England v Australia, 3rd Test, Old Trafford, 5th day August 15, 2005

Thousands join the jittery stampede

Roving Reporter from the final day at Old Trafford

Huge queues flock to Old Trafford, but as many as got in were turned away © Getty Images

Old Trafford cricket ground this morning drew the sort of crowds more often seen a few hundred yards up the road at the cavernous football stadium.

Lancashire CCC guess that at least 10,000 were turned away when the gates of the 23,000-capacity stadium were barred shortly before 10am. An experienced local journalist put that closer to 20,000. Crowds were sucked in by £10 entry on the gate and the prospect of an "I was there" moment. On a working day it was an astonishing turn-out.

The first reports of queues forming came at 11pm on Sunday night. By 9.45am one line for the 21,000 tickets available was six abreast and stretched 600 yards down Brian Statham Way. That was after the worst of the rush - and there were three other queues. Several England players, driving from their central Manchester hotel, were delayed after getting caught in the traffic snarl-up outside the ground.

The ECB belatedly tried to arrange a giant screen for the disappointed thousands in Manchester's Albert Square. The police spurned the proposal fearing public-order problems. So the only screen is a not-very-handy 160 miles away at Bristol.

As it was, the masses slowly trudged away, their frustration compounded by the temporary closure of the overwhelmed tram station. The most agitated stayed to barrack police and stewards. The most lithe climbed bus shelters and tried to climb the high walls of the ground.

The last magic Monday to draw similar attention was the decisive Oval Test against West Indies in 2000. Then, as now, England needed all ten wickets to seal the win, although with a 2-1 lead and defeat out of the question, the crowd enjoyed a carnival atmosphere in hot September sunshine. It was an astonishing day. One man at the front of the huge queues for the bar found his pockets empty save a cheque book. Strangers volunteered to swap an unguaranteed cheque for cash.

There is none of that happy distractedness in Manchester today. The bars and ground are unusually quiet. The fancy-dress boys are at work, at home, or nursing a hangover from yesterday. Under clouds above Old Trafford, the tension is greater, the prize bigger and the crowd far more jittery.

Paul Coupar is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer