Being at Grace Road for the first day of the county season is a bit like coming home after a long journey. Your favourite armchair is in its usual place, your pipe and slippers are where you left them, the fixtures and fittings are timeworn but homely.
In my case the journey took me to Melbourne and Sydney, to watch England retain the Ashes and win the series, a dream that took nebulous form four years ago and which, during countless days spent watching Leicestershire, gathered momentum to become reality, and with which I would console myself as the County failed to register another win.
So returning to Grace Road after the winter just gone I felt like I’d come full circle. Very reassuring it was, too, that the troubles of last year are over, the weather was unseasonably glorious, and the team got their season off to a good start with a win over Glamorgan.
Glamorgan have had their own off-field ructions, and there were on-field parallels between the two sides in this match as well, with a few superb individual performances but a distinct whiff of “first day back at school” syndrome about the batting.
Dean Cosker ran riot with the ball on the first day and County were reduced to 147-7 at tea, but managed to drag themselves to a more respectable innings total of 238, thanks to a doughty innings from old stager Claude Henderson, with support from Nadeem Malik and Matthew Hoggard.
Sixteen wickets fell on day 2, with Hoggard registering the first championship hat-trick at Grace Road since 1989. The cheering of Leicestershire’s supporters was tremendous – there was a decent crowd in for all four days – and batting hero Henderson played his part with the ball as well, chipping in with three wickets.
Glamorgan’s prospects looked dead in the water when they were bowled out for 146; captain Alviro Petersen tried to lead by example in scoring 91, but the highest scorers after him were Ben Wright and Robert Croft, each with 11.
Will Jefferson, all 6 foot 7 of him, was County’s standout in their second innings with 112, sharing a partnership of 149 for the 6th wicket with Jigar Naik. Glamorgan ended the third day three wickets down and chasing a total of 338.
If the past few years have taught me anything, it’s never to take a Foxes win for granted, or to take any position other than a nice comfy seat on the fence in time-honoured Nick Knight fashion, or, even better, to find solace in my usual pessimism.
But win Leicestershire did, with Glamorgan falling short by 89 runs. It sounds a comfortable win, but the threat of rain after lunch was a potential spanner in the works and many pairs of eyes were raised worryingly to the heavens as the wind picked up and the clouds gathered.
The immediate aftermath of a match is one of my favourite things about being at the cricket. There was the almost post-coital glow about the contented atmosphere in which spectators milled slowly around Lord’s after England’s victory in 2009, when Australia were beaten and Flintoff pushed his failing body to the limit, and beyond.
There was Sydney 2011, when England, having already retained the Ashes, capped off their tour with a series win. There was much emotion in the stands on the part of the many England fans, but the post-match presentation was itself almost perfunctory since Australia were not the victors, and besides, I had a date with a dead man.
After Leicestershire’s win over Glamorgan on Monday I took my time leaving, joining with the rest of the County’s supporters in clapping the lads as they came off the field (Jigar Naik in particular was the recipient of much applause for his 5-36) and the mood among the fans was buoyant and hopeful for the rest of the season.
A couple of years ago Leicestershire’s prospects were diabolical, and just recently the club has been to hell and back with boardroom bickering that threatened to tear it asunder. No doubt we will have our ups and downs, but right now the 2011 season is ripe with possibility.
I left Grace Road at 3PM and walked home in the teeth of an icy wind and rain that fell in a brief but violent squall: more typical weather for April; weather that seemed to mock the very idea of an early summer.
By the time I got home my face was numb. I didn’t care.
Leicestershire’s next encounter is at Derby on Thursday.