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England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Edgbaston, 3rd day

Birmingham's beleaguered-but-merry crowd

Daniel Brigham

May 27, 2006

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Elvis and Co. provided plenty of entertainment to the beleaguered crowd © Getty Images
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On official fancy-dress day at Edgbaston, the only costume suitable was macs and wellies. Elvis Presley's quiffs were flattened, the Pink Panther slowly turned green and the Vikings appeared to be drawing up plans for building a long boat.

When play finally started at 4.45pm, the crowd was somehow almost full. For nearly six hours, Birmingham's hardiest, most fanatical (or drunk?) cricket-lovers remained in their seats, or at least in the bar. Like a team chasing down a tricky score (England take note), the crowd crossed off successive targets: first, the end of the persistent, warm drizzle; second the appearance of the sun; thirdly the removal of the big covers (which was cheered with almost as much vigour as Kevin Pietersen's reverse sweep six yesterday); fourthly, and finally, the sight of Andrew Flintoff leading his men out. England had obviously been itching to get out there - umpires Aleem Dar and Darrell Hair were almost tripped up, so close were England on their heels.

This Edgbaston crowd had plenty to entertain themselves with. Many were fixated by replays on the large screen of iconic images from last summer's Ashes Test at this venue. With the kind of wide-eyed wonder usually reserved for children in sci-fi films, the crowd relived every heart-stopping moment. Was it really that close? It all seems surreal now. And Brett Lee's cover drive through the covers that seemed to be going for a winning four before the camera showed Ashley Giles move into frame to cut it off brought audible gasps. Perhaps people were imagining the fate of that Test if Giles's replacement Monty Panesar had been fielding in his place. It's enough to give anyone the shivers.

Early arrivals were also entertained by Paul Collingwood giving Panesar fielding lessons on the boundary. His dives across the grass may have been more elephant than elegant, but the practice appears to have worked today - Panesar was confident and without error in the field.



Tillakaratne Dilshan played beautifully, notching a patient fifty before falling to Matthew Hoggard © Getty Images
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After a spot of fancy-dress wrestling that began to show worrying signs of falling into Fight Club territory, it was back to the stands as the sun split the crowds. After the umpires decided to ignore the splashes caused by rolling a ball across the outfield, Edgbaston eventually had the continuation of a Test match. There's a reason why England love playing here - the buzz never ceases, the roar rarely loses its monstrous pitch.

Unfortunately, it could hardly be said the wait was worth it. Unless, of course, you're Sri Lankan. Michael Vandort and Tillakaratne Dilshan played beautifully and the Edgbaston crowd had the experience of watching an England attack lacking in ideas for the second successive Test. Dilshan's wicket late-on lifted the crowd to fever pitch, but it was more in desperation than expectancy.

Prior to the wicket, the biggest talking point was the absence of Gary Pratt, England's supersub and Ponting's nemesis. Liam Plunkett did not appear at the start due to falling heavily on a shoulder, but his replacement wasn't Pratt, it was his Durham team-mate Gary Scott. So, with Durham not playing, just where was Pratt? Is he ducking the limelight? Or perhaps the 6'6'' haulking Sri Lanka coach Tom Moody is too much of a terrifying prospect to upset. Whatever the reason, it would have been unlikely that Pratt would have found a warmer, more entertaining reception than the one offered by the beleaguered-but-merry Edgbaston crowd.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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