Peter Roebuck: Great series shamed by crowd's abject display

Having paid a premium, the crowd still cheered when bad light stopped play
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The Independent Online

No sooner had the umpires ludicrously and pathetically taken the players from the field for bad light despite the fact that two spinners were bowling, than some bright spark decided that what the crowd needed was a chance to join some shrill chanteuse in a recitation of "Land of Hope and Glory" and that stirring ditty, "Jerusalem". Words were provided on the big screen in case some poor soul had forgotten them.

Before long the crowd, or at any rate those not cringing with embarrassment, was in full voice. Conduct appropriate in the more relaxed environment of The Last Night of the Proms had been transported to an international arena. A team had been invited to play a series of matches only to be subjected to this abject and crass self-glorification. They had come from a country that has fought side by side with its host in four wars. Numerous foreigners had also arrived to support their team. Thousands of children were watching.

And the worst of it is the bright spark was probably right. An opportunity to sing patriotic songs was exactly what the public seemed to crave. Of course, the vast television audience may have seen things differently. Despite having paid a premium for their tickets, large sections of the crowd cheered when highly paid umpires decided not once but twice that the light was too gloomy for highly skilled and highly paid batsmen to face slow bowlers.

Why? Manifestly spectators were more interested in England winning than in watching top-class cricket. They were happy because the interruption meant that their team had a better chance of drawing the match. To that end they were content to spend hours twiddling their thumbs. Anything was better than the possibility of defeat.

Even when cricket was played, the mood of the crowd bordered on the demented. To watch the faces of English supporters in the public stands when an Australian wicket fell was to see a mixture of hatred and hysteria. Not the least shock experienced while sitting amongst spectators was the discovery that the people singing about Andrew Flintoff were not inebriated students but well-heeled 40-year-olds. What the hell are these people doing with their lives? What the hell is happening in this country?

A few humorous souls in the stands did their best to lighten the mood. One self-parodic bunch raised umbrellas in an attempt to convince the umpires it was raining. Nearby Australians promptly removed their shirts and started to sunbathe. By and large the crowds have been cheerful and sporting. The crowd of the fifth day at Old Trafford was superb.

Birmingham was a fest of funny clothes. Plainly, though, a nastier spirit lurks beneath the surface. Sack the Swede, they roar, not sack the England manager. Is it the aftermath of the bombs or something deeper?

Despite the cricket, despite another magnificent contribution from a great all-rounder, this was a bad day for England. Far and away the finest moment of the sporting summer was the sight of Flintoff consoling his beaten foes at the end of the Edgbaston Test. Far and away the worst occurred yesterday.

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