England v Australia, 5th Test, The Oval, 2nd day September 9, 2005

Scaling the heights and plumbing the depths

Andrew Miller watches the Oval Test from a variety of vantage points



'It's a bit of a hike, but if there are two of you it's ok' © Getty Images
Back in the early weeks of the season, when Surrey were playing Sussex and the only spectator was a lost fox on the top of the Oval gasometer, a troupe of journalists donned their hard hats and reinforced wellies, and were taken on a tour of the all-but-completed OCS Stand.

We began, appropriately enough, at the top. Hoisted to the roof terrace in an industrial lift, we oohed and aahed at appropriate moments, before weaving down the plywood corridors and past a maze of dangling light fittings, allowing our mind's eye to wander as we drank in the possibilities that these new views would give us.

"These will be the broadcasting suites," our guide explained as we hovered in front of a cavernous array of prime third-floor real-estate. Very airy and spacious. "And here's the Australia Suite and the India Room ..." For that corporate bonanza, you really couldn't ask for more. "And here is the press box ..." Ah.

Suddenly the grandeur of the venue had been brought down a peg or two. On the bright side, we would at least be situated nice and close to pitch level, and right behind the bowler's arm as well. The room though felt cramped and claustrophobic, and that was without the rows upon rows of desks and power-points that would be needed to support this end-of-season media invasion.

As for those aforementioned plus-points - they've not exactly proved the flavour of the month, either. At the behest of the England management, a glass sightscreen has been hastily erected to protect the batsmen from the sudden movements of absent-minded scribes. The effect has been to give those in the front tiers a pixelated glimpse of a darkened ground, and those in the back tiers a gleaming reflection of an array of lap-tops. A rather hazy view of the cricket is little more than an afterthought.



Mark Butcher at the topping-out ceremony for the new OCS stand in January. The view then was much better than it is now © Getty Images
Suffice to say, the Oval pressbox is not the most alluring part of the ground, which is ironic, seeing as there are some hitherto run-down corners of Kennington that have suddenly become the places to be and be seen. Take the residents of a first-floor flat in Lohmann House, for instance. For 360 days of the year, this red-brick turn-of-the-century building is just another part of the sprawling Kennington Park Estate. Now, however, its views are the pride and joy of its residents, who have sat, unmoving, on their window-sill for every ball of the match.

"Best seat in the house!" declares a satisfied tenant, seated proudly on his England flag, and peering straight over the back of the Peter May Enclosure and into the midst of battle. A mere 100 yards down the road, an entire penthouse has been rented out for £23,000, but this window, I was told, could be mine for a mere £50 a day. Any enquiries for the weekend, they asked me to ask you, just shout them up from the pavement.

There is, however, an even cheaper, if dicier, alternative. Right next door to Lohmann House and looming over midwicket is a derelict red-and-green-trimmed pub - called The Cricketers, appropriately enough - which has been padlocked, boarded up and gated off, and has nothing but weeds growing where its tables would once have been. Prime squatting territory, then, and sure enough, perched proudly on the chimney pot is an Australian fan and his English mate, whose pictures adorned most of the papers in the country this morning.

"Oh yeah, I've got my copy!" he says, brandishing his moment of fame as he hollers down from the rooftops. How did they get up there, I wonder? "Oh, we just climbed over the gate, around the railings, and up the back. It's a bit of a hike, but if there are two of you it's ok."

Further in the distance are the country's luckiest builders, allegedly retiling the roof of the country's unluckiest homeowner, while on the opposite side of the ground, a throng of pupils gather in the window of the Archbishop Tenison's School. Panoramic views are available to all then - except those embedded in the bowels of the press box. But who am I to complain? I'll just go and roost on the roof terrace instead.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo