There really is no greater pleasure than watching a cricket match live. For me, it just the perfect way to spend a few hours – a compelling dance of drama, excitement and great personalities that plays out in front of you as you sit in the stands. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to have visited some of the best grounds in the world – so I thought I’d share a few of my favourites with you here.
Lord’s Cricket Ground, London
I had to start with Lord’s. It’s probably the most famous cricket ground in the world and as sporting experiences go it’s right up there with the best. Like that other great British sporting institution – Wimbledon – as much of the Lord’s experience is about what’s going on in and around the ground as it is about the game out on the pitch. The Victorian pavilion is just gorgeous and the atmosphere is completely unique – you can feel the history of our great game all around you in every nook and cranny of this beautiful old ground. If you’re visiting Lord’s for a match, I’d also recommend you take the time to have a look around the museum there. It’s got some fascinating artefacts from the game there – not least a stuffed sparrow that was killed by a bowl by Jahangir Khan of Cambridge University during a match in 1936. Lord’s is just that kind of place.
The Kensington Oval, Bridgetown, Barbados
Something completely different this time – about as far from the sedate atmosphere of Lord’s on a sunny afternoon as you can get. I’ll never forget the intense atmosphere of the Oval – not the one in London, but the version in Barbados. It’s less a cathedral of cricket and more like one huge carnival, especially when the sun is shining, close to 30,000 locals are dancing and the Windies are winning. Expect singing and partying, and definitely no tea or cucumber sandwiches.
Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium
A ground that I had to pick simply for its mind-blowingly beautiful setting. The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium is located near the town of Dharamshala in India, and hosts everything from IPL matches to the occasional test. It was only built in 2003 but it is already a firm favourite of mine – it’s almost 1,500 m above the sea level and has the stunning back drop of the snow-capped Himalayan mountains behind it. One of those grounds where there’s as much to look at off the pitch as their is on it.
The Gabba, Brisbane, Australia
Rightly feared by Test cricketers the world over, the atmosphere at the Gabba – Brisbane’s cricket ground – is truly fearsome, especially when England are in town. It’s hot and it’s intense, but it’s also actually an incredibly friendly place, as of course you’d expect from the Aussies. A game in the Big Bash League – the Australian professional Twenty20 tournament – is also well worth taking in too if you get the chance to catch one.
Spout House CC in Bilsdale, North Yorkshire, and Kent CC, Canterbury
An honourable mention here for a couple of smaller grounds that might not have staged quite so many top level games in their time, but which are just wonderful places to watch a game of cricket. The first is Spout House Cricket Club, in Bilsdale. It’s a beautiful setting, in the hills of North Yorkshire, and cricket has been played on its sloping pitch since the 19th century. Even WG Grace himself was once bowled out here – by a local farmer for a golden duck no less. And finally, Kent County Cricket Club’s Canterbury ground, where a lime tree once stood at deep midwicket since for more than 150 years, is another ground with its own unique atmosphere.
For me, all of these places, with all their diversity, define the game of cricket in their own ways. The passion of the Gabba and the Bridgetown Oval, the love for the game in the remotest regions of the sub continent, the rich history of places like Lord’s, and the traditions and curiosities of tiny grounds like Spout House.
Every one of them is a wonderful place to watch the game, and I hope to return to them all again one day.