July 24, 2012

South Africa in England, 2012

The English crowd experience

Firdose Moonda
A full house enjoys the cricket, England v South Africa, 1st Investec Test, July 23, 2012
The crowds at The Oval helped create a wonderful atmosphere  © PA Photos
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Generosity. It's not what you expect from a crowd that has paid to get something. But it is what The Oval crowd was all about.

They gave it to South Africa's bowlers throughout the match, but particularly on the first day when Imran Tahir was their main target, they gave it to their own batsmen, mostly in support but occasionally in jest and they opened their wallets for five days straight and gave their money to Surrey County Cricket Club.

It was not small change either. The average ticket cost £75. Ask that much at the gate in South Africa - almost R1000 - and no-one would go to the cricket. You can imagine the surprise then when more than 100,000 people streamed through the gates over the course of five days to watch the home side lose, in a spectacle that took the better part of four days to play out.

The sporting world already knows that England is one of the few places where Test cricket crowds illustrate that the longest format of the game has longevity. What they may not know, until they experience it for themselves, is how much those crowds contribute to that. For a first timer, it is a pulsating place to be.

If expectation could hum, that is what the sound at The Oval on the first morning was like. There was atmosphere that an overused term like buzz cannot justify. It was more of a pop. Not the snap-crackle and pop variety but a pop that kept popping through the players' warm-ups, the loudspeaker's belting out of Jerusalem and the initial arrival of the team on the field. But it is a pop that did not become a bang. Instead, it faded with the delicacy of an English sunset (as opposed to the violin-like drama of a Johannesburg one) into a palpable hush as soon as the first ball was about to bowled.

For a few moments, it was as though the entire summer was balanced on that moment. As soon as Morne Morkel ran in and delivered the first of his four balls to Andrew Strauss, the tension dissipated. The cricket had begun. And the people in the stadium were here to watch it.

There are times when a crowd can become like a vuvuzela, blurting itself out in the middle of play indiscriminately. That time never came at The Oval. Passages of play were followed, as though the seated public had a map and knew which way to go with it. When England were batting unhindered, they cheered, when wickets fell so did their voices but importantly, when South Africa began to mount the house that eventually bolted away, they did not lose interest.

Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis brought up centuries to rapturous ovations. But it was Hashim Amla who rightly received their most warm applause. When he crossed 300, the minute's standing ovation that the crowd gave him was showed their appreciation for quality cricket and he was careful to acknowledge all sections of the ground with his raised bat.

Dale Steyn too, enjoyed his share of crowd interaction. He chatted to a man on the other side of the advertising board for almost all of the first day and returned to that section during his match-winning last spell on the final afternoon. Every time he took a wicket and went back there, he received a series of handshakes, pats on the back and, on one occasion, a bear hug.

Their balance between recognising a winner and being partisan is the stuff tightrope walkers should study. When England ground down South Africa's lead, every run had a cheer of its own. Matt Prior and Ian Bell would have been inspired by that even if their hearts were made of stone.

Above all, the crowd was able to combine that with a sense of humour. When Strauss managed a run off Morkel, they cheered him. When James Anderson came out to bat and the end was in sight, he had a large section of support from people willing him to "bat out the day" with memories of Cardiff 2009. However, it was the South Africans in the crowd who had most to cheer at the end.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Posted by Param on (July 30, 2012, 17:34 GMT)

Lovely to know the English love for test cricket. Wish that it goes for a long time to come.

Posted by Replica rolex on (July 29, 2012, 13:14 GMT)

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Posted by sam on (July 26, 2012, 23:12 GMT)

English supporters are like prawn sandwiches. No spicey at all. Flat .no emotion. Test match is a theatre. You go and enjoy or go there because you are able to.

But Eng vs SA matches are spicy in one side. English Cricket Players are only worried for central contracts.Some students go to exam for marks and ticks. They may tick well. It does not mean they are enjoying it.

Posted by Munir Rahmani on (July 25, 2012, 6:58 GMT)

A very entertaining and delightful account of the Test from sidelines. The observations of the writer are sportive and full of interesting tone. I enjoyed reading the piece.

Posted by James on (July 24, 2012, 20:59 GMT)

Pleased you enjoyed your experience of test cricket in England. Less so that you enjoyed the result! The atmosphere at Headingley will be a bit more, erm, lively, shall we say. One thing I will sat is that the ticket pricing for international cricket in England is extortionate. But people still pay it so not everyone can agree with me

Posted by Dave Reynell on (July 24, 2012, 16:31 GMT)

Only the English. Thankyou !

Posted by Sourav Chakraborty on (July 24, 2012, 16:15 GMT)

Hashim Amla, Jack Kallis & Graeme Smith's brilliant batting and Dale steyn's unparallel bowling yielded the most deserving win for South Africa. Lots of love & thanks for Graeme and his boys for this invaluable win!!!

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