Well, that was the ICC Champions Trophy. Will we ever see it again? There were 15 matches in 18 days, of which I shot photographs at nine games.
The Oval has been the location for some of the biggest matches I've photographed. Some of my most memorable days covering cricket have been there. I should call it the Kia Oval but I've also been around doing this for so long that I actually remember it as the Fosters Oval, the AMP Oval and the Brit Oval. The ground was almost used as a prisoner-of-war camp during World War Two.
In the '90s I remember shooting a couple of Australian Rules matches that were played there and at least one patron/spectator/drunk wandered onto the field after a match and relieved himself against a goalpost. I'm not going to go down the route of who has or hasn't had a leak on the Oval cricket ground, but suffice to say that that subject has been covered pretty well.
If players have favourite grounds (or grounds on which they perform best) then The Oval just may be my lucky place. My first Test there was in 1989, when Allan Border's Australian team were labelled the worst Ashes team to visit England. Chalk up a four-zip victory for AB then.
I covered every game of that 1989 Ashes tour and I'm too lazy to check (well, I'm actually at 30,000 feet with no internet access currently) but I'm pretty sure that the team arrived in April and departed the end of August. It was the tour that began with David Boon downing something like 52 cans of beer on the flight over. Tom Moody was apparently on medication and not able to have any alcohol, so he spent the flight counting Boon's cans.
A tiny bit odd to be at the Champions Trophy final and see Boon marching on to the ground as the match referee in a smart blazer, behind a couple of Beefeaters. I remember Moody saying that they had a press conference for the whole team after the arrival in London in spring 1989, and he and another player had to stand either side of "Boonie" to make sure he didn't fall flat on his face. I'm not judging and neither should you. It was a different era.
Anyway, back to The Oval. A couple of Ashes series have had exciting finishes there, and usually I perform pretty well myself as matches bubble up. In 2005, Michael Vaughan's England survived an absolutely thrilling last day with new boy KP being the century-scoring superstar. There were pictures aplenty that day, let me tell you. The match was concluded by the umpires walking to the stumps, lifting off the bails and dropping them on the ground. Seems odd when you think about it: someone only had to come along and pick them up.
Anyway, the fact that I witnessed the bail-removal exercise in 2005 meant I was ready the next year for that odd scenario when the Pakistan team, led by Inzamam-ul-Haq, decided to have a longer tea break than normal on day three to protest being penalised five runs for ball-tampering by the umpires.
"Sarfraz's eyes are wider now as he knows he is about to run into his team-mate. If this was rugby it would be fine, but to the best of my knowledge neither of these cricketers has played rugby at a high level"
After tea, when the umpires, Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove, were standing on the field with two England batsmen waiting for a Pakistan XI to come down the stairs and play the 12th session of the Test, I was aware that if one or both umpires approached the stumps, there could well be the spectacular "bail-dropping" ceremony again, and I had a remote camera set up also. After only a couple of minutes, Hair walked towards the stumps and with one hand removed both bails and dropped them. Quite a feat really as it's a little tricky to pick up two things at once without perhaps dropping one, but as the aim of the manoeuvre was to drop the bails, I suppose the chances of looking foolish were relatively small. My pictures of Hair and other photos from this bizarre day did very well in the newspapers, as only one other photographer captured that moment.
As a match bubbles up, it's good to have a plan of what to do. In the late '90s I'm fairly sure England defeated someone once, and I'd suggested to myself that as the final wicket fell, I should focus my camera on the captain, Mike Atherton. The photo that would sum up the victory was of a celebrating victorious captain. As the last wicket fell I had forgotten my own advice and missed getting a photograph of Atherton and his deputy Alex Stewart running and beaming, looking as joyful as Julie Andrews on that hilltop in the opening shot in The Sound of Music.
As I said, I've had far more good days than bad at The Oval. At the final last week, the atmosphere was terrific as India took on Pakistan. I always like the underdog to do well and most would agree that Pakistan were indeed the underdog against a very impressive and in-form Indian team.
So, as the day unfolded and Pakistan became firm favourites after they scored 338 and then took wicket after wicket, the time came when I had to make decisions about end-of-match tactics. The Pakistan players were obviously going to be super excited and I had to capture the best pictures possible.
