England v Bangladesh, 1st Test, Lord's, 1st day May 26, 2005

Lord's courts the youth vote

Andrew Miller reports on Bangladesh's debut at Lord's



Bangladesh had plenty of support at Lord's © Cricinfo
The buzzword of the summer so far is Youth. On Tuesday, the ECB talked boldly of the need to regenerate an interest in schools cricket with the launch of its "Chance to Shine" initiative in Bethnal Green. Today Bethnal Green, and Bow, and Tower Hamlets, and a host of similarly initiative-friendly East End boroughs descended on North West London, as Lord's threw off its stuffy image and suffered the little children to come unto the hallowed turf.

Some 5000 free tickets had been handed to a selection of schools from Hillingdon to Hackney, and these ensured that the falsetto squeaks that echoed around a two-thirds-full Lord's were not just emanating from Bangladesh's persecuted batsmen. To stand in the lower tier of the Edrich Stand was to invite tinnitus, as a rabid enclave chanted "England! England!" to a bemused (Welshman) Simon Jones, fielding on the fine leg boundary.

The kids didn't give two hoots about the one-sided nature of the game - any chance to watch stumps cartwheeling, Freddie Flintoff bounding in in celebration and 13 men in white, instead of one dour teacher and a whiteboard, was excuse enough for a racket.

Among the noisiest in residence were the Kwik-Cricketers of the Hague Primary School in Bethnal Green, kitted out in their red Vodafone logo-ed T-shirts. As the lunchbreak approached, they congregated on the stairwells, dangling bats and stumps over the balcony and harassing their two long-suffering teachers, as they awaited their chance to demonstrate their skills on the outfield.

The vast majority of the children on show were of Bangladeshi origin and most of them practiced their skills in a weekly after-school session. Their allegiances, however, were by and large with the victors. A straw poll showed an overwhelming support for England in this match - only the loudest and the brashest dared to back the losers.

They weren't so hot on their heroes' identities, however. "I don't know any cricketers' names," shrugged one, while another volunteered "Michael Vaughan!" after a fair bit of prompting. A similar schoolparty in the upper tier showed similar indifference, although they had no such problems recalling Steven Gerrard's name after the events of Wednesday night. The ECB recently unveiled a mission to identify "role-models" for the next generation - it is clear that their drive has come in the nick of time.

Away from the cacophony, the Bangladeshi fans gathered in subdued knots. Not the vast diaspora that had been predicted for this first day, but enough to make their presence felt nonetheless. "There'll be a bigger turn-out for the one-day matches," said Shameran Abed, a 23-year-old student, who was sat with two of his childhood friends from Dhaka, all of whom now live in England. Sensibly, they had not been getting their hopes up for this game, but somehow they were still being crushed as we spoke.

Sham's friend was on the phone, at least until an overzealous steward leaned forward to tell him to switch it off - which seemed something of an over-reaction given the excess of white seats all around us. "That was my brother," he said as he hung up. "He never bothers watching cricket unless Bangladesh is playing. Mind you, that's the case for most of us - coverage over here is rubbish."

And it's true. In Bangladesh, as in the whole of the subcontinent, there is hardly an international match that goes uncovered by one network or another - even that unappealing bunfight between Zimbabwe and New Zealand in August is likely to attract at least a polite bid or two. It's a sobering thought that, come next summer, the only free-to-view cricket available in England may well be session-by-session highlights of county matches at Hove, as broadcast over the internet by the pioneers at Sussexcricket.tv, using two fixed cameras behind the bowler's arm.

Coverage of today's debacle won't be in short supply, however, for up in the press box, the knives were beginning to sharpen. Like the first cuckoo of spring, the familiar refrain: "End this farce now" sounded out from the tabloid corner of the room, before three Bangladeshi radiomen burst into a spontaneous smattering of applause as the tenth-wicket pair of Shahadat Hossain and Anwar Hossain Monir brought up their hundred in a frantic finale. By this stage, however, Ian Botham had seen enough for one lifetime. He was sat out the back watching golf in an emphatically disinterested statement, no doubt preparing himself for an unscheduled round or two this weekend.

Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Cricinfo