England v Australia, NatWest Series, Bristol

Bristol enjoys its day in the sun

Bristol hosts a colourful occasion despite being a colourless ground

Roving Reporter by Edward Craig at Bristol

June 19, 2005

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At 63 for 4, Joey was nervous, but he soon bounced back © Getty Images

Even the grimmest of industrial British towns can look pleasant in summer sunshine. While Bristol is one of the country's most stunning cities in any weather, the same can't be said of its cricket ground. Neville Road is a windswept, bleak, suburban place. Access is poor, the situation featureless and the pitch slow. But in the sunshine, with a packed crowd on the temporary stands enjoying the beer and, more importantly for them, an awesome England display in the field, the setting is spell binding.

This was Bristol's big day out, a Bank holiday of an occasion where the sun shone, the traffic jams lengthened, the queues for the toilets, the bar and the burger vans were interminable. Yet everyone was having an amazing and uncomplaining time.

In typical British tradition, the stands around the ground are uncovered and at the mercy of the sun. This means only one thing: tops off, get the beers in and let's get burnt. The Gloucestershire crowd were doing their best. In an effort to arrest such an unpleasant display of roasting flesh, NatWest had provided sun care booths, dishing out free cream and advice. These were the places to avoid the queues.

The Australians are an entirely different type of spectator. They understandably grow up in fear of the sun and with no fear of any cricketing opposition. Brazenly turning up in matching t-shirts (which remain firmly on) they shouted and chanted their way happily through a poor start to the Australian innings, waving kangaroos with every boundary, and laughing off each wicket with a complacent smile.

But doubt creeps in the supporters' minds - as it does the team's, especially after their humiliation at the hands of Bangladesh. So when the score read 63 for 4, the kangaroos had stopped dancing. One Aussie fan nervously held her hapless 'roo over the back of the temporary stands as Michael Clarke and Mike Hussey re-built the innings - either clinging on for dear life or hanging her mascot, and both seemed apt.

This is a colourful occasion on a colourless ground. The music, the atmosphere and the very intensity of the spectators make it exhausting for a side that's struggling for winning form. Every game Australia play is massive, be it at Leicester, Arundel or Lord's - the crowd is partisan, the media gloating, each venue looks to suck the will to win from the heart of the side and Bristol is no different. Surely the only way you could survive is to claim one victory? The Aussies are struggling for even this, whoever the opposition.

This tour has had a lot of starts - the first game of the tour, the first county game, the first international, the first meaningful international - it has taken weeks to get into the guts of the trip. This means each ground feels special for each occasion and Bristol revelled in its day in the sun.

Edward Craig is deputy editor of The Wisden Cricketer

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