As Tendulkar, Dravid and Co were strutting their stuff for the last time, the demand was peculiarly ill-timed. Measured in any currency, India have brought more to the World Cup than the hosts, not least a batting line- up of extraordinary talent and supporters of unrivalled passion. But, of course, we had forgotten. This is England, where brilliance is greeted with appropriate gentility and cricket is dying on its feet. Is it any wonder?
A little later came another gem. "This announcement applies particularly to those at the bottom of the Radcliffe Road stand. By not sitting in your seats you are contravening the safety regulations and obscuring the view of the people behind. Unless you comply with the regulations you will be removed from the ground and you will not see any further play." At a Test match, which attracts a more sober audience, this might have been a legitimate request, even if the tone was high-handed and pompous.
But this is the World Cup and Trent Bridge was turned into a delightful, heaving, slice of Eden Gardens, Calcutta, exactly as the image of the tournament demanded. At the mid-game interval, a crocodile of waving, smiling, children filed on to the ground to demonstrate their skills at Kwik Cricket. The crowd was predominantly Indian; only four of the children were of Asian stock. Though much of the support for India was expressed in accents rather closer to the Mansfield than Madras, Bow Bells than Bombay, if anyone is failing the cricket Test, it is not England's ethnic minorities.
The depressing conclusion of this World Cup is that the game is moving away from its historic home with every passing day. And, on the evidence of yesterday, rightly so. The Lord's pavilion was half empty for the opening game while millions clustered round flickering television sets on the sub-continent. England have played a brand of one-day cricket well past its sell-by date. This World Cup may have been played in England, but the dusty streets of Lahore and the maidan in Bombay have been the tournament's spiritual and financial heartland. And when some of that joy is transported to one of cricket's great grounds, we tell them to sit down and keep quiet. "The World Cup has been a bigger event in India than it has in England," Rahul Dravid, the tournament's top scorer commented in a tone of disappointment.
Yet there was nothing wrong with the vision for this World Cup nor with the attempts to attract a younger, more vibrant following for the game. It might still happen. English counties are desperately trying to tap into the cricketing talent of the Asian communities, often finding that through no fault of their own their preference is to play in their own teams and in their own leagues.
A local Asian college on the outskirts of Nottingham forbids its pupils to play for the local Bridon CC. Nasser Hussain, born in Madras, might be announced as the new England captain this week, but there is still a lot of work to be done before first and second generation Asians discard their allegiance to their homeland and identify with the country of their birth as fiercely as Hussain. Counties like Essex report that while their under-age teams are stocked with talented young Asian cricketers, many of them give priority to educational qualifications and drop out.
If there is coercion by an older generation, it is subtly expressed. But no one at Trent Bridge would have blamed the young men draped with Indian flags, shouting slogans they probably did not understand, ears glued to mobile phones, from supporting the team in light blue. Cultural identity is easy when your team is bristling with heroes like Ganguly, Tendulkar and Dravid.
India will return home this morning, greeted with predictable condemnation, yet justifiably aggrieved by a format which can promote Zimbabwe, a team of suffocating mediocrity, above them. From the moment they won the toss and batted on a misty morning at Hove, they have played with a self-confidence and ebullience spoiled only by one loose over against Zimbabwe. For that brief lapse of concentration, they have been heavily punished, and the tournament will be the worse for their exit, on the field and in the stands.
Thankfully, most of the demands from the tannoy were wilfully and beautifully ignored. Maybe the antics of the Barmy Army with their relentless chants of "Ingerlund, Ingerlund" are more reflective of a carnival spirit than the drums and whistles of the Indians and Pakistanis. You fear that the sad truth for the future of English cricket is that the announcer spoke for more than a few disgruntled Nottinghamshire CCC members.Reuse content