First-person reports from the stands

England v Australia, 5th Investec Test, The Oval, 2nd day

August 24, 2013

An Aussie spy at The Oval

Peter Bowman

Chris Woakes opened his Test run tally in impressive style, England v Australia, 5th Investec Test, The Oval, 3rd day, August 23, 2013
You are looking at the on-field high-point of a day filled with sombre cricket © AFP
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Choice of game
In 1997 I was lucky enough to tour with the University of Newcastle Cricket Club and attend the fourth day of the Lord's test which was marred by rain, but included Matt Elliott's debut ton. Great day.

This time, as our touring group was going to be in London for the Last Man Stands T20 world Championships, we picked the game closest to the tournament. Through our tour organizer TTGolf, we were very fortunate to be hosted by the Surrey Cricket Club in the India room for the day at the Kia Oval.

Team supported
We're Aussies through and through. We'd hoped we would see Australia bat but after getting off the plane in Dubai, we discovered the score was 4/307 and that we would most likely be watching our boys bowl. Upside to this is we'd get the chance to see the likes of KP and Ian Bell batting together. Who wouldn't want to see that combination blazing away on a balmy summer's day? Apparently the England team. What we saw was batting as though they were trying to save the series.

It's interesting to hear the English talking about how wonderful an effort it was by their side to grind out such a day. Talk about being poles apart. Unlike earlier in the year where they staved off defeat in New Zealand by batting out a day, this time they were 3-0 up with the forecast for rain on days 4 and 5 and they didn't even have a crack. Awful.

Key performer
Tough to name a key performer on a day when the cricket was so dour. I was impressed with the way Steve Smith bowled and the few times that Ian Bell played a shot it was great to watch. My man of the day though, would be Chris Woakes for hitting a boundary straight up. It was also the shot of the day - slim pickings on a day of stone-walling.

One thing you'd have changed about the day
The approach of the England team. I would have sat the England team down at lunchtime and told them to fire up. 'We've won the series. The pitch is a road. Let's have a crack. It's going to rain tomorrow. Surely we can't lose it from here. Let's give the fans what they want.'

Polite applause for 150+ ball 50s from the English crowd was diminished in the second half of the day by their own boredom when beer snakes and poorly executed Mexican waves became the centre-piece.

The ground was packed. The weather was fantastic. The service of the staff in the India room was outstanding. The cricket was diabolical.

Wow moment
Did I mention how negative the cricket was? My wow moment was talking to locals who genuinely believed their team had performed well on the day. While Australians have been blessed by the Border to Ponting years with success, we are happier when our team shows some heart and puts in some effort. I was genuinely blown away by the glowing praise of the home side.

The funny moment of the day was watching a beer snake break on the far side of the ground before seemingly being supported on our side of the ground as fair play and entertainment to appease the masses.

Crowd meter
The biggest cheers of the day were for beer snakes. Even the Barmy Army's trumpeter was scarcely heard throughout the day. Perhaps the shout of "Boring army, Boring army" should have been embraced earlier in the day.

Fancy dress index
We really didn't see too many guys in fancy dress but noticed the cave men being introduced to the ground. It certainly wasn't a carnival atmosphere but we were graced by a cow in our section. He must have lost a kilo or five in that suit over the course of the day.

Brass bands and Kia racing cars were the two stand-outs for me. Kids (big and not so big) lined up to challenge themselves on the Kia racing remote control cars. Laughs were aplenty in the only driving event you could compete in and not worry about the fourth pint you had just had.

We were treated to a wide selection of seafood, stir-fries and curried meats as well as build your own burgers for those with less adventurous palates.

It was a real treat to have Jeff Thomson and Mark Butcher host a 20 minute chat at lunchtime. Would have been great to get a few photos with the guys post discussion, but they were on the clock and looked like they had to motor to the next venue.

We were also lucky enough to win a bat signed by Andrew Strauss and Mike Gatting. The raffle was in support of a great cause here in the UK.

Tests v limited-overs
I'm a cricket tragic. I love a contest and I love the fight it doesn't matter what format.

I've been blessed over the years to be at the ground when Steve Waugh hit his ton off the final ball in Sydney, Matthew Hayden smashing runs all around the WACA vs Zimbabwe on the way to world record, Glenn McGrath's 50 at the Gabba, Michael Bevan's match-winning last-ball four against the West Indies, and Sachin Tendulkar at the Adelaide Oval. Each of those games highlighted what is great about our game. Mental toughness, great skill, passion and fight. I don't like cricket. I love cricket. But I love seeing positive cricket in any form. We didn't see that yesterday.

Enhanced viewing
The Oval really has a wonderful set-up for viewing. Two clear replay boards and the relatively close proximity meant you didn't struggle to see the score or information provided on the day.

I carried to the ground with me my club tie and baggy yellow-red. They didn't help my viewing, but helped start conversations. As a proud life member of the Woden Wanderers Cricket Club, I've sported the red and yellow all around the world. The similarity to the MCC colours did pose a number of questions late in the day. Some wondered why someone working for the MCC was supporting Australia.

It may sound like we didn't have fun. That couldn't be further from the truth. The people were engaging, the crowd tried its best to stay involved and customer service provided by the Surrey Cricket Club was second to none. We saw glimpses of the talent in the English side. Just not enough.

The cricket was stodgy, cold, boring and uneventful. Not even the DRS could generate more banter.

The Oval is an outstanding venue to watch cricket. The thing I appreciate the most about the smaller Test grounds in the UK is the feeling that you could reach out and touch the players as they're so close. That you're really a part of the contest and you're cheering could influence the outcome. I'd love to come back again one day and see some attacking cricket.

Marks out of 10
Venue, service, people, food and drink - 12/10. Cricket - 2/10.

With apologies to Lord Tennyson, it is better to have tried to win 4-0 and have failed than to grind out a 3-0 series win. Or to paraphrase a former Australian prime minister, "Well may we say God save the Queen… for no one will save the crowd from English cricket."

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Peter J Bowman is a cricket-loving husband to Nicole and Father to Fletcher. Co-founder and life member of the Wooden Wanderers Cricket Club in Canberra, Peter is also the franchise owner for Last Man Stands T20 Cricket in Canberra and Newcastle Australia. He is a firm believer in sport as a tool for positive change. He is in London to compete in the LMS World Championships with 3Short.

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