July 25, 2011

India in England 2011

Record crowd for record Lord's Test

Sambit Bal
A rare sight: serpentine queues outside Lord's, England v India, 1st Test, Lord's, 5th day, July 25, 2011
The serpentine queues outside Lord's  © Getty Images
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Lord's, the grandest of cricket grounds as far as the richness of heritage and history go, had a new chapter added to its pages today. Never has a Monday morning at the ground been so busy, so urgent and so alive. Not even the prospect of a first Ashes victory in 75 years brought so many people to the ground in 2009. Today's full house beat that record by over 4000, but there is no account of those who had to return disappointed.

I certainly haven't seen a longer queue at a cricket ground, or anywhere for that matter, than today. It began right outside the St John's Wood tube station, about half a kilometre from Lord's, and snaked all around the stadium. And incredibly there were two of those.

I was in Granada in the south of Spain last month where they sell a limited number of tickets for the magnificent Alhambra Palace. Though the ticket counter opened at 8.30 am I had been advised to go early; I reached there at 6 am, bleary and cold, and was astounded to find 15 people ahead of me. By all accounts, there were over a thousand outside Lord's at that hour. Sam Collins, one half of the Chucks who do a delightful video diary for us, met the man who was first in one of the queues - he had reached there at 2 am.

As fans ran past me to join the end of the seemingly interminable queue, I felt grateful for the privileges of my job that granted me a seat right behind the bowler's arm, with free food thrown in.

A variety of factors have combined to make this a special day. The weather is gorgeous. What was meant to be a largely wet Test has grown brighter by the day. The Test was open with, theoretically at least, all four results still possible. VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid were at the crease with Sachin Tendulkar to follow, and this would certainly be the one last chance to watch them together at Lord's. There remained the outside chance of Tendulkar's 100th hundred. And of course, there are a lot of Indians in London.

There was another reason why the queues were so long. Usually, fans are allowed to buy four tickets on the final day. But to ensure touts didn't take advantage - final day tickets were priced at 20 pounds against 65 for the first day - the MCC decided to issue one ticket per person, with complimentary tickets for children below 16. But still, if you joined the queue at 8.30 am, when the ticket counters opened, there was no hope.

At a streetside coffee shop I met a man who'd travelled that morning from Bristol. He has been doing so for many years. "Book a return ticket in advance, land up around 8.30, have a beer after the game and catch a late evening train home."

"Looks like I'll be drinking a lot of beers today," he said, "I hope I can find some pubs where they are showing the match."

The man next to him was luckier. He'd travelled from Hampshire, about 40 minutes by train, and arrived not much earlier. "I jumped the queue," he said sheepishly. "They have broken up the queue at the traffic light, the cops weren't watching, and the guy at the end was looking elsewhere, so I joined in.

"I'm not proud of it but this will be my first day at Lord's, and I did what I had to."

At the media centre I caught up with Sourav Ganguly, a centurion on debut at this ground in 1996 and now here as a television commentator, and he said he had never seen a Monday like this at Lord's.

But of course it isn't merely about this Monday. To have been at Lord's through the five days has been to see the sun shining on Test cricket. It's been glorious.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by thelmus on (September 17, 2011, 15:23 GMT)

Test cricket encapsulates one thing the shorter versions of the game constantly fail to: the passionate drama of match turning on a good ball. Wickets fall so often it seems in the shorter versions that unless they fall in a heap, the batting team seem to continue it's momentum regardless. I believe the current Fad of 20/20 cricket will soon go the way of one day cricket and for precisely the same reason: so much is played and it has become so formulaic and predictable that a match's outcome can often be correctly surmised by the fall of the second wicket.

Posted by Arsalan on (August 25, 2011, 8:33 GMT)

glad to see that people still love test cricket.

Posted by Bilawal Naveed on (July 27, 2011, 8:41 GMT)

I love England and its cricket crowed

Posted by Aaron on (July 27, 2011, 6:57 GMT)

Anyone from Mohali and Nagpur see this? Maybe you people could follow suit.

Also, about time ticket prices were withing the reach of the majority as they are a joke in England.

Posted by redneck on (July 27, 2011, 4:53 GMT)

@venkatt and who would india get to come and play over the christmas/new years period? australia, south africa and new zealand are all playing at home at this time. and that is probably the one thing india's money cant buy from them! never mind the limited window aus and nz have to host home tests due to other sports using the same venues. believe me hell will freeze over before australia agree to tour anywhere during that time of year and i would dare say the same thing with south africa now. england have to spend 2 out of 4 christmas' away already with tours of aus and sa. i doubt their players would be too happy to make it 3 out of 4 away from their families! like the tought of india having a more structured home fixture but i dont see december/january being the time they do get it unless its bangledesh and zimbabwe your wanting to host!

Posted by Arjun on (July 27, 2011, 0:39 GMT)

so....What actually was the crowd, Mr. Bal. If possible please post a reply to this comment. Thanks

Posted by Anonymous on (July 26, 2011, 18:10 GMT)

For the purist, there is no cricket like Test Match Cricket.

Posted by peter bentall on (July 26, 2011, 17:28 GMT)

Cant quite understand so many comments about not getting a ticket. I joined the queue 100 metres down from St Johns Wood staion at 10.30, for East Gate. I bought my ticket around 11.40, just after Dravid was out.....and the Lower Edrich was sparselt occupied, hundreds more must have got in after me.

Posted by Kashi on (July 26, 2011, 15:45 GMT)

Last we saw character was when Gavaskar played that beautiful 100 in Trent Bridge in 70's. Only Dravid came close to that in this match. Rest is all empty talk

Posted by Alan Edgar on (July 26, 2011, 14:43 GMT)

" (...) the MCC decided to issue one ticket per person".

Incorrect - a friend of mine bought 2 tickets at 10.15am, one of which he gave to me when I arrived at the ground at 10.30

Minor complaint re the freebies for kids - some of them had no interest in the game and deprived many genuine fans of a seat.

It was a fiver a ticket on Sunday for u-16 and given the expected crowd, it should have been the same for Monday.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sambit Bal
Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.

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