First-person reports from the stands
I am a regular at The Oval and it says a lot about the English summer that I can only recall two sunny days watching cricket in all these years (fortunately one of those times was last year for the Ashes decider). So I was not surprised to see leaden skies as I opened my curtain before setting out for day four of this intriguing Test match.
I could not foresee any other result than a Pakistan win as I took my seat alongside my wife at 11o'clock. (My wife bravely stood up from the substitutes bench as my usual cricket buddy got his dates messed up and is currently holidaying in France.)
I am a lifetime Nottinghamshire, England and cricket fan, but a large part of me wanted Pakistan to ease to victory. Cricket desperately needs a competitive international scene and there is no long-term future in the same two or three teams beating all-comers. It must be the 1980s England supporters' psyche ingrained in me when a series victory was a novelty rather than the norm.
One thing I'd have changed
I'd have loved to see a full day's play basking in sunny weather. I belatedly realised I had tickets for day four (a rant about the crazy ECB scheduling is for another time) and was anxious about whether I would see any play considering Pakistan's form. I was pleasantly surprised that I was going to see a decisive outcome on the day, just a shame there was only a scattering of Pakistan fans there to witness it.
For anyone who has not been to a day's cricket before and are planning to go, I recommend the following essentials: sunglasses, binoculars, camera, and food. I had all these with me today and they made a good day out even better.
Everyone knew that if England were to win, Graeme Swann was to put in a match-winning performance. Sure enough it was the sixth over when Swanny came on, and despite bowling manfully he just had too few runs to play with. It was great to see Salman Butt, an emerging gentleman of the game, get back into form with a decisive knock of 48.
Interplay I enjoyed most
The opportunity to see Swann bowling to Mohammad Yousuf, the best bowler versus the best batsman, was one to behold. The qualities of both players shone through as Swann varied his pace trying to outfox Yousuf, and in response Yousuf playing watchfully, oozing the class that has brought him over 7500 Test runs.
Filling the gaps
Filling the gaps at Test matches means only one thing, eating and drinking. A day at the cricket means grazing all day on the snacks brought along to keep your appetite well and truly satisfied. We had a stock of cold chicken, pork pies, crisps, exotic fruit mix and muffins. It is also a truism that whatever you take along to a day at the cricket, you will be jealous of the food and smells around you. Today this included a man with a cheese board and someone else with freshly bought Hot Dog lathered with fried onions.
The wow moment for me today was my first experience of the Decision Review System. It takes away the instant excitement of a wicket being taken and does not always seem to be used to eliminate the obvious howler but it can only be a good thing and it is vital to keep the paying fans involved in the process.
Sometimes you can know when you are witnessing greatness. I have seen Tendulkar and Lara bat, Warne and McGrath bowl, and I can add Yousuf to this list. Whatever people may think of him, and he appears to be an interesting character to say the least, the man bats like a true genius. He looked assured and confident at the crease, today playing shots mere mortals can only dream of. While he was at the crease Pakistan were in no trouble of chasing down the target, and it was going to take a ball of the quality Jimmy Anderson bowled to remove him.
Shot of the day
Butt played a couple of sumptuous cover drives but that man Yousuf played a cut so late that he almost took it out of Prior's gloves off Swann. Simply wonderful batting.
The stands were packed and the crowd deserved a full, action-filled day. Alas that was not to be and until 2.15pm there was a general air of resignation in the crowd. There was an increasing realisation that they had spent out an awful lot of money to see 30 overs of play. And then Pakistan did what only Pakistan can - buckle at the sight of the finishing line. Tension grew not only on the Pakistan balcony but among the supporters who had patiently waited, hoping for some action to cheer. Sure enough the crowd started cheering every dot ball and roaring the bowlers on. Each wicket was greeted with an increasing crescendo of noise. So much so that England appealed for a caught-behind when no one could have been sure if an edge had been taken.
I have been put off attending in fancy dress since my friend was greeted with a barrage of abuse when dressed as Batman. He had "Fatman' sung at him all day. That said it is amusing to see men willing to make themselves feel uncomfortable for a day at the cricket and I found myself sandwiched between eight "Where's Wally" characters, each with a cardboard face cut-out of a Sky TV commentator, and a group of men with curly wigs and Mexican moustaches. If that didn't guarantee me being on television I don't know what will.
An honourable mention should go to the Test Match Special commentary team. It is hard to strike a balance between authoritative and knowledgeable and silly and banal, yet they managed to achieve this comfortably, broadcasting at its very best.
Tests v limited-overs
Only Test matches can provide the tension and drama the last half hour of this game provided. For one team to remain such hot favourites but appear so unsure of closing the game out is the backdrop to the magnificent game that is Test cricket. Long may it last.
What was heading for a disappointingly straightforward run-chase turned into a nervy, nail-biting stumble towards the final target. I always enjoy a day at a Test match but the ECB needs to resolve the marketing issues. Why the biggest crowd of the match were treated to three hours play due to chaotic scheduling is an injustice and demeaning to all those who made the trip to London despite it being obvious it was going to be a shortened day. The mood got brighter as England made a late challenge but it was not to be and a lot of youngsters who aren't as world weary and cynical as me may not want to come back for more.
Marks out of 10
10 of course. It's a Test match, the greatest gift that man has been given. To spend a day watching Test cricket is a day well spent!
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