Cricket: Beer and jeers drive fans barmy

First Test: Boorish chanting, bloated bellies and tired Mexican waves ride roughshod over tradition as mob rule reigns at Edgbaston
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GIVEN that we now live in People's Britain, to criticise its citizens - particularly its "ordinary" citizens - is to step dangerously near the limits of what is politically correct. It is probable, however, that anyone who might once have savoured the traditional atmosphere of a Test match in England would certainly consider it a risk worth taking.

The atmosphere at Edgbaston over the last two days has been well removed from anything that could be considered traditional, although it is fast becoming the norm. The Rea Bank stand that constitutes the most popular side of the Birmingham ground has been filled with "ordinary" citizens, behaving in the way which the citizens of France will soon find so appaling.

It is an indictment of the standards nowadays deemed acceptable that they could probably be described as good- natured. All that this means is that they did not actually commit acts of physical violence. Otherwise, an assembly of intoxicated young men that presumably included representatives from every one of the Midlands football clubs, explored the more repulsive aspects of modern British youth almost in their entirety.

For anyone who had hoped to be absorbed in a fascinating cricket match, their behaviour was a distraction from which it was impossible to escape. If it was not the endlessly boorish chanting, little of which was connected with what was happening on the field, it was their obsession with the tired old Mexican wave. Time and again, arms would flail and bloated bellies thrust forward. The astonishing thing was that so many apparently sober individuals in other parts of the ground allowed themselves to be coerced into joining in the farce.

The mob motive, of course, is not to watch the cricket but to be themselves watched. This is why so many of them turn up in ridiculous wigs; orange and red are the favoured colours at Edgbaston. Others, hoping bored cameramen will notice them, dress as middle-aged women or "theme" themselves, as one group did yesterday by donning fall-out suits and alien masks.

Woe betide anyone not of their inclination who had bought a ticket among them, who was liable to be abused or mocked at the slightest provocation. No player posted to field nearby can have enjoyed the experience, either. Laughably, spectators have their bags searched for cans and bottles as they enter the ground here, only to be invited to visit the bars once they have actually gained entrance.

It will not change now. Desperate to put bums on seats and aware that the game itself is lost on a disturbingly large proportion of their potential audience, the cricket authorities now sell Test matches not as sporting contests, but as five days out, filling the grounds with sideshows as though they were adventure parks. Welcome to the Edgbaston World of Cricket.

The cricket did not escape the mob's attention completely. For instance, every four propelled by an England bat was greeted as though it had won the series. But the tense struggle unfolding beyond the beery haze as Alec Stewart's team fought to tighten the screw against a South African side working hard to redeem themselves, might as well have been happening in another world. Most fans just want a return to the days when people came solely for a nice day out and to watch some entertaining cricket.