Seems like a long time ago now, as I sit listening to the rain fall, not watching the cricket and not listening to TMS, but yesterday I enjoyed a balmy day’s cricket at the Oval, where Leicestershire were playing Surrey.
I didn’t watch anywhere near as much cricket when I lived in London as I do now, but I always enjoyed a day at the Oval, probably slightly more even than Lord’s. Lord’s, of course, had the grandeur but the Oval had a real atmosphere to it, raffish and non-U, a cockney-cum- gin’n’Jag belt Surrey cum-West Indian flavour. I quite often used to go to the last day of the last Test of the Summer, which always used to be on the August Bank Holiday. The tickets were cheap for that, if you got there early enough.
The last couple of times I’ve been there I’d felt that that atmosphere had gone rather. They’ve redeveloped (or indeed regenerated) it to accomodate more spectators and I felt it had become oppressive – like some kind of Roman amphitheatre with huge banks of seating encircling the pitch in place of the old splintery wooden benches. The members area seemed to have attracted lairy Cityboys in wraparound sunspex waving beer bottles – there, presumably, because all their money couldn’t get them into MCC.
Anyway, today I didn’t feel that. God was in his Heaven, and all was right with the world. When I arrived (ten minutes or so after the start) Leicester had already lost one wicket – Matt Boyce run out after what sounded like some unfortunate confusion with his opening partner.
The rest of the day was our two mature South Africans, Dippenaar and Ackerman, and the young prospects Smith and Taylor clipping the huffing, puffing Surrey attack all over the shop for a substantial total. There was a passage of play when Taylor was – I was about to say literally (but that’s a rather unpleasant mental image) – milking Andre Nel for a stream of twos and singles and strolling up and down the wicket without a care in the world. That is an excellent sight.
Surrey, incidentally, have a strong contender for loopiest spectator of the year award. A group of largely topless males sitting as far away from the square as you could possibly sit – the action must have been all-but- invisible to them – one of them bearing a very strong resemblence to Charlie Chuck (a celebrated Leicestershire resident, I believe) and bellowing incomprehensible Chuck-style commentary at regular intervals. Not quite as barmy as the bloke at Lords who sits in the same place every match (roughly square to the square on the right-hand side of the Pavilion) and shouts “Come on you Middles, up the Middles” with metronomic accuracy every minute at Middlesex matches.
Anyway, happy days.