Choice of game
Among the topmost items on my sports bucket list was to watch a County Championship game, preferably in a bucolic setting, outside of the big stadia. When I made my itinerary for a trip to the United Kingdom, two concurrent fixtures caught my attention - this one and the game at Guildford featuring Surrey. It was a fairly easy choice, with the breathtaking setting at Arundel making it simply irresistible. My only hope, then, was that it would stay rain-free.
Durham. It is a team that some of my most favourite cricketers have represented over the years - Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Kumar Sangakkara, Javagal Srinath and Paul Collingwood. Despite being the newest county in England, it is astonishing how they have competed so consistently in recent years, and they look on course to being one of the contenders yet again.
Chris Rushworth's spell on the first day had earned plenty of mentions in the media, and it was easy to see why, early on the second morning. Teasing lengths, tantalising swing and unerring discipline to sustain it all day, Rushworth can do no wrong this season, it seems. Having said that, Steve Magoffin's burst in the afternoon, cleaning up the Durham top order, deserves a mention too. For a few minutes, he breathed dragon fire, beating batsmen for pace, with seam movement to go with it. That ripper to send Collingwood's middle stump cartwheeling was an untameable beast.
It took a while to catch my breath, on seeing the ground and the various views it offered. I wandered around all day, trying to pick between them - the Cathedral view from near the beer tents, the botanical garden-esque backdrop from near the Press tent, or the stunning view of the Downs from deep square leg, it took a long while to soak it all in. For someone from India, it was pleasantly surprising to see how they allow any spectator to enter the ground during the lunch and tea breaks. The panorama from pitch side is quite something else.
Shot of the day
Early on in the morning, Sussex put up a brief spell of resistance, through Ed Joyce. As he got his eye in, a cover drive off Rushworth came crashing into the advertising boards in front of us. It was the quintessential shot for this setting - head still, right above the ball, off the front foot, with a follow-through that made for the perfect picture postcard.
As the day wore on, the ground was filled to the brim. This would have been a big crowd for a T20 game, leave alone a County Championship fixture. Considering this is the only four-day fixture that Arundel gets every year, it is not at all surprising. The alcohol flowed, predictably, and it was raucous for a brief while in the afternoon, when Magoffin provided some cheer for the home crowd. All the usual debates could be heard at various points in the day - "Is-Stokes-the-next-Botham","Should-KP-be-back", "Is-T20-even-cricket", and the like. The day would have been incomplete without them.
This is cricket in white flannels, in the heart of England. Entertainment, as we know it in today's game, was absent, for once. PA audio systems hung from treetops, used only for cricket-related announcements - bowling changes, wickets, innings breaks and the like. However, sufficiently inebriated men providing backup appealing to Sussex's bowlers, in a long afternoon period without a wicket, made for some hilarious entertainment.
Cliched moment of the day
An hour and a bit into the morning, Sussex went into the drinks break, with Ben Brown and Ed Joyce seeming to settle in. Paul Coughlin, wicketless hitherto, got one to leave Brown, the ball kissing the edge as it skirted past his prod forward. Michael Richardson, Dave's son, did the needful behind the stumps. First ball after the drinks break. Somewhere in Bombay, a certain Sunil Gavaskar would have let out a quiet chuckle.
In this age of electronic scoreboards and ball-by-ball commentary, the sales of scorecards at English grounds have puzzled me quite a bit on this trip. However, as Paul Collingwood made his way to our area to step into the Corporate Box, I was not one to complain, getting him to autograph the match scorecard for me. Maybe there is a reason to this all. Maybe.
Newbie learning curve
Customs at English grounds, like the famous synchronised applause after a good shot or a wicket, have always fascinated me. When I tried to be part of one, my timing went horribly wrong, and I applauded before the batsmen completed their runs. Soon, I could hear my own applause, along with a few raised eyebrows and cold stares. I picked it up by the end of the day, and look forward to following it up over the course of the third day.
Away from the action
There was a book sale at the far corner of the ground, where, like the pitch, you needed patience to make the most of it. The titles, for the prices they were on offer, were worth their weight in gold. I picked up Swanton's Sort of a Cricket Person, Benaud's Anything But..an Autobiography, Roebuck's Ashes to Ashes, apart from hardback copies of Harry Thompson's Penguins Stopped Play and Basil D'Oliviera's autobiography, all for a measly 10 pounds. In this e-commerce world, away from all the noise, such sales still thrive in the English count(r)yside.
One thing you'd have changed
There is almost no room for any upgrade or improvement to this, but a dream scenario would have been to watch this with the Barmy Army or a singing fan section. It is what club rivalries are characterised by, and with a capacity crowd in, it would have made for a feisty atmosphere.
For any fan of the longest form of cricket, this is it - from the setting, to proximity to the action, there is a perfection to this experience that few around the world can match. Having said that, the action on the field was perfect foil - a slugfest progressing at a frenetic pace, with over 300 runs and 14 wickets yesterday alone. As a package, there aren't too many experiences that better this, as many in the crowd insisted all day.
Marks out of 10
10. Only rain could have brought this score down, but hey, who knows how prettier the Downs and the Cathedral would have looked then? Cricket, lovely cricket.