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First-person reports from the stands
Choice of game
As someone who lives in Cambridge, opportunities to watch international or even club level cricket come few and far between, so when the tickets to this game came on sale, I couldn't possibly miss the opportunity to watch an Ashes Test match live. As it happened, after buying my tickets to the Oval Test, I got lucky in the Lord's ballot and chanced upon tickets to that match too, but I still wasn't going to turn down the chance to go to a second Ashes match in one summer.
I had never been to The Oval before this match, and what better time for an inaugural visit to the ground than an Ashes game. Before I even saw the team sheet for the match, I knew that England would make some changes to the side. With the Ashes already won with an unassailable 3-0 series lead, why not give some young players a chance?
Before the game, I expected Australia to come out and give it everything with England not fielding a full-strength team, including two debutants, Chris Woakes and Simon Kerrigan, and I was not disappointed.
The key man in this day's play was Australia's Shane Watson. Batting at No. 3, he came in with the score at 11 for 1, crucially needing to give a strong performance to save embarrassment for Australia. He certainly didn't disappoint, racing to a half-century at almost a run per ball, and by the time he got to his hundred, even the England crowd were warming to him. When he was finally caught by Kevin Pietersen on the boundary for 176, he saluted us, and we responded by rising to our feet as one to salute this fantastic performance. Watson scored over half of Australia's runs on day one and showed composure, confidence, and sometimes even arrogance from the start of his innings to the end, scoring 42 out of 50 of his first half-century through boundaries, with nine fours and one six, and giving us as spectators no choice but to feel warm admiration for this stunning feat.
One thing I'd have changed about the day
I hate to even say I would've changed anything about the day, but it would have been to have a more vocal crowd. Believe me, I, of all people, understand that it is difficult to maintain vocal support when your team isn't taking wickets and the opposition is scoring buffet runs, but I feel the England fans could have provided more support for their players during the long partnerships. In this respect, the Australian fans bettered the England fans today, remaining vocal and supportive of their team from the start to the end of the day.
Filling the gaps
Surprisingly for me, I spent the lunch break talking to some of the Australian fans to learn about their Ashes experience. I had a very enjoyable time speaking with a couple who had come on a seven-week holiday to Europe, with the highlight being three weeks in England, attending all days of the Oval Test. I asked them what they thought made live cricket better than watching on a TV screen, or listening to on the radio, and they said that apart from the atmosphere, they think what makes it better is being able to talk to the fans and hear everyone's opinion on what's going on in the match, because however many people you speak to, you will always find that almost everyone has a different view. I think what they said captured the essence of live cricket, because as I learnt while talking to them about issues like Stuart Broad's refusal to "walk" in the first Test, although we turn out in our thousands to share a collective love of cricket, we all have our own opinions on the controversial moments in the game.
The wow moment of the day came 17 balls from the close of play when a diving Pietersen caught out Watson. From my vantage point in the stadium, I saw Stuart Broad running in and bowling a bouncer to Watson, who hooked it; the ball flew through the air towards deep backward square, and as Pietersen moved towards the ball, time almost seemed to slow down. KP was running full pelt, almost along the boundary, with the ball flying in front of him. When he hurled himself forward and rolled over, nobody on my side of the stadium knew if he had actually caught it or not. But as we saw the spectators on the opposite side rise, we rose too, and the crowd erupted into cheers of jubilance as Watson was dismissed. Video replays showed us that it was a matter of millimetres away from being a no-ball, and a collective "ooh" was shared as we realised how lucky we were.
I always find in live cricket the atmosphere swells towards the end of the day. The same happened again today. After around 5pm, some members of the crowd began to form beer snakes, outlawed from cricket, so when the stewards confiscated the snakes, the crowd booed as one, and chants of "feed the snake" echoed around the ground. The Barmy Army were also in full voice as we neared the close, the horn players playing the classic BA tunes such as "God Save the Queen", "Yellow Submarine", and "The Great Escape", all of course with a cricketing twist!
There was a wide variety of fancy dress inside The Oval today, the most notable of these being two men dressed as Batman and Robin and a group of men dressed as English knights. The most comical of all the costumes today was a man who had come to the match wearing a blue dress and a Kate Middleton mask - the blue dress being an imitation of an iconic dress that the Duchess of Cambridge had previously worn. The winner of the best fancy dress prize however, was a group of ninjas, called Shaun and the Seven Ninjas.
Marks out of ten
8. This day of cricket was mainly a display of some brilliant Australian batting, with Watson showing his talents all day long, Steve Smith scoring a half-century and even Peter Siddle with a brief cameo at the end of the day demonstrating Australia's depth in batsmen. The sometimes funereal atmosphere created by the lack of noise from the crowd took some of the shine off an overall fantastic day of cricket, but the mere fact that Australia continued to give everything, even though some had argued that they might take their foot off the gas a bit with nothing to play for but pride, caused me to rate today as highly as I have.
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