Another day, another anticlimax
"Is there a cricket match on today?" asked the taxi-driver as we chugged through a cloud-covered Birmingham towards Edgbaston and South Africa and Bangladesh's opening encounter. Anyone arriving on time for the start of play couldn't be blamed for asking the same question, as the game got under way against a backdrop of near-empty stands. At the end of Bangladesh's short innings the situation hadn't improved much, and another Champions Trophy game at an autumnal Edgbaston was played out in front of banks of empty seats.
That South Africa would win this game was a foregone conclusion long before Bangladesh had been bowled out for 93 after amazingly deciding to bat first on winning the toss. When South Africa came out to bat, they were greeted with chants of "We will, we will rock you!" from a rowdy bunch of their fans, but at the beginning of the innings it was more a case of "We will serenade you softly with a selection of Michael Bolton's greatest hits", as Herschelle Gibbs and Graeme Smith got off to a decidedly tame start.
Both played Bangladesh's opening pair of Nazmul Hossain and Tapash Baisya awkwardly and without much conviction, and Gibbs's miserable run with the bat continued. After a shake-up in Hossain's first over, he managed one magical cover-drive, but then had his off stump flattened by Baisya.
The South African contingent kept their heads down for a while, but the Bangladesh massive, many of whom chose to wrap themselves up in their country's green-and-red flag - as much for warmth as for patriotism - tried their best to keep a carnival atmosphere going. Every play-and-miss, every appeal, and - as the South African batting machine started to get going - every dot-ball was accompanied by shouts of encouragement and almost constant horn-blowing.
After toying with the Bangladesh attack for a while, Smith and Jacques Kallis decided they had had enough of standing out in the cold, and upped the ante with an ease that suggested that South Africa could still be in the running for this trophy. They slapped boundaries almost at will, and a damp squib of a game came to a mercifully premature end. Within minutes the stadium was empty as small groups of disappointed fans hurried back to the warmth of their own homes, from where many of them will probably decide it is best to watch the remainder of the tournament.
The over-riding feeling at the ground was that, apart from a few diehard Bangladesh supporters, no-one felt any excitement at the prospect of yet another complete drubbing of a minnow by one of the heavyweights. Zimbabwe got the treatment from England yesterday, and before that the United States were annihilated by New Zealand. Even if those responsible maintain that such mismatches are good for the development of the smaller cricket-playing nations, they do little to attract anything but passing interest.
This game, just like the tournament so far, failed to ignite the imagination of the crowd or any of the locals. With the weather forecast set to get worse, the next match here, between Pakistan and Kenya on Tuesday, promises to be a similarly low-key affair.
Liam Brickhill is an editorial assistant with Wisden Cricinfo.