June 19, 2013

Champions Trophy 2013

London: a fan's paradise

Andrew Fidel Fernando
Pakistan fans in full cry, West Indies v Pakistan, Champions Trophy, Group B, The Oval, June 7, 2013
Paint the town green? Got to be The Oval  © Getty Images
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Lord's cricket ground in London's St John's Wood bears the title of the "Home of Cricket". Across town, in more working-class environs, The Oval does not feel so self-important, but situated as it is in a city that represents virtually all of Britain's old empire, it can more than share the tagline with the sport's most prestigious venue.

The press box at The Oval is situated right above the bowler's arm, at the Vauxhall End, and to avoid distracting batsmen, journalists work behind two layers of tinted glass, in a room that can only be dimly lit. The result is a working area that not only shuts out the clamour of an often colourful crowd, but also feels disconnected from the cricket itself. 


For years, cricket writers have found a way around the sterility of The Oval press box by using the overflow media areas, which are located outside. It gets cold, even in the summer, and it is annoying when rain begins to fall and laptops must be picked up and moved under better cover. But when play has begun and the ground is humming, there are few more interesting offices in the world.



Over the past two weeks, The Oval became a home venue for four different teams. In the Group A match between Pakistan and West Indies, Pakistan were dismissed cheaply, but then surged in the field to raucous zindabads that did not abate until the last run was hit. A few days later, cries of Chak de India rang about the ground as they defeated West Indies. Almost 30 years ago, West Indies fans had packed out these same stands during the blackwash series, and while they were never a majority in the crowd, clusters of spectators in maroon found voice this time as well.

When England played Sri Lanka, the locals got in, warming up the Barmy Army chants ahead of the Ashes. Then when Sri Lanka played Australia in the final group match, most of the Sri Lankan population in London seemed to have skipped work or school to transform Kennington into a mini-Colombo, with calls of Ela machang, ela. There were a few oi oi oi's as well, but perhaps not as many as you would expect, given the number of Australian twangs that abound in the London soundscape. Perhaps they are saving their coin for the Tests.

In the last major tournament in Sri Lanka, foreign teams found support - but only the fleeting, casual kind that neutrals can provide. There is a smattering of Indians in Colombo, and Pakistan is loved among Muslim Sri Lankans, but while Colombars cheered loud enough for their favourite players, there was not the same passion in the atmosphere, save for when Sri Lanka played. There was no ecstasy in victory, or heartbreak in defeat. 


London's cricket fans have laughed, sighed and wept as their team's fortunes have turned. When Sri Lanka almost let the match slip against Australia, the dancing stopped in the stands and stunned silence crept in. When Tillakaratne Dilshan leapt to his left to secure the winning catch, the stadium roared with joy again.

Perhaps nowhere else in the world can a global tournament find such diverse, impassioned support as in cricket's historic capital. Now if only they let the baila and calypso bands into the ground.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

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