Darren Gough gave chase, more in hope than expectation, and was launching himself into a Derek Randall-style last-ditch dive when the ball hit a piece of debris, hopped into the air, and dribbled to a halt inside the rope. The debris in question was a champagne cork.
It is fair to say that in no game other than cricket could the course of play be affected by something like a champagne cork - something so extraneous, and yet somehow vitally symbolic. Who ever heard of strawberry punnets getting under the feet of the top seeds at Wimbledon, or Pimms jugs fouling the oars of a Grand Challenge Cup eight at Henley? But perhaps the most shocking aspect of the affair was the revelation that within the MCC membership there exists someone who doesn't know how to open a champagne bottle in a properly discreet manner.
Gough held the cork up for inspection in a bemused sort of way. Meanwhile, Vaas and his partner at the wicket, Eric Upashantha, ran three. Which meant that were the game to be tied, or England to win by a single run, the MCC member in question might go down in history, or at least into Wisden's Index of Unusual Occurrences, alongside "English Village Player Commutes From Kazakhstan", "Ball Lost In Spectator's Bag", and "Umpire's Towel Mistaken For Indian Flag".
The opening ceremony of the seventh World Cup turned out to be the sort of thing the English do with absolutely no flair at all. This, of course, might just be a backhanded recommendation for the English, given the amount of time and money wasted elsewhere on such fripperies. Tony Blair gave his speech without the benefit of a microphone, the whizz-bang skyrockets produced so much smoke that the entire playing area was obscured for several minutes, and the promised helicopters failed to materialise - although perhaps they just turned back, alarmed by what looked like St John's Wood in the aftermath of a misdirected bombing raid.
Children from local schools carefully unrolled the flags of the 12 competing nations on the outfield, joined by the one created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Commonwealth. This gave the public address announcer the opportunity to tell us that the fact that all 12 competing nations were members of the Commonwealth was an indication of the tournament's breadth. I should have thought the opposite, but no matter.
Miraculously, as they say, the sun showed itself for the first time just as Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama were walking down through the pavilion gates to open the Sri Lanka innings at a few minutes after the scheduled start time. It didn't last long, and the innings was to be interrupted by two rain breaks, but it seemed a fleetingly benevolent augury for the tournament as a whole. When it returned, as Alec Stewart and Nasser Hussain began the assault on Sri Lanka's total, the grandstands were soon in shirtsleeve order.
A great deal is riding on this World Cup, and to England the money involved should be the least of it. A good showing by a lively England would stand a fair chance of attracting the interest of the young, thereby reinvigorating the game in its birthplace. Gough's opening no-ball brought a familiar groan, but the champagne cork may just, in the end, turn out to have been the truer harbinger of the summer's entertainment.Reuse content