Cooking the senses at the SSC
He's better known now for his dulcet early-morning tones on Test Match Special, but there was a time, a couple of decades ago, when Jonathan Agnew was a firebrand fast bowler with international aspirations
He's better known now for his dulcet early-morning tones on Test Match Special, but there was a time, a couple of decades ago, when Jonathan Agnew was a firebrand fast bowler with international aspirations. In a famous outburst on the England A tour to Sri Lanka in 1986, Aggers' fieriness became all too literal:
"It's ****ing red hot on the field, and when you come off it's ****ing red hot in the dressing-room, and then, what do you get for lunch, ****ing red hot curry!"
What Agnew failed to mention was the life-enhancing magnificence of the said curries - if, of course, they are anything like the ones we've been fed in the press-box during the course of the first two Tests. Great steaming vats of chicken and fish with deceptively mellifluous aromas, they pack the sort of punch that Ricky Hatton lacked in Las Vegas, and reduce me to tears of admiration on a daily basis.
Back home in England, only hard nuts and show-offs order creations of this strength, and even then they only do it at the end of a long night on the tiles. And yet Sri Lankans somehow slurp them down, day in, day out, without so much as a moistening of the brow. As Peter Moores might have said at the end of England's fielding stint at the SSC: "You can't fault that sort of commitment."
The only thing I've ever eaten that was warmer than Sunday's offering was a curry my brother made by accident in his student days, when he misjudged the spices required for 13 people. We ended up feeding the (plentiful) leftovers to the cat, who took one mouthful, leapt away in fear and astonishment, before creeping back cautiously and cuffing the offending morsel on the assumption it was still alive.
But I can happily report that I am very much alive after our press-box lunches. Not only are they extremely nutritious, but they've also forced me to down about 20 bottles of water per meal, so I'm feeling as hydrated as a freshly furnished fountain. Perhaps that's the point of their potency in the first place.
The Barmy Army have been in exceptional voice in this Test match. They haven't been this vocal since the dying days of last winter's rout at Sydney, which perhaps implies that England's prospects in the current game are rather bleaker than the scoreline suggests. There's nothing quite like a lost cause to rouse their vocal chords.
But maybe it's not them, maybe it's us in the media - because we've been able to hear them loud and clear for a change. The SSC press-box offers a magnificent vantage point, one of the best in the world game. It is a vast echoing aircraft-hanger of a building, with steeply tiered seats ensuring that everyone has an equal view of the pitch, and a huge open front with room for TV cameras, photographers and scribes all to get on with their work without tripping over one another.
It's certainly better than anything on offer back in England. For all the visual splendour of the gherkin at Lord's, the hermetically sealed isolation deprives everyone within of the sound of leather on willow - a fundamental oversight that probably accounts for some rather jaundiced write-ups. Much the same is true at Headingley, Trent Bridge and, unequivocally, the Stevie Wonder memorial press-box at The Oval, where you are required to surrender all senses upon entry.
It doesn’t pay to look at the foundations of the SSC building (the entire structure seems to be balanced on a single tier of breeze-blocks) but it was standing last time England visited and will doubtless be here in four years' time. Or when the Sri Lankan innings ends, whichever comes around soonest.
Andrew Miller is the former UK editor of ESPNcricinfo and now editor of The Cricketer magazine