James Marsh writes Pavilion Opinions. He is also a Tefl teacher whose students learn superlatives by being shown Graham Thorpe videos
The Lord's cricket fan, as noted previously, is an urbane species, albeit one a little rouged and snoozy post-lunch. Its counterpart in the not inaccurately termed "Party Stand" at Old Trafford has the same cricket-loving make-up, but with a DNA genetically modified by apparently being hurled through a vortex of lager and fancy dress. Their dwelling is a temporary seating area square of the wicket, a metallic edifice of scaffolding and testosterone, which Lancashire's own website describes as suitable for "those who enjoy a few beers with friends in a party atmosphere." In terms of the quantity of fluids consumed, this turns out to be a rather euphemistic assessment.
Around 40 minutes before the start of the day's play, the place is largely empty bar a few conservatively kitted out patrons who have arrived early and are peering over their papers watching the team warm-ups. The Indians are having their usual game of football, or at least something resembling football if it were played by Labrador puppies. Enthusiasm rather than expertise is very much the watchword here, but it's enjoyable fare. England are playing touch rugby, quite impressively as it happens. The atmosphere is so quiet and sedate you could be forgiven for thinking you are in for a day of similar tranquility to that found in St John's Wood. As the other seats start to fill up, however, it becomes clear this would be a misapprehension on par with backing Ravindra Jadeja to buy James Anderson a really lovely birthday present.
As Joe Root and Jos Buttler walk out, so the hordes emerge from beneath the stand. At Lord's, gentlemen's legs are generally covered in pastel-coloured trousers. Here they are largely uncovered and merely pasty, although those in shorts are almost outnumbered by those in costume. The propensity for cross-dressing is extraordinary: Pink Ladies from Grease, sturdy nuns with stubble and paunches, plenty of St Trinian schoolgirls with hairy calves protruding above their pop socks. Two people have come dressed as Lynx deodorant, although their gender is admittedly indeterminate. The atmosphere is already registering as jaunty on the high jinks scale. England's progress is serene. A boundary is greeted by the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street waving up at the big screen. He is accompanied by a lady dressed as what looks like Minnie Mouse.
Pankaj Singh finally takes a wicket. The cheers are doubtless described as ironic, but they seem heartfelt from the Party Stand's inhabitants. Spirits are rising, livers are opining. Shortly after, a delay ensues as people try to get back to their seats - unusual given that they aren't situated behind the bowler's arm. What could be causing such a hold-up? A medical emergency? Perhaps a bit of booze-induced fisticuffs the stewards are sorting out? Ah, of course. A 20-metre beer snake is being passed down over the entrance, having been as lovingly and meticulously constructed as an Atherton innings. To think people say that Britain's manufacturing industry is dead.
Time passes. A constant conveyor belt of men walk up the aisles like a legion of robots programmed only to collect beer and belly laugh. A few of the more eagle-eyed observers have spotted one of the Pink Ladies bears more than a passing resemblance to French footballer Franck Ribery. Chants are hastily assembled, largely centred on the midfielder's at times complex love life. On the field India are collapsing, each wicket greeted by a cheer that is a combination of leer and triumph. Four men dressed as the Jamaican bobsleigh team arrive in front of our group, worryingly claiming the quality of banter near their previous seats was inadequate. One of this dubious Cool Runnings tribute is towards the Inzamam end of the fitness scale. The black lycra with green and yellow trim is unforgiving. He looks like a snake that has swallowed a beach ball.
England's new front-line spinner is cleaning up. "Moeen, Moeen, Moeen, Mo-eee-e-een" to the tune of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" briefly takes hold, though it dies just as quickly, possibly as no one has thought to formulate any additional lyrics. The inevitable Mexican wave comes and goes. Inflatable bananas waft across the eye line. The Party Stand crowd are now near-universally baying at the home side's impending victory, a coliseum of tipsy transvestites giving their team's new era a resounding thumbs up. All except Ribery, who appears to be involved in an altercation with a vicar.
Cook's men triumph and eventually this arena of pandemonium starts to clear. The floor is a scene of devastation and ruin to rival India's scorecard. A dystopian mesh of cardboard fast-food boxes and Investec "six" placards floating in a lagoon of stray lager through which patrons are wading to either leave the ground or try and catch a word with the England captain, who has walked across to the boundary. One wonders what he makes of being engaged in conversation by a man dressed as a schoolgirl. It is the Old Trafford Party Stand writ large. A few beers, indeed.