England v Zimbabwe, Champions Trophy, Edgbaston September 10, 2004

Damping down the enthusiasm

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A soggy start: the Edgbaston crowd braves the rain © Getty Images
In 1999, English cricket hit absolute rock bottom, and I'm not just talking about the team. The opening ceremony of that year's World Cup perfectly encapsulated a summer of unrelenting flaccidity - the soggy fireworks, the crackling loudspeaker connections, the dubious guest of honour (that part-time cricket fan, Tony Blair). Oh yes, we showed 'em how to party back then.

Five years have passed, but once again we're proving ourselves to be world leaders in the wallflower stakes, even though England's team in that time has improved beyond recognition, and really ought to be blooming magnificent. The English stiff upper lip is thought to be an outdated concept, but when everything about this competition mutters - "Mustn't make a fuss" - then maybe it can't be buried quite that far from the surface.

It was a bleak, bleak day at Edgbaston from start to unsatisfactory finish - the sort of stop-stutter-stop affair that everyone suspected was on the cards when the schedule was announced, and not even the glorious weather of the past week can excuse the administrators for that. Birmingham in the rain has little to recommend it - not even the leafy environs of Edgbaston - and as a trickle of spectators moseyed towards the turnstiles, there was an army of stewards on hand to pour further gloom on the proceedings.

For all the ICC's protestations - and they hath protested more loudly than even the enclave of anti-Mugabe demonstrators at deep midwicket - there is nothing more likely to ruin an Englishman's day at the cricket than an attack on the integrity of his picnic. And so it was with some dismay that I witnessed can after can of perfectly unthreatening soft drink being evicted from their hampers, opened and poured into a great big green wheelie-bin.

It wasn't the stewards' fault, of course - they were only obeying orders - but what pointless orders they were. The no-cans rule penalised even those sensible fans who had read the small print and remembered to stick to the approved variety of caramelised fizzy sugar - on the grounds of health and safety, of all the improbable excuses. Yes, we all recall that Michael Bevan was once struck on the cheekbone by a full can of beer, but there was never much danger that today's crowd would approach such boisterousness.

The only mutiny, in fact, seemed likely to come from the stewards themselves. It was a pretty joyless task that they had been given, and they carried out their duties on trestle tables at makeshift checkpoints in the middle of a rainy car-park. It almost felt as though we were in Zimbabwe, not just playing against them.

At one point, a rebel steward reclaimed one of the tables in the name of Seven-Up, as he ripped a sticker off a plastic bottle and slapped it down on the table, but it was quickly whipped away. But at least they left the crisps alone. No point in clamping down too heavily on non-Walker's munchers, probably because Walker's have already ambushed every conceivable market there is. Whatever happened to good old Golden Wonder, anyway?

There's not much in the way of shelter around the perimeter of Edgbaston - no huge overhanging stands a la Lord's or Headingley - so for most of the day, the fans stood around in damp clusters, waiting for the rains to abate, watching two guys dressed as the Blues Brothers conducting a solemn game of French cricket.

And even when play was ready to get under way, there was one last delay - that long-awaited opening ceremony, which consisted of a cursory line-up of both teams, and a quick handshake from Ehsan Mani, the ICC president. Why they didn't get all that out of the way at the awards do on Tuesday, we'll never know.

Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.