I went to my first test match today courtesy of my lovely friend and cricketing fanatic Laura – the final day of the fourth test at Kennington Oval.
The series had already been won and the match as good as over with England having enforced the follow-on and nearly 300 ahead before the final day had even begun. That said, it was well worth going to – not least to see what might be one of the final opportunities to see Tendulkar swing a bat in anger.
As with watching any sporting event inside the ground, the view and the atmosphere is one that television cannot match. Getting a feel for how fast some of the pace bowlers bowl at (faster), the distance between the slips (greater) and the overall size of the pitch (smaller) all feel different inside rather than on the big screen. Mishra and Tendulka also made very light work of any poor deliveries and short balls – bounding off of their creases like whippets on a greyhound track.
You also get a feel for the tactics that fielding captains employ – at what points they choose to pile on the pressure with close fielding and at what points they choose to back off in order to stop boundaries. England struggled once it became clear that Mishra and Tendulka were not going to surrender without resistance. At one point just before lunch I got the feeling that they were either running out of ideas or were still surprised that the two had not been bowled/run/caught out early on. You also got a feel for the body language of the players – which spoke volumes. Confident batsmen dispatched the bowling of unsure bowlers with ease – just as confident bowlers and fielders surrounded a succession of weak and/or poor performing batsmen like vultures circling for the kill.
It was only after the two went in quick succession (and what felt like against the run of play) that the rest of the team collapsed like a house of cards – with fewer than 20 runs to show for the remaining wickets. It was a shame that they didn’t score enough to get England to bat again – I’d have liked to have seen how England’s top order faired.
What was otherwise a splendid day out was tarnished by what to me is the over-commercialisation of the game. Every other bit of blank space had the advertising boards of a number of firms. You know you’re not in familiar surroundings when the boards have adverts for champagne and elite management consultancies and law firms. (Remember I was brought up watching lower-league football in the early 1990s during my childhood – executive housing developers we did not have, though the local DIY firm may have sponsored the match ball once).
The architecture of the old pavilion – which is a splendid construction in itself – has been splashed with advertising boards, which was depressing. It was like seeing a beautiful building being defiled by a pack of stray dogs marking it as their new territory – which is what it felt like the advertisers were doing. The advertising was loud, intrusive and vulgar – certainly not of the form that belongs in the realms of a test match. In a nutshell, it’s just not cricket!
The price of the food was also predictably extortionate too – unless £7 for a cheeseburger is value-for-money for you. Not that I had to worry about that. Laura’s a pro at these things and came more than prepared. (Also, I’m not good with alcohol during daylight hours so the prospect of either of us going on an all-day drinking session were remote).
We stuck around for the presentations to watch Mike Atherton’s interviewing style suck the life out of the stadium before making a swift exit to a pub far away from the sponsors’ reach and glare. A nice way to finish off my first test match. Cheers!