Cricket in the park: Park life saves best seats for common people
While the well-connected were watching the third day's play of the First Test at Lord's, a significant number of those without tickets did the next best thing. Across the city they sat on the well-worn grass - it is usually reserved for softball - of Regent's Park for a worm's eye view of the action.
For the first time the England and Wales Cricket Board staged an alternative to being there: cricket in the park. Spectators were invited to assemble, free of charge, in front of a big screen, not at the nursery end but the zoo end of the ground. It was for two days' play only, Friday and Saturday and the ECB say they are delighted at the response to the experiment.
On Friday the attendance gradually edged towards a 1,000 and yesterday the estimate was five times that. "I think it's a great idea," said Terry Ridgway who, with seven pals, travelled down from Nottingham on Friday morning. "We decided to make the best of both worlds." They had tickets for Friday and Saturday but were made an offer they couldn't refuse.
"We sold our Friday tickets for £350 each which paid for our travel and accommodation. We watched a little bit of the cricket in a pub and then decided to go to Regent's Park." On Saturday they duly took their places at Lord's.
Terry is a retired businessman. Sporting an English cricket hat he said the terrorist activity in London had not made him think twice about travelling to the capital. "I've more chance of being killed crossing the road." Crowd safety stewards at the Park were in bright orange and yellow which made them look like refugees from the MCC. A couple of police cars patrolled the tree-lined grounds and there was further surveillance by a few of the Met's finest on bicycle.
There were pockets of yellow but the suspicion is that most Australians chose to watch the Test from in a bar. Jess Mitchell, a student from Melbourne, did watch from in front of a bar - at the licensed premises end of Regent's Park. "I couldn't get a ticket and I didn't want to watch it on TV," she said. "I wanted some atmosphere and fresh air. Because of the trouble I didn't want to travel on the Underground so a friend gave me a lift. But for the bombs I think there would have been a lot more people here."
Cradling a pint of Foster's, Jess, who wants to go into sports management, was resigned to walking home to South Kensington at the end of play. "I've watched tennis and cricket on big screens in Australia and it's ideal for people who can't get to the event. They should do it for Wimbledon. I queued for four hours just to get inside the grounds and that cost me £17. They could have another Henman Hill in one of the big London parks. My dad managed to get a ticket for Lord's but it cost him £150."
Cricket in the Park, billed as part of "England's Big Summer", is accompanied by the ECB's Natwest road show which features a fast bowling competition, catching and batting. It's all part of the bigger picture, designed to regenerate interest in the game, particularly in state schools. A small number of kids were playing cricket in Regent's Park, deploying a rubbish bin as a wicket.
The two-day pilot scheme will be repeated at Cannon Hill Park in Birmingham on 5-6 August when the Edgbaston Test will be shown live on the big screen and at Queen Square, Bristol, on 12-13 August which will show the Test from Old Trafford.
"I think the idea's going to catch on," Tom Harrison, of the ECB, said. "We've invested £400,000 off our own bat and it looks like being money well spent."
Nobody got closer to the big screen than 11 members of the self-styled We Wear Panamas Club. Although the public had been informed that 150 tickets would be available for sale at Lord's each morning on a first come first served basis, the WWPC got to the ground at 5am to discover that the scheme had been abandoned. Touts, apparently, had infiltrated the queue.
The 11 Londoners made a detour to Oxford Street to buy deckchairs and arrived at Regent's Park with the lark. "But for this we'd have probably spent the day at a pub in Primrose Hill," said Breno Brown. "This is much better." They arrived laden with strawberries and champagne. Perhaps John Nash would have approved after all.
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