View From The Hill: Nicholas Lezard

As I write, it is a gloriously sunny afternoon, but for some reason, the first day’s play at Hove County Cricket Ground of a three-day match against the touring New Zealanders has been scheduled. This is a bit irritating for everyone who had been planning to go, whether as a player, an employee of the ground, or a spectator. I fall into the last group.

I have been living in Brighton for four years now (with a year off in Scotland) and until the beginning of May this year, I had not been to the ground (named now after an insurance company, but that need not concern us) at all. The reasons were laziness – living at the highest point of Dyke Road meant that coming back home involved a supreme effort, and the gound was about half an hour’s walk away; and later, the pandemic, when no one was allowed to go to a match, assuming the match was even being played in the first place. Also, I am a bit leery of Hove, which is, as everyone knows, a terrifying military dictatorship compared to the fun- and peace-loving Green/Socialist paradise of Brighton.

But the other week, now that I live about 10 minutes’ walk away, and on more or less the same elevation as the ground, I had no excuse, and it was also a lovely, sunny day, so off I went to see the final afternoon’s play of a four-day match between Sussex and Middlesex. I checked on the score before going, and without going into any detail, it looked as though the match was settling down to be a nice, peaceful draw. This was just as well: the crushed and downtrodden people of Hove can turn violent at the slightest provocation.

Oh, it was lovely. There were about 500 people at the ground, I’d say, so at least 90% of the seats were unoccupied; they let me in for a tenner because there wasn’t much play left and the match was getting soporific; and even though the Sussex Cricketers, the pub at the Sea End, which I’d never been to, was demolished last year, I could still get a bottle of Harvey’s from the otherwise uninspiring cafe that we have to make do with.

As it turned out, the match did get interesting: Middlesex, helped by a sporting declaration from the hosts, found themselves getting the runs with time to spare (even if they’d been held down a bit at one end whenever Ollie Robinson, the England quickie, came on to bowl). 

As I said, it was lovely, and one of the nicest things about it was the way the Sussex fans, including me, applauded every good shot made by Middlesex, even if it meant that defeat was creeping ever nearer. In which other sport in the world do you get a reaction like that? None, I’d think. 

So I say: get yourself down the Hove ground for a county match and prepare yourself for a nice quiet slice of Heaven. Weather permitting.

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