Record crowd for record Lord's Test
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