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First-person reports from the stands
Choice of game
It is hard to envisage a situation where I would refuse the opportunity to watch an Ashes Test. As a Surrey member, the Oval was the obvious venue to choose. My only regret was that the series was already determined, thus affording England licence to experiment with selection.
While always wanting England to succeed, I generally like to see the opposition play proficiently. I hoped for a strong performance from both sides, not merely to provide a contest, but also to stimulate England. The course of matches has been closer than the current 3-0 series score suggests, and England need to improve on all fronts to be confident of retaining the Ashes in Australia this winter.
Steven Smith provided the best individual contribution of the day. His batting was firm and unfussy: the overall impression was of gradual progress punctuated by vigorous boundaries. The six with which he completed his hundred off Jonathan Trott was a fine stroke, and he maintained momentum after passing the milestone with diligent running between the wickets, capitalising on poor England field placements.
Best battle on the pitch
On this flat wicket, bat prevailed over ball. As a result, there were no extended batsman-bowler contests. The closest we had to a battle was that between Peter Siddle and Joe Root near the end of the day. Siddle bowled moderately well, managing to exert some pressure on Root's defences when he was in single figures. Root played and missed, and we wondered whether his slightly weak front-foot play would result in another brief innings. However, Root responded positively and scored boundaries with two well-timed cover drives. It should give him confidence for tomorrow.
Shot of the day
There were several good shots today. Smith's six off Trott and Ryan Harris's adventurous play off Graeme Swann were noteworthy. However, the best effort was Mitchell Starc's powerful drive to long-on off Chris Woakes.
Atmosphere in the stands when the rain fell …
Wet weather is something that one is accustomed to in England, but it still disappointing when it delays cricket. As the morning rain fell, we sheltered under cover in the stairwell of the Bedser Stand. Spectators remained in good spirits, their summer clothing contrasting with the grey skies. Some crouched near the windows and brought out their newspapers and puzzles to pass the time, others savoured the weak beer available in plastic glasses.
… And when it stopped
After 1.35 pm, the drizzle became very weak and largely disappeared for the rest of the day. The covers were removed to cheers. When the play began at 2.30 , the atmosphere in the ground was tepid. The first song came from one of the two Australian gatherings in the ground at around 2.45. After 3, Billy the Barmy Army trumpeter began to play his melodies. For Woakes, he played Looney Tunes (presumably "That's all folks!" as rhyming slang for Woakes) and the Hokey-Cokey. When drizzle threatened, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head wafted across the ground.
The amount of drunken roaring and number of beer snakes were low today. The lower temperatures and the dominance of the Australian batsmen must have been calming influences. However, the crowd bounced an inflatable banana around one stand, and just before the close, sang an impassioned, if musically unsound, rendition of Delilah.
The quality of cricket was moderate to good. Bowling was below average from both sides, but Smith's hundred and the energetic batting of the Australian tailenders were entertaining. From a cricketing point of view, I would give it six out of ten. As an overall experience, nine out of ten - the only fault was the rain delay. It'll be interesting to see how England respond over the next three days.
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Edward Gilbert is a humble public servant and member of Surrey County Cricket Club. Given that his early years following the game coincided with England's fallow period in the late 1990s, he feels that the success of the current side somehow contravenes the natural order of things.
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