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A sunny day at the Oval

Yesterday, Michael Jennings fixed up for the two of us to take advantage of the relative cheapness of final day tickets for a test match in England. Accordingly, yesterday morning, we and the many others with the same idea made our way to the Oval, home of Surrey County Cricket Club (which I support) and just across the river from where I live, to watch the fifth and final day of the first test match, of a mere three this summer between England and South Africa.

And the big news, from the point of view of any cricket atheists reading this, is that it really is now summer, finally. Look at all the clouds in these pictures. That’s right, there aren’t any. Click on them for bigger versions with more sky. Sill no clouds:

OvalPavilionS.jpg  OvalTVCameraS.jpg

On the left there is the view of the old pavilion and associated buildings and stands. On the right is a TV cameraman high up above the new stand, to our right as we sat.

And we sat, in the sun, for the two two hour sessions that it took for the game to end. I had thought of everything else. Camera: tick, obviously. Food: tick. Drink: tick. Binoculars, which I didn’t use, but: tick. But, sunhat: not tick. “Sunblocker”: not tick. Today, the day after (similarly hot and cloudless) my face is very red and feels like it has been punched just below my left eye. My right hand has also had a good sandpapering.

But it was a fine day out nevertheless, given that I had my camera with me. I know I keep saying this in various blog postings, but I can hardly find words to communicate how much more I enjoy days out like this, now that I can take a digital camera with me and concoct a photo essay about it all later, and then, much later, look back through the photo archives, or maybe read again a blog posting like this one, and relive it all again. What’s a touch of the sun when set beside that? Although it mostly very sunny indeed, big shadows did flit across the ground from time to time, cast by airplanes on their way into Heathrow. Here is a picture of this rather odd phenomenon, which I absolutely had not been expecting:


Shadows like this one raced across the ground so often that I suspect the pilots of using the position of their shadow on the ground, on sunny days like this one, as a means of steering themselves, and of using the Oval as a big landmark to line themselves up with Heathrow. It would make sense.

Or then again, maybe they just wanted to take a look at the cricket. Which, by the way, was somewhat of a disappointment to an England fan like me, what with South Africa just edging it.

The best moment of the day from and England point of view was when Ian Bell got to his hard fought fifty:

OvalBell50s.jpg  OvalBellApplauseS.jpg

Screens like the one on the left there add a great deal to one’s enjoyment and understanding of sporting events, I think, especially for someone like me with rather poor eyesight. (Luckily for me, my camera has far better eyesight than I do. I constantly see fascinating things in photographs I took that I never saw when taking them. See above, bringing camera to event, extreme pleasure of.) Cricket is a game such that if you look at it from side on (as Michael and I were yesterday), you frankly miss a lot of what is happening, in terms of the ball moving in the air and off the pitch. In many ways you actually get a far clearer picture of what is happening in a cricket match by watching it on television, because television cameras are mostly placed in line with the wickets. Well, thanks to these screens, you get a lot of those television slo-mo replays and computerised analysis of howzzat!!! moments if you are at the ground. Not like it were when I were a lad. All you had then was a primitive scoreboard.

On the right, above, we observe people clapping Ian Bell for getting to fifty. But the reason I show this picture is really to show you what the huge new Oval stand looks like. This was constructed only a few years ago, in what I now refer to as the “structure as decoration” style.

It looks good. But it also looks, when viewed from inside the ground, every so slightly drab and dirty, a problem with the structure as decoration style that I have already discussed here, in connection with the Pompidou Centre, in Paris.

It also didn’t help that the upper levels of this big stand were largely empty. It is obvious why. This is where the corporately sponsored get-togethers are got together, and Monday isn’t a good day for such corporateness. Corporate people presumably try to get at least some actual work done, at the start of the week. But couldn’t some deal be done with local school children, local club cricketers, friends of Surrey members, or some other such deserving human category, to at least put some bums on all those empty seats on the final day? It would presumably take quite a bit of organising, but I say, get organising.

As for the cricket, although South Africa eventually won comfortably, the day wasn’t a completely foregone conclusion. England couldn’t win, but they might have scrambled a draw, had they contrived rather more of the sort of batting that they did contrive for as long as the Bell/Prior partnership lasted. But when Prior went, England looked doomed, and when Bell followed not long after that, England were doomed.

And there was an abundance of South Africans present to enjoy it all, London now being very much that sort of place:


South Africa’s most successful bowlers of the day were (left below) spinner Imran Tahir, seen here doing his physical preparations just before coming on to bowl …:

OvalTahirS.jpg  OvalSteynS.jpg

… and (on the right there) Dale Steyn, seen in my snap above signing a pizza box. Note also the juice bottle between his thighs. By the time that Steyn snap was taken, he had already taken his five wickets, including that of Bell with only his second delivery with the new ball in mid-afternoon, which was the moment when the match ended as a serious contest. When you have effectively just won a test match for your country, I suppose a bit of fraternising with supporters is presumably tolerated, even if fielding concentration is somewhat threatened.

Finally, a photo taken when there was indeed not long to go, for this is England’s number eleven, Jimmy Anderson, only postponing the imminent end of proceedings:


But more to the point, much more to the point, we also see in that picture the redoubtable Hashim Amla, crouching at short leg. On the day before Michael and I attended this match, Amla had become the first South African ever to score a treble century in test match cricket. Not surprisingly, he figured prominently in the celebratory embraces that the South African team enjoyed as soon as their triumph had been confirmed with the fall of the last wicket.

Amla’s beard has got to be the best cricket beard since that of W.G. Grace, and maybe ever, an effect emphasised by the fact that he chooses to have no hair at all on the top of his head. Were he to wear a devout Muslim costume, Amla would look every inch the devout Muslim that I presume him to be. Yesterday, wearing a big sun hat (he wore a helmet when fielding at short leg, as pictured above), he had more the look of a Victorian gentleman explorer.

Amla’s performance is an aspect of this match that propels it from being mere sports news towards the world of actual news news, for Amla is a player who, during the Apartheid years, wouldn’t even have been allowed to play for South Africa. Steyn was the player of the day, on this final day. But Amla was the undoubted Man of the Match, and his innings will be long remembered.

4 comments to A sunny day at the Oval

  • Andymo

    “Amla would look every inch the devout Muslim that I presume him to be”

    The CSA has a special kit made up for him sans the castle lager beer logo.

    Also the guy in question when Dean Jones got fired from his commentary job for this quip “the terrorist has got another wicket”.

  • Well, let us just say that Dean Jones has never been known for the immensity of his intellect.

    Things like what Dean Jones said are obviously beyond the pale.

    It is presumably okay to comment on the magnificence of his beard in more general terms however. (I speak as a bearded man myself).

  • Actually the sunburn did me a hell of a lot more damage than I realised, even the following day. The next day it got worse, like I’d really been punched in the face. Another two hours of England forcing me to watch them lose, and I’d have been quite seriously damaged.

    As it is, having been hiding from the wind and rain for the last two months, I am now hiding from the sun, like a vampire. Today, another cloudless day until late afternoon, I waited until dark to put the rubbish out.

  • What I will never know is, if England had saved the game, would the price I would have paid in sunburn have seemed worth it?

    I now think: yes.