Back at the spiritual home
Jenny Thompson reports on the atmosphere at the first Twenty20 between England and West Indies at the Oval
Chris Gayle and Paul Collingwood toss up for the first Twenty20 international between England and West Indies
© Getty Images|
Many years have passed since it was considered fitting that Kensington Oval in Barbados and Kennington Oval in South London were separated only by a letter.
Gone are the days when West Indies' migrant population brought a great atmosphere to their spiritual home in London; their pride in their cricket greats reflected through joyous whistles, steel bands and singing. These days, that pride seems to ebb with every abject defeat but tonight, however fleetingly, West Indies' fight was back. The scenes at the end were reminiscent of their last visit to The Oval in 2004, when England were again the vanquished opponents in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy.
West Indian fans still flocked in to the last day of the Lord's Test to cheer on their side; the lower prices no doubt helped. The ECB may have missed a trick in not scheduling an Oval Test this year - although fans may have been priced out of The Oval anyway, echoing the hollow World Cup experience. But at least they have their two Twenty20s.
But where are the West Indian fans today? There were few here to witness Devon, Shiv and Marlon beast the England attack. The £35 price tag may have proven prohibitive for some. The ban on musical instruments - "because of crowd complaints", apparently - will not have helped; a shame, because with such good cricket on display there was quite a lot to trumpet.
A steel band was playing by the Hobbs Gate upon entering; this was encouraging, but they were professional and calculatedly corporate. Sadly, their name, Nostalgia, proved only too apt. Once the game got underway, the only musical (if that's what the monotone sole note could be called) accompaniment was a lone contraband horn, fired up as late as the 14th over.
There was still an atmosphere - as with any Twenty20 - but it wasn't quite carnival. Close your eyes and you could be at pretty much any domestic Twenty20 played here by Surrey. Open them and it could be the same - there were plenty of caucasian faces. The very fact, though, that Surrey can expect big crowds almost by right is an ongoing testament to the success of Twenty20.
At least tonight's game has happily broken an unfortunate connection between the two Ovals. The last time each ground hosted an international, the match finished in farce. At Kensington in April, the World Cup final ended, sadly somewhat fittingly, in gloom. Here at Kennington last year, England and Pakistan descended into Oval-gate.
So thank goodness, then, for a totally different kind of international cricket to lift the smog. Twenty20s revived not just the crowds (numbers-wise, if not diversity-wise), but the teams as well. It was a chance to blast away the cobwebs, and they certainly seized it.
Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo