Thousands locked out as fans raise empty glass to win

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The Independent Online

It seemed a very good idea at the time. For once the cricket authorities made an offer few could refuse: watch England win a series for a tenner.

It seemed a very good idea at the time. For once the cricket authorities made an offer few could refuse: watch England win a series for a tenner.

It was promoted on Sunday evening by Channel 4 as an absolute bargain. What the England and Wales Cricket Board did not know was that more than 30,000 people would head for The Oval. In the event the hosts were over-run, or in cricketing parlance, run out. At 11.20am, by which point the West Indies, needing 374 to square the series, had lost their opening batsmen, the gates were closed.

Thousands of spectators were locked out, their £10 notes burning a hole in their pockets. There were angry scenes between the crowd and police and turnstile operators when the latter were instructed not to let anybody else in. Many refused to disperse. Inside the ground, the public announcer apologised repeatedly and added that the outsiders could watch the match on a giant screen on Clapham Common. This initiative drew, at best, a bemused reaction. How could you tell your grandchildren that you watched an historic Test on Clapham Common?

In fact, there were empty seats in the Members' Stand and outside the hospitality boxes.

By lunchtime there was not exactly a carnival spirit inside the ground, either. Most of the outlets selling food and drink were closed for the day. The few that were open were, predictably, besieged. There were queues more than 100 yards long. Despite the demand, the bars closed at 2pm. The option of leaving the ground to find a watering hole was limited. There was only one exit available and it would have been interesting to hear the views of a safety inspector. Every walkway was crammed.

The only explanation for The Oval going so completely pear-shaped on one of England's more memorable Test days is that the series had been notoriously abbreviated, most matches barely lasting to the weekend let alone the fifth day.

On the other hand, when they offered the traditional £10 entry for the final act, they knew three things - England were poised to win their first series against West Indies for 31 years, Brian Lara would walk to the crease and the weather would be fine. