Cricket World Cup 2019 tour diary: Warmth towards cricket and a memorable Trent Bridge ride
The giant-hand at the Nottingham fan park makes for a wonderful setting. (Image: Aditya Bhattacharya)

NOTTINGHAM: If there is one city where the euphoria of the World Cup 2019 resides, it’s Nottingham. At least, that’s what you’d feel when you’ve seen the complete lack of advertising for the World Cup in central London. The two cities are separated by a two-hour long train journey, including a changeover at Grantham, a lovely, quaint city located roughly 22 miles east of Nottingham, which makes for a wonderful backdrop for a song sequence of any 90s-themed Bollywood film.

It had begun to drizzle by the time I was exiting the station. As I scampered to get an umbrella out of the bag, my eyes fell on the first sign of the World Cup in the city. A bus with a huge Cricket World Cup 2019 logo passed by. And then another. Once I started making my way towards the hotel, located some 0.2 miles from the centre, numerous buses and trams promoting the World Cup were spotted scurrying through the city.

The bus and tram services, as I am told, are the lifelines of public transport this side of the country and it was really heart-warming to see the city opening up to the biggest cricket tournament in the world, especially having witnessed the cold treatment in London.

As per Stephanie Moss-Pearce, Marketing Manager of the Nottingham Express Transit, the NET has teamed up with the bus operators of the Nottingham City Transport to ensure smooth movement of fans from the main city to Trent Bridge. On match days, certain buses are providing free transport for ticket holders. All you need to do is show the tickets and hop on.

“Fans travelling into the city by trams can then show their match ticket to travel for free on NCT buses for the last leg of their journey and NET’s great value £2 Event Ticket will also be available on match days, making the tram the best way to beat the traffic generated by sell-out crowds,” she had said.

In addition to the city transport warming up to the World Cup, Nottingham also happens to be the city hosting the first-ever Cricket World Cup Fanzone. At the hotel where I’m staying, the setup is a five-minute walk away, located at the old Market Square, where all the buzz is, but it might take longer to enter during operational hours.

A postbox in Angel Row, Nottingham, has been painted blue in celebration of the Cricket World Cup. (Image: Aditya Bhattacharya)

The Fanzone opens at 10 in the morning till 8 in the evening every day, and no entry fee means it remains flocked with spectators, who can enjoy the game on the big screen along with a bar and street cricket sessions. That, in addition to the six-metre tall sculpture of a giant hand catching a white ball makes for a breath-taking setting.

“As Nottingham is hosting four World Cup matches, we are glad to host the first and the largest fan zone of the tournament,” Communication head Dean Scoff says. “The market square isn’t that close to Trent Bridge, and although the connectivity is wonderful here, the Fanzone gives the fans a chance to feel close to the venue. You’ve got people coming here in numbers and the more the merrier. Along the big screen, we’ve got plenty of activities to keep the fans engaged.”

The noise doesn’t stop there. Right adjacent to the fan park, on the Angel Row, is a post box painted in blue, on which it’s written: “This post-box has been specially decorated to celebrate the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 and the quintessentially British game of cricket, ” while the other side reminds people of the Nottingham-born Stuart Broad’s career-best 8/15 against Australia during the 2015 Ashes.

“To Trent Bridge? Get in”

It’s match day in Nottingham. The Market Square is some distance away from Trent Bridge, and after taking a regrettable call to walk to the stadium on the preview day, I decided to take a bus. West Indies are taking on Pakistan and this is my first 50-over World Cup game. There are videos to be shot and sent from outside the stadium and not least, the pressure of filing timely copies.

Maps have never been my strong point. Yet, I somehow made it to the nearest bus station, from where I’d been told to board No. 11 which heads straight to Trent Bridge. I look up to find out the bus is arriving in the next eight minutes. As it took my seat waiting for it to arrive, a red taxi, carrying a Pakistan flag pulled over. On the passenger seat is a girl, seemingly 10-12 years old, who is quick to spot my media accreditation card.

“Are you heading to the stadium,” she shouts out loud. “Yes,” I respond. “Great, we’re heading there too. Come on in.”

At first, I was hesitant, but the thought of an uncertain route prompted me to get in the car afterall. On the backseat were some more kids, roughly the same age, all fans as I’d later find out. The driver is Zaahid Hussain; he’s been driving cabs for almost a decade, lives in one of the meadows in Nottingham with his family and offers free rides to people on match days. He operates another cab, which is right behind ours. It was being driven by his nephew, also picking up passengers along the way.

Zaahid Hussain (extreme right) offers free taxi rides to fans on days when Pakistan are playing. (Image: Aditya Bhattacharya)

“It’s nothing special, honestly,” Zaahid says. “Everytime Pakistan plays, we ensure we make it a little easier for the fans to reach the stadium. We don’t charge them anything. We have just two cars so we try to fit in as many people as we can. It’s the least we can do to support our Pakistan cricket team.

“Aap kaha se (Where are you from)? India, I replied. “Nice, favourites to win this year, but expect Pakistan to not go down easily. We beat you in the Champions Trophy.”

A part of me wanted to tell him how it’s been over two years since that final at Lord’s and how abysmal Pakistan’s record has been this year. But Zaahid continued: “Hope the best team wins. I think India and Pakistan should play each other frequently. Enough of the political tension and the tussle between the governments.”

Roughly five minutes later, as we approached the venue, Zaahid suggested I should get down at the gate, as he was required to move another few 100 meters ahead to park. I insisted to stay on since I wanted to click him. At the back of the stadium, the car was finally parked, and as I took out my phone, Zahid very hesitantly asked: “Do you mind if all the kids join me? They are fond of pictures. “Go ahead,” I said.

As we went our separate ways, Zaahid made sure he reminded me of a little India-Pakistan clash in Manchester. “Manchester mein milenge, (we’ll meet in Manchester). Pakistan will win again,” he signed off.

I hope to see him there on June 16.