South Africa v West Indies, The Oval, Pool B September 18, 2004

Putting your shirt on the West Indies

Roving Reporter by Jenny Thompson at The Oval



Viv Richards: still da man © Getty Images

The Champions Trophy has thrown up a series of predictable results in the pool fixtures to date: this much we know. But on the outskirts of the concrete jungle that is The Oval, a Champions Trophy of a quite different kind is being played out.

Within the uninviting corridor of uncertainty that runs an ugly ring around the outside of the spectator stands, where food stalls, beer tents and other vending points are housed, national pride is at stake. And it is to be won or lost not on the flip of a coin, but at the ring of a till. This is the Champions Trophy of cricket clothing, where pounds replace runs - and the organisers are just praying for some close contests.

Let's get straight to the action, with an update on play so far. Some T-shirt minnows - Zimbabwe and USA - are still in the fight, although their luck could run out soon. India and Sri Lanka all returned surprisingly poor results: not many cotton items on sale for them. Australia, however, are looking confident in their big and bold primary-yellow tones, and are playing up their chances of selling success. They are currently second in the tournament for official country T-shirt sales. Meanwhile Kenya, Bangladesh and, surprisingly, Pakistan were not even invited to play as they were thought to be too unpopular.

Sales of England regalia made a bright start, before a mid-innings slump which required a thumping allrounder to rescue them. Enter not one, but two - and the chance to resolve a burning issue, finally: is Freddie Flintoff really the new Ian Botham? And it would appear that he is, although the result wasn't arrived at without a close contest. An oversight in ordering meant that Flintoff shirts missed the first Champions Trophy match at The Oval, allowing the old-timer Beefy to steal a march on the young pretender. But as soon as Flintoff entered the attack, he plundered many pockets and has now just crept ahead of Botham. Sales of Freddie T-shirts have been rocketing, although in fairness Beefy has done well in his retirement.

Dickie Bird was drafted into the England squad for a cameo - but it turned out to be a risky choice for the selectors, who will be kicking themselves as he is yet to get off the mark.

But today's big Oval battle concerned South African and West Indies, with the Windies upsetting the formbook and outselling their opponents five to one. The West Indies largely had the legend of Viv Richards, living on through the medium of 100% cotton, to thank. In fact King Viv, with his evocation of West Indies in their heyday, has helped his team top the table to date as the top-scorer for all teams in the T-shirt competition. Brian Lara, the other Caribbean representative, has proved distinctly unpopular, perhaps reflecting the fans' current disaffection with their team.

But they still came out in support of their nation today in numbers, although maroon blobs were only sporadically dotted around the ground among the green-and-gold ones. And, of course, the fans were not obliged to buy their caps, flags and T-shirts within the ground: many had come ready-prepared. And if West Indies fans were outnumbered, they sought to maximise their presence by blowing horns loudly and regularly, particularly in the members' section where, while they were busy tootling away unchecked, one poor chap using his mobile phone discreetly was asked to be quiet. Well, the sign did read "No mobile phones" and not "No horn-blowing".

This crowd, while spirited and enjoying good-natured banter, may have lacked the rowdy raucousness of Thursday's throng at The Oval after Australia had knocked New Zealand out of the trophy, but, given the injuries to some of the stewards then, this was perhaps no bad thing. Meanwhile, back on the outskirts of the ground it's like the good old days: King Viv reigns supreme.

Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.