Angus Fraser: Magnificent to see such a diverse crowd on magical day at Lord's
What struck me was the age of those queuing. Not octogenarians queuing for a seat in the pavilion, these were young men, teenagers, children with parents
Tuesday 26 July 2011
It was only when stood on an escalator making my way out of St John's Wood station that I began to realise something quite special was happening. My journey on the Metropolitan and Jubilee line had been no different to any other. The trains had been fairly full of commuters on their way to work but in my carriage there were not an obvious number of cricket fans.
Then, suddenly, 10 smiling and excited young lads wearing T-shirts rushed past me. Inquisitively, I looked back down the escalator to see what was happening and was amazed to view a scrum of people queuing to leave the station.
It was halfway down Wellington Road that another queue, this time for the North Gate at Lord's, started.
What struck me was the age of those queuing. These were not octogenarians waiting for a seat in the pavilion; these were young men, teenagers, children with parents. It was clear to see the majority would not be shouting for Andrew Strauss and Stuart Broad once in Lord's but it was great to see.
One group of Indian supporters shouted at another telling them the queue was shorter if they went down Circus Road and into Cavendish Avenue. The advice was taken.
I looked at my watch and it was only 8.05am, still almost three hours from the scheduled start of play. With the match poised as it was and Sachin Tendulkar yet to bat, I had expected there would be a lot of interest, but not quite on this scale. It was magnificent to see.
After being searched, I entered Lord's and began to make my way around the Nursery Ground. John Stephenson, the MCC's head of cricket, was rushing the other way. "It looks great out there," I told him. "I know, I'm off to help sell some tickets," he said smiling.
For the MCC it was a case of all hands to the turnstiles. In an attempt to get the queues moving and fans in the ground as quickly as possible once the gates opened at 9am, men and women from the marketing, membership and cricket departments had been asked to leave their desks to go to the North and East gates, where tickets continued to be sold. Rumour had it that the floor of the ticket offices was awash with £20 notes. The money could be gathered and counted later. With 11am quickly approaching, all that was important was getting 25,000-30,000 people in the ground as quickly as possible.
Watching the ground fill was fascinating. Initially it was only the lower Grandstand, Mound Stand, lower Tavern and the upper Compton and Edrich that had been opened. By 10.30am these stands were full and there were still thousands of people teeming in. Then the Warner Stand and upper Tavern, areas usually reserved for MCC members and guests, were opened. It was quickly followed by the upper Grandstand, an area normally set aside for debenture holders. Like ants, spectators filled the seats in seconds. Then, finally, the lower Compton and Edrich opened. By 11.30 the ground was full.
It has been interesting to watch the nature of the Lord's crowd change during the course of this Test. Thursday, Friday and to a lesser extent Saturday were very corporate days, which resulted in large areas of seating being empty for substantial parts of the day. As with Royal Ascot and Wimbledon the initial three days of the Lord's Test are huge social occasions. Friends catch up over a glass of Champagne or Pimms in the Harris and Coronation Gardens behind the pavilion, and these areas usually remain packed throughout the afternoon.
This was not the case yesterday. Even the pavilion was different. On the final day of a Test, associate members – members on the 18-year waiting list – can attend and many of them are women. It was nice to see pretty faces among the sombre ones that normally frequent those seats. Elsewhere, whether it was a fear of losing your seat – due to the unreserved seating arrangement – or the desire to watch the cricket that kept the stands full who knows, but virtually every seat was occupied, at least until James Anderson managed to dismiss Tendulkar.
As this Test has gone on, the number of India supporters in attendance has increased. It appears as though large numbers of tickets only really become available to the general public towards the end of the match. An indicator of the number of Indian fans in the ground can be gauged by the roar that follows India taking a wicket or hitting a four. On Sunday it was loud, yesterday, when Tendulkar walked out to bat, we could have been playing in Mumbai.
There are many doom-mongers who say that interest in Test cricket is dying, and cricket must work hard to ensure it retains its position as the pinnacle of the game. But those who wonder where the next generation of Test followers are should have been at Lord's yesterday, because they were there, too, experiencing Test cricket at its best.
Angus Fraser is the former cricket correspondent at The Independent and current director of cricket at Middlesex
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