club (LCCC) and Manchester United’s den share a name, neighbourhood and pretty much nothing else. Even though they co-exist on the same side of the tram track, the cricket venue is clearly the less-visited poor cousin.

On Sunday, even more so. A boy with Mongoloid features offers a beaming smile before he unwittingly reveals his preference of sport that doesn’t fit with the place or the occasion. He says he doesn’t understand cricket, since most of his waking hours are spent thinking about the football played by the men wearing red. Pointing to the other Old Trafford in the distance, with his back to the LCCC, he adds, “I earn 6 pounds an hour but I spend 100-plus pounds to watch a game there.”

It’s Monday now. In four days, India will take on England in ‘the’ crucial game of the series. You would expect that Alastair Cook’s return to form, England levelling the series at the Rose Bowl and home boy Jimmy Anderson’s 1-0 win over Ravindra Jadeja at the Southampton hearing would create an Ashes kind of buzz around the fourth Test starting Thursday. Not quite.

The rooms at the Old Trafford Lodge, alongside the pavilion and next to the boundary rope, promising a Test-view from its windows at a 217 pounds per day tag are still available. Around the stadium, there are colourful posters with a determined, padded-up Ian Bell about to take off for a quick single, surrounded by starry blurbs with ticket rates. The 45-pound ‘family deal’ for five days sounds like a steal but they aren’t the proverbial hot cakes.

Clearly more popular

What’s clearly more popular in this part of town is the ‘Red Devils’ fish & chips shops that happen to be closer to the cricket venue than to the sacred football field. It is apparent that the pedestrian path between the two Old Traffords, 10 minutes by foot, that cross the Chester and Talbot Road, is frequented more by footballs fans. Not just when United play at home but also round the year when the club’s several million fans from around the world drop in for the Stadium and Museum Tour.

It’s a never ending stream of visitors, as this tribe has grown to 659 million globally. Official statistics show 30 per cent of the entire population of Vietnam and South Korea are United supporters as are the 108 million football crazies from China. Many such Asian fans that walk down the tram platform end up getting amused by the surprise sighting of the 90-year-old Kellogs factory on the right and confused about the arena of an alien sport on the left.

They only start getting comfortable when the familiar colours, faces and names greet them from billboards and signposts. Some officially and others unofficially piggy back on the present stars, late legends or the history of the club to hawk their wares at bars, inns and restaurants. When they finally get a sight of the giant poster the size of half-a-football-field in front of the stadium — which today bears images of new coach Louis van Gaal, Wayne Rooney and a few others — the pilgrims go down on their knees and feel the ground with their forehead as the statue of the club’s Holy Trinity — Law, Best and Charlton — looks on smilingly.

At the other Old Trafford, there are no tours, no statues. The venue will clap the loudest for home-boy Anderson but Lancashire isn’t a club that needs to annually increase the size of its trophy cabinet. There are tell-tale signs at the stadium, which show the management is keen to let out their premises for corporate conferences, events and even school tours, but the lack of a rich history and being the home of a less-popular sport haven’t resulted in a crowd outside their front gate.

Near the media box, there is a wall that has the club’s modest past pasted on it. As you read that the home team won the county championship in 2011 for the first time since 1934, you know Lancashire isn’t really the Mumbai of English cricket. Eye-catching, though, are a few quotes that make the mundane surroundings of the ground’s equipment garage seem interesting.

Painted on walls are unintentionally funny lines heard on the cricket circuit, such as Richie Benaud’s “This shirt is unique; there are only 200 of them”. Or — “I have prepared for the worst case scenario, but it could be even worse than that” by Monty Panesar and Ian Botham’s “I don’t think I’ve actually drunk a beer for 15 years, except a few Guinness in Dublin where it’s a law”.

It’s this self-effacing trait that makes Old Trafford charming, if not the most popular. Though ticket sales are slow, there is a hope that expat Indians and Test-starved locals turn up in numbers. Those will be the rare days when the cricket venue will have more footfalls than the world-famous football stadium. The status quo will return when the football season kicks off in a fortnight.

Happy with its few but loyal supporters, the cricket venue is at peace with its status as the second-best shop on the street. Even the Indian team, before arriving at the cricket venue on Monday, had a ‘Theatre of Dreams’ date booked for Sunday.

ICC ire at Trent Bridge pitch

Dubai: Trent Bridge has been officially warned about its pitch by the ICC after the first Test between England and India last month fizzled out into a run-laden draw. In a statement on Monday, the ICC said its Pitch Monitoring Process had concluded that the pitch failed to provide a fair contest between bat and ball. England made 496 in reply to India’s 457 and the match ended early on day five.
— Reuters

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