Disgusted or Amused? : A Rover’s View of Lord’s

England v Sri Lanka, One-day International, Lord’s, 3rd July 2011

“Well, we shall meet again for the first match in 1945 ; between the Tavern and the Rover’s Stand ; just where that bloke in the green bow-tie said that Hendren was worth any six batsmen from the Oval and then read his newspaper upside down.” – From a letter to R.C. Robertson-Glasgow written in 1944 by a friend serving with the Air Force overseas.

Another one day international?  Well, I’m like meh whatever.  Too many of them, don’t mean anything. Keep the players away from their counties. Except, of course, if someone’s kind enough to offer me a free ticket to one.

It’s a long time since I saw a Test Match (a rather bad-tempered affair against Pakistan in 2002), and I’m fairly sure that I’ve never seen a one-day international before.  What I forget is that there are cricket fans who may only watch one or two live matches a year and these matches do appeal as a Big Day Out.

There are things you notice at the ground that you wouldn’t know from listening to Test Match Special – that the drinks breaks are sponsored by Buxton Spring Water, for instance (which might explain why there are so many of them).

There are things that I imagine you don’t see if you’re watching on Sky -for instance, that the outgoing batsman is trailed to the pavilion by a cameraman, rather like that irritating duck you used to see on Australian TV –

Or this poor man, marooned atop a towering cherry-picker …

You might not realise that when Stuart Broad was spraying himself liberally with an aerosol while fielding on the boundary, it wasn’t because he has a deal to advertise Lynx Body Spray, but because the area around the Tavern and the Rover’s Stand were infested with midges.

The crowd were, understandably, set on enjoying themselves, by hook or by crook.  For the first, I’d say, hour and a quarter, there was an air of keen anticipation.  Cook and Kieswetter opened, and Kieswetter played a stroke, to wild applause.  Then he got out.  Trott emerged.  I thought Cook and Trott were rather like two women who’ve turned up to a party in the same outfit.  One of them would have to stay a while for the sake of politeness, then make their excuses and leave.  It was Trott.

Enter Pietersen.  Levels of anticipation rose and continued to rise as the sun reached its height and the first rounds of drinks were brought in. He played masterfully and soundly, his attack an impregnable form of defence,  to reach 42 until, with a groan that was audible from the Gents (I can attest to this personally), he felled himself by top edging a sweep to square-leg.

At this point, with Morgan gone too, Bell trying to ‘get ’em in singles (and James Taylor ineligible for selection because he doesn’t play for Warwickshire), it was clear to those in the ground with English sympathies that the pleasure of the day was not going to come from dramatic tension or a swell of patriotic pride. 

Cook completed his usual fine century, the tail twitched a little.  But, as many sages in the crowd presciently observed, the total was never going to be enough on that pitch.

Lunch was officially taken between innings, but, as this was at 2.30, I had the impression that many of the members had begun lunch a little earlier.  The would-be Zuleika Dobsons of the ‘Varsity Match had been replaced in the Harris Garden by men whose complexions matched their ties.  The MCC’s answer to the Barmy Army, an elderly trio, played Dixieland jazz.  There were many faces I half-recognised, heroes from the days of long hair and moustaches, but blurred by time, like a cricketing wax museum in a heat wave.

I don’t often drink at the cricket – the odd pint if I’m in company – but my companion had brought along a bottle of decent wine, and it seemed churlish not to return the favour by buying him a few pints … and as the afternoon wore on, Sri Lanka made their reply, and the heavily lacquered hair of the woman in front of me became a midge mausoleum, I found that the run stealers did appear to be flickering to and fro a bit, as did the fieldsmen, and, indeed, the pavilion.

When I stepped outside during a Buxton Spring Water drinks break, a steward, who I had earlier suspected of being a little officious, kindly pointed out to me that I was about to light the wrong end of my cigarette.  

After ten overs, with the run-rate almost double the rate required, there seemed a real danger that Sri Lanka would finish it off with ten overs to spare.  After twenty overs they seemed to have decided to spin it out to make sure we got our money’s worth.

There are times in games when the players and the crowd occupy the same emotional space, where we feel the frustration of the bowler when an edge goes for four, or his exhilaration at a wicket, and times when the two diverge.  The angrier the English bowlers became, the more they strained every sinew to take a wicket, the more preoccupied the crowd were with their own amusements.  As Broad strode angrily back to his mark he must have gazed uncomprehendingly at a sea rippling with Mexican waves.

A Tamil Tiger invaded the pitch, pursued and eventually sat on, by a steward who was better suited to the sitting-on part of the operation than the pursuit. 

The players fumed, the crowd cheered them on.

By the end comedy had taken over the drama completely, as Angelo Matthews batted out a maiden in the 46th over to allow young Chandimal (who had earlier taken a futile battering from Broad) to make his century.

Alastair Cook later commented “You never know, the cricketing gods might look down at that in a bit of disgust” (like rabbits imagining rabbit gods, cricketers imagine cricket gods who talk like themselves).  My feeling is that the cricket gods would have been with the crowd in finding it all gently amusing.  

(In contrast to my blurred, impressionist view, my companion’s 12-year-old nephew, over from Singapore, was keeping the score clearly and precisely in his scorebook.  To him every single for Bell, every wide from Broad was worth recording, and I’m sure that if he looks at his book again in forty years’ time the day will revisit him as vividly at it must have seemed to him on Sunday.)



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