Ben Stoke’s reluctant departure from the one-day international cricket should have had his home crowd applauding his every move.
But when the English all-rounder walked away wearily at the change of innings, few in the ground had sentimentality on their minds.
Most of Chester-le-Street thought of only one thing – relief from the relentless heat.
Much of South Africa’s 62-run win over England in the first ODI was forgotten – that points to a problem.
But delve deeper, this was a day when cricket received two bookings and neither is good for the sport.
As Britain recorded its hottest day on record, an England men’s team played an international match on the 29th of the last 47 days.
Cricket in scorching temperatures is nothing new.
The dials hit 38 degrees in the North East on Tuesday but were up to 47 when Joe Root was hospitalized after a day in the sun during an Ashes test in Sydney in 2018.
Players have spoken about training in a sauna to prepare for Sri Lankan conditions.
But this was one of the first times the heat has caused such a problem in England, remarkably on the world’s most northerly international soil.
There were ice towels on the pitch, an increased number of drink breaks, and umbrellas to protect players from the sun.
England bowler Matthew Potts left the field after eight overs of his debut after “feeling the effects of the heat”.
But it was in the stands or behind where the problem was more obvious. Cricket watchers in England are not used to this.
Spectators were scattered along the sidewalks, others leaned against a wall. Shade was more valuable than a good view of the center.
When the queues for the water fountains grew longer than for the bars, the organizers went to a nearby shop to buy cases of bottled water, which was given out for free.
Cricket has gained a lot of new vocabulary in recent years, such as biosecure bubbles and Covid-19 protocols. The latest is “cool rooms,” which Durham introduced to provide viewers with an indoor sanctuary.
Sometime in the afternoon there were discussions between organizers and officials about the continuation of the game.
A number of viewers had to see a doctor and it was made clear that drastic action could be taken.
The game continued and as the temperatures cooled the crowd became more lively. Well-known songs were sung and Stokes received a standing ovation when he was released at ODIs for the last time.
But so is cricket, a sport with a size 13 carbon footprint severely affected by climate change took a look into the future.
If high emissions continue, “we could see temperatures like this every three years,” Prof Stephen Belcher, the Met Office’s science and technology chief, said on Tuesday as fires burned in London. Days like these could be the “new normal”.
And that’s how a format could be without its superstars.
Stokes’ withdrawal from ODIs should set alarm bells ringing for the cricket authorities.
The 31-year-old was clear.
“We’re not cars, you can’t just fill us up and we go out and we’re ready to be filled up again,” he said.
The schedule is so intense that one of the game’s biggest stars is retiring from part of it. This is a worrying prospect.
Teammates and pundits have expressed their sadness and understanding for Stokes’ decision.
At the start of this summer, England were expected to play more than 100 days of men’s cricket in the following 12 months.
Over the past two weeks, England have switched formats, condensing opponents so rapidly that games are condensing into a blurry picture.
The result was an international game between England and South Africa crammed to bursting point on a calendar that almost felt like a non-event – a feeling that will only get worse if too many future games are played without England’s biggest stars.
Cricket is nothing without its audience and headlines. It must heed these warnings.