The famous five - full to bursting

Cricket Diary

Something happened at The Oval in the final Test which has never occurred before in the history of English cricket. The ground was full on all five days of the match.

Something happened at The Oval in the final Test which has never occurred before in the history of English cricket. The ground was full on all five days of the match.

There have been three-day capacity houses before, there may have been final days which drew a capacity attendance but never, not in the Age of Grace, the Golden Age, the era of Hobbs, the triumphs of Hutton, the coming of Botham has an entire match been a sell-out.

The scenes on Monday as England beat the West Indies were extraordinary. Some 3,000 people were locked out, some 20,000 got in. The first four days each produced attendances of 18,500, so the total was not far short of 100,000. Asked whether he might have invited future potential sponsors to see what the fuss was about, Terry Blake, the ECB's marketing director: "No, I'm not an opportunist." Why not?

As recently as 1997 The Oval Test was played to full houses (official figures put the total crowd at 60,123) but the match finished on Saturday afternoon. Back in 1926 the trouble was not the final day which was crammed to the rafters - it happened to be the fourth day but the match was scheduled to be timeless - but the first.According to Wisden: "While on Saturday [the first day] theattendance did not exceed that of a popular county match - the public having been frightened away by prophecies of over-crowding at tales of all-night vigils outside the ground - the crowd on Monday was so large that the gates had to be closed."

So it was in 1953 when the Ashes were again at stake in the last match. "As in 1926, stories of long all-night queues frightened away many would-be spectators on the first day." By the fourth and final day The Oval was full.

There were no such scare stories for the recapture of the Wisden Trophy in 2000. True the first four days had been sell-outs because these days you have to buy in advance, but nobody expected queues round the block on Monday. Four thousand was an optimistic assessment. It was a historic day, it demonstrated the residue of goodwill towards cricket in England and, bearing in mind the result, it might have been a turning point for the game.

 

The moment, as so often, was captured by John Arlott: "The shadow of cloud just slides across the ground and then it's all in bright sunshine again as Lillee prepares to bowl. He comes up now from the Nursery End, body thrown well forward. Bowls. And Fredericks hooks this bouncer - and knocks a bail off. He's out. He's out. He hooked that bouncer, swung completely round and knocked the bail off as he went."

This was in the formative stages of the first World Cup final in 1975. It remains one of the most vivid moments in all finals. And for once Arlott had forgotten something as his commentary colleague, Trevor Bailey, reminded him: "Very unfortunate because he fell on his wicket and the ball actually went over the boundary for six." It was true. The ball had sailed off the bat high over fine leg. Swivelling round in his white hat, the batsman slipped.

Roy Fredericks, perpetrator of that thrilling but ill-fated shot, died last Wednesday. He was a compulsive hooker, never shirking the challenge to play the shot. His slight stature made it the more thrilling. Fredericks became his country's Minister of Sport but he took a sabbatical from his job in 1983 for one final appearance for Guyana and scored 217 and 103. It was surely one of the most triumphant of all valedictory matches, maybe the most triumphant. Unfortunately, The Diary is shutting for business for the winter but will return promptly to this topic next spring.

 

It will be like the old days in Hambledon today. The village XI are playing England again. Not quite like the old days perhaps. In their pomp they played All England (some 51 times in all in the late 18th Century) and this is Old England.

This match, to boot, is at somewhere called Ridge Meadow, not Broadhalfpenny Down where Hambledon grew to greatness. But its significance should not be underestimated. If cricket was not born in the Hampshire village, it was there, in the words of the historian Desmond Eagar, that it "grew to man's estate".

England include John Snow, Derek Underwood and Derek Randall. They have some catching up to do. England might not have beaten West Indies for 31 years until last Monday but they have not beaten Hambledon since 1787.

BOOKMARK

You might have thought there was nowhere new to go with cricket statistics and indeed nowhere anybody but a cricket saddo would wish to go. The Virgin Cricket Record File (£9.99), however, has been a revelation. It contains all the England scorecards from 1946 and provides breakdowns of strike rates, batsmen's averages in winning matches, top 10 innings for each batting position. And much, much more. A good companion for the long winter.

Man in the middle

He was one of the great batting hopes, but he has not so far achieved all, or actually much, that was hoped. Owais Shah (above) has been out of the Middlesex side for the past five matches. But what might have been and might still be was spread before him at The Oval on Monday. Shah, still only 21, was England's 12th man and was on the field at the moment of victory. It was to be hoped that Shah (batting average 26 this season) wants more. But while it was tongue in cheek it was also a bit disconcerting to read his replies in a recent questionnaire. What's special about cricket? "It helps to pay the mortgage."

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