Dear cricket tragics,
If ever you feel your interest waning, if the Twenty20 boundary fetish becomes unbearable, if the urge to absorb myriad results feels like reading tomorrow's fish and chip paper today, well, there is one guaranteed antidote: ask your doctor for a dose of the pre-test atmosphere at Lord's.
Two days before the first test of the English summer, the place is cricket's equivalent of a beehive. The buzz is palpable as an army of behind-the-scenes heroes busies itself to ensure everything is in place for 22 players and 30,000 spectators on tomorrow's sold out opening day.
The preparation is meticulous from the bloke using clippers to safeguard any blade of grass from a superiority complex to a couple of chaps ensuring the signs identifying food stores like The Sausage Shack and British Baps are spirit level flush.
On the main ground a staff member hunches over his reel mower shaping squares into the hallowed turf.
Diamond jewellers cut wobblier lines. As the turf sculptor passes the media box he waves to England spinner Graeme Swann who is heading to practice. Any thoughts he might veer off, creating a mowing catastrophe are averted; he holds his line. What a pro.
Outside the main oval, crates of food and beverage are transported to the corporate boxes. No one will be short of a champagne flute or a cucumber sandwich. Whew...
Complementing the scene is the England team's arrival and the New Zealand practice.
The former drive through the WG Grace Memorial Gates in a series of vehicles which wouldn't look out of place on a Top Gear set. James Anderson rumbles through in a Jaguar, Stuart Broad appears to be the driver of a Range Rover and Nick Compton handles an Audi. Even the team doctor is apparently spied in a Porsche. It's hard to gauge if there are hints of smiles on one or two faces as they by-pass a media pack keeping its hands warm around cups of coffee amidst the London drizzle.
Fortunately a highlight awaits shortly. The media conference is scheduled for the Lord's museum. In a surreal moment we wander in close proximity to the Ashes urn as notepad, pencils and recorders are readied to glean wisdom from today's chosen orator, Broad.
Earlier New Zealand held a media session in the Coronation Garden which houses the statue of William Gilbert Grace easing a ball through mid-wicket. A photographer coaxes Peter Fulton into a series of photos next to Grace. Come to think of it, Fulton loves that shot too. Shortly afterwards Kane Williamson wanders out for his interview in pads. He's nothing if not dedicated, and that's just his first net of the day. Will he be the next name on the visitors' batting honours board? The odds must be short for him and former Lord's staff member Ross Taylor who accepted a six-month scholarship here straight out of school.
'Extra for experts' tuition takes place further afield. Batting coach Bob Carter helps Fulton with his lbw vulnerability to the ball angling in on middle-and-leg. Carter's soon helping Martin Guptill with his pull shot, too. Tom Latham offers B-J Watling wicketkeeping catching practice in front of the Members' Stand. A webcam films him side on.
Across on the nursery ground (nursery because it used to grow pineapples, not because of its cricket nurturing qualities) the New Zealanders are getting stuck into their training session. It is uplifting when you see such dedication. Makes it feel like a genuine contest is about to ensue.
Coach Mike Hesson observes Bruce Martin up close. Is he playing for his test place with Hesson's admission they are again looking at the four-prong pace option? Presumably that's only if a verdant strip is unveiled. Old test heads - and now bowling coaches - Shane Bond and Paul Wiseman compare notes to the side of the nets. Reassuring to see Mark Gillespie stopping to chat with one of the net bowlers. If any young fellow got some benefit from that it would give this whole test cricket escapade even more meaning than it has. The sense of anticipation is complete.