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Virus-dodging in the Home of Cricket

August 13, 2021

Yesterday I had a lovely day at the cricket. By “the cricket”, I don’t mean The Hundred, which is a new variant of the game manufactured somewhere in a lab in England and designed to make the largest number of people wet themselves with excitement in the shortest possible time. I’m talking about proper cricket, which is more akin to the Peninsula War than the Battle of Waterloo.

The occasion was first day of the Test Match between England and India at Lord’s cricket ground, the London venue that calls itself the home of cricket. I grew up thinking that the game first appeared in the Hampshire village of Hambledon, but there you go. Members of the Marylebone Cricket Club, who own the ground – mostly jowly old gents with red faces, straw hats and cream jackets topped off with the distinctive bacon-and-egg MCC tie, who waddle about with a proprietorial air – clearly feel otherwise. The rest of us don’t really care.

Despite a couple of rain stoppages, the cricket itself was a joy. All seven hours of it, in which some of the most skilled batsmen in the world, using technique that would reduce Hundred audiences to drowning in their beer in frustration, dissected the England bowlers like a Japanese chef removing the poisonous bits from a fugu fish before serving it up to his trusting customers. Field-piercing shot selection, defence when needed and the ability to up the pace when the bowlers were flagging. A masterclass.

What was equally interesting for me was the experience of being part of a mass event in the middle of a pandemic. And yes, based on the evidence from around the world, we are still in the middle of it. So here’s how it went, through the eyes of someone who has tended to err on the cautious side since March 2020.

The journey to Lord’s for me consisted of a half-hour train ride to Waterloo Station, followed by a short trip on the underground, and then a ten-minute walk to the ground. On the two train journeys face-masks were mandatory. But in both cases about a third of the passengers weren’t masked. The few staff in evidence made no attempt to enforce the measure. And yes, you guessed it, most of the unmasked were the young ones. Which prompts me to send a message to the Mayor of London, whose virtuous messages about every journey mattering to him are all over the media: if you are unwilling or unable to back up your pronouncements, don’t bother making them. If you don’t have staff who are empowered to do something about offenders, the glares of old farts like me are only likely to provoke unpleasant scenes – not to say knife fights. A toothless ordinance, if ever I saw one.

When I joined other family members at the ground, we were all ready to show our COVID vaccination certificates, without which, we were led to believe, we would be denied entry. Piff paff. Nobody asked for them, so the vaccinated and the unjabbed could theoretically walk in and sit side by side. Once again, just words, it seemed.

As we made for our seats, we were subjected to a long announcement warning us that we were liable to be chucked out of the ground for at least sixteen categories of abuse. They ranged from the usual subjects like race, gender, ethnic origin and age to some really weird ones like marital status. I wondered what form the latter might take. Perhaps “oi you, what you doing with that wedding ring, you fat tosser? No bastard would want to marry you….” Unlikely, but possible, I suppose. I was surprised they didn’t warn us about casting aspersions on cockroaches (a Men in Black reference for the uninitiated) or hooting at some politician unwise enough to show up in the posh area. I fancy our blubberous Prime Minister might not have gotten the friendliest reception from some quarters.

By the time the action started, the place was packed, with barely an empty seat. In contrast to short-form cricket like 20:20 and the Hundred, which is pretty hysterical from start to finish, the dynamic of a large crowd at the start of a long-form international match goes through phases. Before lunch, barring the occasional roar when something significant happens, the atmosphere is fairly sedate – a bit like a Buckingham Palace Garden Party on steroids. Lots of chat, mostly about cricket, and among the young ones about who’s shagging who (overheard in the queue to the loo) and other matters of vital importance. A time for loading up on the beer without being carried away on the alcoholic tide.

In the afternoon, things get livelier, the roars get louder and the direction of the match starts developing. In this case, to India’s advantage. Down at our end, Moeen Ali, my fellow Brummie and favourite England cricketer, was cheered loudly every time he took his position close to us. No expulsions necessary in our neck of the woods. Being a humble kind of guy, he reacted to the adulation with a half-embarrassed smile. Unfortunately he didn’t have much luck when handed the ball. He suffered from the same slow evisceration as the rest of our bowlers.

After the tea break, the beer started to do its work. When Jimmy Anderson, the oldest player on the pitch and arguably England’s finest ever bowler finally removed one of the batsmen, the volume went up several notches. From the haunting chants of the Zulu warriors at Rorke’s Drift we went to roar of German tribesmen descending on Maximus and his legions in Gladiator. Neither battle went well for the attackers, and so it was for the English bowlers, who ended up with only two more batsmen dismissed, a fairly miserable haul.

As things proceeded to the bitter end, a goodly proportion of the crowd were at various stages of inebriation. This included a bunch of young guys directly behind us, who treated us to a spot of community singing. “Jimmy, Jimmy Jimmy Andursunnnn” “Sweet Caroline”, “Ingerlund” and other ear-splitting ditties. They may have been vaccinated, but I suspect that a few of them weren’t. So I kept imagining showers of little virus particles descending on us in an alcoholic breeze. So if this ends up being my last post, you know the reason why.

But looking on the bright side, a good time was had by all, and we were treated to an awesome display of skill, even if most of it came from the opposition. If I end up with a nasty dose of COVID, more fool me for emerging from my shell for a day. If staying at home to avoid the virus and taking reasonable precautions when venturing out is a matter of judgement, escaping infection when plunging one’s self into a maelstrom of eighteen thousand cricket fans, some of whom are absolutely likely to be carrying the virus, is largely a matter of luck.

But if good cheer provides an extra level of immunity against nasty bugs, then hopefully we’ll all emerge unscathed. And goodness knows, we need a few more doses of brightness in this grim summer, do we not?

As for me, you guessed it: I don’t like cricket – I love it.

PS: On Day Two, as I’m finishing this post, the Indian batsmen are falling over like nine-pins. Perhaps I wrote off the Zulus and the Germans a little prematurely. Which shows how gloriously unpredictable the game can be. Rather like COVID, in fact, but definitely more fun.

From → Social, Sport, UK

  1. “brummies”?
    sorry to be so limited in my understanding of English.
    Lucky for you, you don’t have to hear me speak it.

    • A native of Birmingham, allegedly England’s second city. A shortened version of Brummagen, which the locals used to call it. S

    Both TFL and the mayor
    Promise much but just don’t care
    For when I was last on tube and train
    Mask wearing proved still in vain

    And this when laws were still in force
    Yet they seemed not par for the course
    So until the mayor’s words are backed up with action
    Stop using council taxes to fuel attraction

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