By Anthony K
The English sporting establishment are a clever lot. They know just how much they have to offer the great unwashed to preserve the status quo. Rain at Wimbledon, requiring Sunday play, but no time to get the corporate fans mobilised? Throw it open to the public, make a few extra quid and appear inclusive all at the same time. Job’s a good ‘un. Another strawberry, your Highness?
And so to Lord’s on Monday. Arriving just before 8 and taking ten minutes to get to the back of the queue for the North Gate, this correspondent marvelled at the enduring appeal of a day at Headquarters and got to know St John’s Wood a little better than he had before. A good-natured mix of fans of both sides queued with impeccable patience and talked excitedly about the prospects for the day, save for the kids, mostly in India shirts, playing cricket in the road. At 8.30, we were off and running and inside by 9. An open choice of seating made the finding of a decent perch the first priority and this was secured just to the right of the sightscreen in the upper section of the Compton Stand. By 9.30, every seat was taken, with Indian fans certainly winning on noise and probably on numbers too.
The policy of letting under-16s in for free was a conspicuous success, though every Indian fan seemed to turn into a nine-year old when Sachin came out for a look at the playing surface. A few uncharitable England fans had some fun with this later in the day when he was out, but it was a very welcome change from the apathy that accompanies quite a few opponents these days. The noise levels rarely dropped and by mid-afternoon, every Indian run was being cheered. By tea, it was every dot ball, as even the most optimistic accepted that survival and getting to Trent Bridge level was the best they could hope for.
As we all know, they didn’t manage it, thanks to some wonderful bowling, led by Jimmy Anderson’s 5-65, ably supported by a resurgent Stuart Broad and a menacing but rather unlucky Chris Tremlett. For India, there was a fine battling effort by Suresh Raina and a hilarious cameo by the celebrated brain donor Harbhajan Singh. By the end of the day, there were defiant renditions of “We are the champions” and talk, quite correct, of there being plenty of cricket yet to play in the series. Thankfully, in the absence of Lord Tebbit, there was no retaliatory nonsense from the England fans, just a little schadenfreude.
In the end, and in spite of this observers’ initial cynicism, the day was a resounding success for the MCC. Lord’s was full for a fifth day and thousands were enticed there for the first time. Twenty pounds was a price as perfectly pitched as anything Anderson was able to offer and the level of noise and excitement was a joy to behold. Many of them will have been won over to Test cricket and will be back again and, if you care about the future of this form of the game, you can’t put a price on that.