Lords Day Five
Shh. Listen. What's that noise? Is it the sound of Piers Morgan mouthing off against the current England setup? Is it He Who Must Not Be Named continuing his ill-thought outbursts against the so-called #Strausslogic? No: it's the sound of 20,000 England cricket fans revelling in one of the most exciting days of cricket since the 2005 Ashes series, taking delight in the passion and positivity shown by the England team.
And it was noisy. Lord's fiercely (and rightly) protects its status as world sport's most genteel venue, besides perhaps Wimbledon's Centre Court, so it keeps the Barmy Army from buying block tickets, bans flags and Billy's trumpet and stringently polices its 'no movement during the over' rule. A trip to Lord's is a refreshing break from the noisier, dare I say trashier, ways in which we often love to watch cricket, with chants and beer snakes and sunburn; paradoxically it's equally refreshing when the cricket is so gripping that the sound of bowlers being clapped in to every ball and wild roars of celebration when wickets fall creates a pounding, gladiatorial atmosphere. We really felt like we had a hand in Ben Stokes' super over as he claimed the scalps of Kane Williamson and Brendan McCullum to the backing track of our encouragement.
In order to see more of this, we need more enthusiasm about Day 5 cricket, and I fully agree with Jonathan Agnew in his proposed lobbying to prevent all future tickets sales for Day 5 and leave them as cash only, on the morning sales. Financially of course it's great for the grounds to make their money in advance, but this has led to more cynical ticketing policies, such as offering no refunds if there is no play due to early completion of the match. Now, this worked for me when picking up £10 tickets for day 5 at The Oval in 2005 about four months in advance, but I fear it has led to parsimony from administrators that impacted negatively on the cricket supporting public. England fans love Test cricket and the buzz in the queue at Lord's (which took only 25 minutes for me to get through, despite stretching for over half a mile) was simply a marker of excitement and spontaneity. Making a decision to attend on the evening of Day 4, or in the case of the Addis Army newsletter editor, about 9.30 in the morning of Day 5, just creates tangible excitement you don't get when everyone's had this day planned for weeks or months. England cricket fans felt welcomed by Lord's, not hoodwinked, and with general ticket prices astronomically high and only rising higher, Day 5 on the day sales could be the only way many people get to enjoy a day at the Home of Cricket. Scheduling helped, too: can we please make sure there is always a Test match with Day 5 on the Bank Holiday in half term? Parents and children alike free to enjoy our great sporting venues and contests.
Interestingly, the atmosphere of positivity and enthusiasm in the ground appears not to have always been matched by media commentators. Alastair Cook's insistence on keeping a third man fielder for so long in New Zealand's second innings seemed to get a lot of airtime; in the ground, we knew it had gone a little flat for a while but also felt full of optimism about the final result. Andrew Strauss' chiding of Jonathan Agnew earlier in the match during the TMS lunch interval is entirely justified given the pervasion of negative commentary in order to create formulaic, self-serving media narratives. Cook is never going to be the world's greatest cricketing strategist, but he doesn't need to be. He has other strengths that make him worthy of the position of England Captain, and it is up to other players, senior or otherwise, to support him in the areas that he needs it most. Ricky Ponting had Shane Warne to run the tactical side of things: Ponting was the face of the side and by all accounts the better leader of men. Cook is far stronger than Ponting in these areas and it is up to the England management to foster an atmosphere in which Cook feels emboldened, not undermined, by support from his team.
Looking to the future, the ECB needs to sort out its leaks after the appalling treatment of Peter Moores and other embarrassing lapses in confidentiality and institutional decency. Restoring faith in both the team and the administration is one of the key challenges facing Trevor Bayliss, England's new coach about whom most fans have heard little. His name is familiar, but few can pin down his real strengths and weaknesses aside from his success with Sri Lanka, Paul Farbrace at his side. England's temporary coach made much this week about encouraging players to take to the pitch with confidence in themselves and their ability to play the attacking brand of cricket the public is crying out for. We can only hope Bayliss feels the same and produces the same results, or it won't be long before the clamour for Dizzy is heard more loudly than those joyful cheers of Lord's.