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Roving Reporter by Jenny Thompson at The Oval
September 16, 2004
At last here it was, the day everyone had been waiting for. The first real contest of the Champions Trophy, Australia taking on New Zealand at The Oval. But more importantly, for me at least, I had my own contest - facing the Aussies' finest bowlers out there in the middle.
So, the big moment arrives, rather too quickly for my liking, and I stride to the crease. Feeling understandably overawed, I take my guard and - what's this? - I manage to top-edge Brett Lee for four in my first over. What a result! My somewhat streaky form continues for five overs, but I race along to 28, which included some majestic sweeps before, no disgrace, I perish at the hands - or wrist - of Shane Warne.
And then I woke up. It was all a dream ... or was it? Well actually, no. I guess, if we are to split hairs here, that my swashbuckling knock wasn't played out in the fullest, most technical sense of the word "reality" - but it was reality of a fashion, courtesy of the latest technological innovation from those clever Hawk-Eye chaps.
Not content with dazzling the armchair fan with their on-screen technological genius, Hawk-Eye have now brought virtual interactivity to the travelling spectator. They launched their latest offering in time for the Champions Trophy and so far, at Edgbaston, the Rose Bowl and now here at The Oval it has proved a big hit - literally.
And so it was that, through donning my space-age helmet, I managed to slog, er, craft, my choice of bowlers - Lee, Warne, Murali, Giles and Gough - to all parts of the virtual Oval. And, to be honest, I felt pretty chuffed, thanks very much. Or at least that was until Will, the man on the dials, brought me back down to earth by explaining that he had doubled the size of my bat - virtually, of course.
Still, it wouldn't have done for the likes of Lee and Warne to have their reputation dashed through being dispatched round the park by someone wielding a child-size bat, whose co-ordination had been reduced by a few beers, and who was wearing high heels.
I wasn't the only one to delight in making a fool of myself as I played shot after fresh-air shot, strokes which were positively Goweresque in their wafting. The lack of a plasma screen - which I was assured was present for most of the games - didn't make this form of cricket a great spectator sport on this occasion, although it was amusing to watch the burning intent on others' faces as they did battle with the world's best. There are only two of these systems, the 21st-century equivalent of the coconut shy, in operation to date - put at up to £60,000 a throw, they make for a pretty flashy boy toy.
Now here comes the science bit. The technology is a blend of the intelligent - with simulated Test venues and Mark Nicholas's pre-programmed voice proclaiming "That's a peach of a delivery!" - and the rudimentary. For example, Gareth, the IT technician, was heard sternly warning would-be Tendulkars that dancing down the virtual track is strictly banned, as that might cause the various leads that he is holding to come adrift. And the fielders, as yet, have not been programmed to move (rather like your average club game, then). So it's all very technical. It is free to have a go, but the prize reflects this - at stake is a sponsor's baseball cap (reader, I won one).
Meanwhile, back on the pitch, the sideshow of the Champions Trophy produced another one-sided victory, this time to Australia - back to reality with a bang.
Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.