Hasan Ali was bowling away from me, so when Jasprit Bumrah hit the ball high in the air and the Pakistan wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed moved towards the high ball as it fell, it was decision time. As the ball got closer to him…
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Frame No. 5338. Sarfraz is under the ball with his mouth open waiting for it to drop towards him (in focus).
Frame 5339. Sarfraz claims the catch but the autofocus has lost him for a second and the photo is not sharp. Not a problem, campers. Keep calm.
Frame 5340. Sarfraz is starting to react to catching the ball but he is behind another player, so again this photo is not sharp.
Frames 5341 to 5357. Safraz is running along, clearly excited, but behind other players and also an umpire, so the shots are not good and the autofocus hasn't locked on to him yet. There's not a hint of panic yet from me, as I'm confident he is going to continue celebrating for a while yet. It's less than three seconds since he caught the ball.
Frame 5358. Sarfraz is running and he's now in focus as the target in my viewfinder has got him. So as long as I pan right to left smoothly as he runs, I'll have a massive choice of shots.
Frames 5359 to 5390. Sarfraz runs on his own, arms stretched out in what I'm sure he'll say is almost the best moment of his life. Like a lot of parents, though, he'll probably say being at the birth of his child/children was a slightly better moment. Seeing a child being born is okay, don't get me wrong, but to me there is a bit too much blood, screaming (me), stress and the sheer unadulterated surprise that there is another person suddenly in a small room. It can be a tiny bit weird. Anyway, we digress.
So after not such a great start, I now have 32 different "in focus" photos of the winning captain running about on his own. It's now about six seconds since he caught the ball.
Frame 5391. Another player's hand appears in the photo.
Frame 5392. As well as Sarfraz there is now an arm and a leg in the picture. It's not a great look.
Frame 5393. Sarfraz (a whole person), and 54% of Shoaib Malik.
Frame 5394. Ah, Sarfraz and now a whole Shoaib Malik. It is now seven seconds since the Pakistan captain held the catch. Sarfraz suddenly has a concerned look on his face as he is running very fast straight at another human being
From 5395. Sarfraz's eyes are wider now as he knows he is about to run into his team-mate. If this was rugby it would be fine, but to the best of my knowledge neither of these cricketers has played rugby at a high level.
From 5396. Sarfraz is taking smaller strides now, which is sensible as the collision is unavoidable.
Frames 5397 to 5399. Sarfraz has decreased his pace and is preparing himself for impact. I have no idea what the look on Shoaib's face is at this moment. I'm guessing joy.
Frame 5400. Sarfraz suddenly leaps as he and Shoaib collide. The speed has been decreased and you get the feeling both men will be okay.
Frame 5401 to 5405. Five photos of a union between a flying man and his ground anchor. Other players are arriving in the right side of the photo.
Frame 5406. Sarfraz has twisted around and there are now four whole players in the photo.
Frame 5407 to 5419. Four players still in shot.
Frame 5420. A fifth player arrives.
Frame 5424. The fifth player leaps on the four and it's quite a pleasing shot, with four faces clearly visible in various states of rapture. It's 11 seconds since the catch was taken and up to now I have 76 in-focus photos to quickly look through and decide which ones I like the best and will send off in the hope of earning some kind of financial or ego reward. The first 21 images were messy or out of focus and of no use to me.
Someone is going to say that it too much detail. Of course it is. It's a test of your patience. The only person who might want to read stuff like this is Gideon Haigh.
Anyway, it illustrates the number of frames a camera can take in 2017. I have more photos of Sarfraz Ahmed than I know what to do with but in all seriousness this is when being able to quickly edit and choose which pictures are going to be cropped and captioned for transmission is really important. I choose eight frames from that 11-second period to send.
In 1960, at the end of a Test in Brisbane between Australia and West Indies, there were two photographers present and their cameras could only take one frame as the match concluded. I believe it took at least 15 seconds to remove the plate and load another one. Ron Lovitt of the Age newspaper took the iconic image of Ian Meckiff being run out after a direct hit from Joe Solomon ensured that Test was tied. He had one shot at it. I take my hat off to him. That's an impressive feat from someone who didn't have a "hose it" option.
NIKON D4 ISO 640 1/1600th sec f5.6 600mm lens