Mike Holmans July 15, 2008

Crowded house

Constant yelling and cheering from the 15000 crowd, a fair amount of it fuelled by copious drinking – and those infernal musical stings every time a boundary was hit or a wicket fell

Reading the pieces about boisterous crowds by Fox and Stephen during the Lord’s Test against South Africa was faintly bemusing. (Please click here, here, here and here for our ‘crowd conversation’.)

The house was only 98% full on the fourth afternoon and the cricket was enervatingly tedious to watch, but still the group in the Upper Compton stand who were trying to start a Mexican wave found no takers. Not until the game’s corpse was twitching its last on the final afternoon did one get going.

A Lord’s Test crowd needs little more than the cricket to keep it entertained in the main arena. Announcements of the names of the new bowler and the incoming batsman and instant replays on the big screens are all we get during play.

The only irrelevancies come during the lunch intervals on the first three days, when marching bands are deployed to persuade the lazier punters to get out of the stands and into the numerous catering outlets. Some years ago, MCC were prepared to apply the ultimate sanction, but incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into English law has put a stop to the use of bagpipers.


It’s not that a Lord’s crowd is unresponsive. The mighty bass rumble of the massed ranks of the MCC getting to their feet and bull-roaring the England bowlers on as they shot West Indies out for 54 on the Friday evening in 2000 will echo long in my memory, as will the four hours of anxious silence the following day as England inched towards the target, and the near-hysterical yells of relief as Dominic Cork clattered the last dozen or so runs to level the series.

It’s just that you need to do something special to impress a massively-experienced Lord’s crowd. I’ve just completed my 20th full Test there, but there are thousands of people who have many more spectator caps than I in attendance every day and are not going to be fobbed off with any old rubbish.

  Mexican wave to impress the Lord's crowd
But it takes more than a Mexican wave to impress the Lord's crowd© Getty Images

Nor is Lord’s too posh to get down and dirty. At the county Twenty20s the previous month, we had all the modern trimmings. When Sky didn’t turn up to get in everyone’s way, we had pre-match entertainment in the form of highlights packages from a Middlesex one-day final win from the 80s and an IPL game, instant replays on the screens, a plethora of announcements, constant yelling and cheering from the 15000 crowd, a fair amount of it fuelled by copious drinking – and those infernal musical stings every time a boundary was hit or a wicket fell.

“Infernal”, yes, but I’m not sure whether my objection is a principled one or simply on grounds of execrable taste. I hate just about every song they excerpt; perhaps I’d be a lot less irritated by them if they were sampling the “Hey-ho, let’s go” intro to The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”, the “Oh My God, I can’t believe it” bit from the Kaiser Chiefs, Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” and Roy Harper’s “When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease”. (Sadly, I can’t think of an occasion when it would be appropriate to use my all-time favourite cricket-related song, Half Man Half Biscuit’s “F***ing Hell, It’s Fred Titmus!”.)

Twenty20 is not Test cricket and does not lend itself to quietly contemplative appreciation as the game unfolds its subtle drama. If you want that, all you have to do is avoid limited-over games and attend domestic first-class cricket – whichever cricket country you are in.

Nor is Lord’s entirely typical of English grounds. Headingley is an altogether different barrel of monkeys, whose delights and disappointments I shall discuss following the next Test.