Fab day for the fans
Cricket remains secondary in England except when it comes to The Ashes. In the years to come, though, the theory will be sternly tested. Cue the 2009 World Twenty20: the tournament went on for 16 days, spread over three venues across London and Nottingham, culminating in a final at Lord's on Sunday attended by a sellout crowd. Surprisingly, even the old traditionalists, the MCC members who had ignored most of the event, decided to turn up in strong numbers today, flashing their bacon-and-eggs ties proudly.
This was the first time two teams from the subcontinent clashed in the final of a big event at the world's most famous ground. It was a big test given the tournament, and crowd, and having witnessed most of Pakistan's games there was no doubt that their raucous supporters would make sure their chants of 'Pakistan zindabad [long live Pakistan]" were heard as far as West Ham, Ilford and Southall if not Lahore, Karachi or Rawalpindi.
Not sure if it was by coincidence or by design, the organisers decided to hold the final on the longest day of the year. England's bright summer continued as Lord's was basked in sunshine - cricket lovers didn't need more motivation to turn up from early morning.
Steve Elworthy, the tournament director, asked if he would have imagined the final to be such a raging success in the absence of India, said his team had promoted the event cleverly. "We went to Brick Lane on 'Baisakhi [the harvest festival]' and set up a tent to market the event to the Bangladesh fans. We tried to reach out as many areas with Asian ethnicity in England to educate the fans and attract them to the event."
Smart thinking, given the healthy crowds witnessed at The Oval and Trent Bridge.
The English don't warm up to sporting events like their arch-rivals Australia who, as South African cricket writer Neil Manthorp once said, would "turn out in thousands to witness even a cockroach race." Football remains England's No. 1 sport, followed by rugby and cricket. However, despite the threat from events like the Lions' rugby tour, a Formula 1 race and the US Open golf, the World Twenty20 managed to garner some newsprint, in addition to the air time on radio and television.
Even if the tickets were somewhat steep, priced at £50, £60 and £90, the fans did not mind spending the money. Apart from the final, some of the best games in the tournament were the warm-up clash between India and Pakistan at The Oval, the opening game between England and the Netherlands, attended by 1200 odd colourful Dutch fans dressed in traditional orange, the crunch India-England Super Eights game, and both the semi-finals.
The most distinguishing feature about this tournament was the rich quality of cricket, a far cry from the hitting contest prevalent in both IPL seasons. Probably that prompted a member to say: "I've never been a fan of Twenty20 but this was something else." There were thousands of more converts by the end of the event.
A Sri Lankan family cancelled their barbecue to arrive for the final without any tickets. Little did they know to enter the home of cricket was as expensive as finding a seat at Centre Court on day one to watch Roger Federer. The cheapest bargain they found was £300 per ticket, a pound more than the price to watch Federer play tomorrow.
Fans had booked ticket months in advance. "Ninety percent of the tickets for the final were booked six months ago," Elworthy said. A Sri Lankan fan anticipated a final against India and had bought the ticket three months in advance. "I'm happy we are here but feel sad that India aren't."
But if anyone was taking the mickey out of the India's absence it was the boisterous Pakistan fans, who had invaded grounds in large numbers throughout the tournament. The Pakistani band Vital Signs' age-old hit Dil, dil Pakistan reverberated through the afternoon as Younis Khan's men silenced Sri Lanka emphatically. "Dear India, you can hide your tears, you (are) pussycats. R (you are) no match for our 'majestic lions'" read a banner in one of the stands. The banter was sporting and taken by the Indian fans in the right spirit. "I bought my ticket from an Indian," was another poke at the former world champions.
Twenty20 cricket's biggest achievement has been to attract fans who had never ever seen or heard about the game. There were a bunch from Kosovo, supporting Pakistan even if they couldn't tell Shahid Afridi from Umar Gul. Apparently a form of cricket is famous in Kosovo and is known as 'guaxha' (pronounced 'goojah').
Would Lord's witness the same sort of intense fervour once again in a month's time when the second Test of the Ashes would be played here? "No, there will be nothing like that. As Australia run through our batting, the English fans will be drowning in tears," said an ECB official.
But today was all about celebrations and the chants like "jive, jive Pakistan. Chand sitara Pakistan. Jeetaga Pakistan. Pakistan jeetega" poured into the streets outside the Grace, North and East Gates outside Lord's.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo