The sky is slate grey and the air keen enough to induce a shiver beneath even the multitude of coats and sweaters. The sun-soaked promise of the last few days has vanished behind a thick bank of cloud and the world is filtered only through ashen hues.
Headingley, typically a thoroughfare for those travelling south into the city, lacks its usual hum on this particular Friday morning. The regular crush of students has evaporated, most returned home for the Easter holiday, leaving a vacuum at the heart of Leeds’ most famous suburb. Instead, a trickle of cricket supporters – paradoxically dressed in overcoats and sunhats – pass through the streets towards a great green oasis that is rising from its sleep.
There is talk in coffee shops of the summer to come, of what has been and what will be. Opinions are disclosed in whispers. Time-worn faces hide behind the pages of broadsheet newspapers, appearing briefly to acknowledge an acquaintance or hover at the edges of conversations. The atmosphere is one of quiet expectation and delicate optimism. The early summer, it is silently agreed, is a most precious thing that must not be broken.
Inside the ground the players – shining perfect white through the gloam – indulge their routines beneath the lights. Up in the stands packed lunches are opened shortly after breakfast time. Annuals are opened, consulted, closed, re-opened. There are gloves and scarves and sunglasses; pints of bitter in the middle of the morning.
It is in these surroundings that the cricket season begins, not with a bang but with the familiar rituals of prematurity.