The Oval Diary: How Inzy proved that history really is bunk

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The Independent Online

No matter the prevailing overhead conditions, it was a brave and unusual decision of Inzamam-ul-Haq to field after winning the toss in the Fourth Test. History is an important part of cricket, and considering it, some might have assumed Inzy had finally flipped.

After about two hours, of course, it looked a masterstroke. But in 88 previous Tests at The Oval - whatever sponsor it has been named after - only twice have a side choosing to field won.

The last occasion was in 1998, when most observers adjudged that Arjuna Ranatunga had lost the plot by inserting England, who promptly amassed 445. By the fifth afternoon Sanath Jayasuriya had played one of the ground's great innings and Sri Lanka had won by 10 wickets.

The first incidence was in 1967, when the England captain, Brian Close, put in Pakistan, who found Geoff Arnold and Ken Higgs a handful in both innings. In all, 10 captains have chosen to field. Six managed draws. The two who lost were the two most recent, Jimmy Adams of West Indies in 2000 and Nasser Hussain against New Zealand in 1999.


No ground in England is better at commemorating exceptional former players than The Oval. The Alec Stewart Gates are merely a recent example of that.

On Friday, Surrey honoured a player who was not one of their own, Fred Trueman. The plaque unveiled was to mark the fact that Fred took his 300th Test wicket, the first man to do so, at the ground.

What the plaque does not say is that Trueman also returned the best match analysis of his career at The Oval. In July 1960, when Yorkshire were closing in on their second successive Championship title and taking over from Surrey the mantle of the country's pre-eminent county, Trueman took 7 for 82 and 7 for 41 as Yorkshire won by 10 wickets.


The viewing figures for Sky, revealed in the Diary a fortnight ago, are not the only audience numbers difficult to acquire. While the satellite broadcasters are merely reluctant to divulge the information, BBC Radio insist that it is impossible to gauge an accurate total of listeners to Test Match Special.

This is something to do with the method employed by Radio Joint Audience Research (Rajar) in their investigations and the fact that TMS goes out on Radio 4 long wave, while the regular station schedule goes out on FM.

However, the BBC, much to the excitement of the TMS team, had a stab at revealing ball-park figures to the Diary. Some four million people tune in to a home Test. This is split between 2.5m listening on long wave and 2m listening on Five Live digital, an overlap audience of 500,000 accounting for the difference.


If live television can be tantamount to flying by the seat of your pants, it still may not compare to transmitting a highlights show while the live action is still proceeding. This is what happened to Channel Five on Thursday night, who went on air at 7.15pm as play continued until 7.32pm. The final third of the programme was the most difficult, and its content depended on whether wickets fell.

Producer Dylan Jane (named after Bob, Dylan, that is, not Bob Jane), said: "We made an informed guess at what Pakistan would end with and decided 80 for 1. It was a case of knowing how much time we had to fill and hitting it.

"The team responded magnificently but I guess after the Edgbaston Test, when play on the Friday didn't start until 4.45pm and we still had to edit highlights for a 7.15pm start, we should be able to cope with anything."

It would seem, incidentally, that Five, at 1.2m, has the highest television audience.


Naturally and quite rightly, Freddie Flintoff remains all-pervasive. His latest appearance is in a charming book about a cricket ball, also called Freddie, which has been written by the former England captain Chris Cowdrey.

The story tells of Freddie (the ball's) part in England's Ashes triumph. He is stepped on by Glenn McGrath at Edgbaston, is later used to take the final two crucial wickets and, reunited with his owner, watches the series being clinched at The Oval.

Captivating, colourfully illustrated, raising funds for the Chance to Shine charity and available at £9.99 from