Cricket: When the bouncy castle is a positive attraction

Andy Farrell watches England failing to prove a marketing dream
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The Independent Online
On Thursday night a capacity 25,000 crowd will attend the first floodlit one-day international at Lancaster Park. As elsewhere outside England, the Cantabrians of Christchurch are less enthused with Test cricket.

The ground was a quarter full for the first three days of this match, which the marketing people were actually quite pleased with. They put their heads together and among the things they came up with was giving each day a theme.

Friday was Senior Citizens' Day (free tea and coffee!), while yesterday was Family Day. Children could have their faces painted and the practice ground at the back offered coaching in the nets and a bouncy castle.

Of course, there was plenty to learn from the resolution of Mike Atherton, as he became only the seventh Englishman to carry his bat through a Test innings, and the fascinating final session of the day. But there was also much that was unsuitable for a family audience.

Hopefully, many will have arrived late enough to miss the horrid slash of Dominic Cork in the first over of the day. And, fortunately, the X- certificate verbals later in the day between Cork and Adam Parore, apparently initiated by the reprieved Kiwi stumper, was not shared with the crowd at large.

Robert Croft's application was worth watching as he was the only England batsman to offer Atherton any support, though you would have wanted any youngsters of yours to be in the nets or the bouncy castle when he fell to Nathan Astle.

Astle's floaters proved the undoing of Graham Thorpe and he clearly has a career as a partnership breaker. Astle does not always get the ball in the right place, but then Croft obviously found his slower, leg-side full toss confusing enough and succeeded only in skying the ball to mid on.

Croft refrained from stringing himself up from one of the huge floodlight pylons around the ground and was thus able to gain revenge later in the day. The discovery of a new pair of quality spin bowlers has given Atherton an extra dimension which has been denied him for most of his captaincy.

The spin twins took control in a crucial session of play after tea and Astle, who withstood England for so long in Auckland, was mesmerised by Phil Tufnell bowling over the wicket. He finally got down the other end and cut Croft for four, but then tried it again and gave Nasser Hussain his fourth catch of the match.

The Bryan Young "No way, Jose" incident followed straight afterwards. Now a game that had often drifted and meandered as slowly as the River Avon around the centre of Christchurch was suddenly crackling with tension, as can only happen in a Test match. Though Atherton can tell Young how lucky he was to go unpunished by the match referee, Peter Burge, the reaction of the electronic scoreboard operator was even stranger.

Rather than concentrate on the cricket, the board thought it was time to become proactive in the audience participation. It showed a Union Flag and a flashing "Barmy Army", rapid repetitions of which form the sole lyrics to their theme song. More of a challenge was writing out all the words for Jerusalem.

This is actually one of the Barmy's better numbers and they got a big round of applause. But that so many should be distracted from the utterly absorbing events going on in the middle shows how far the one-day mentality is entrenched.

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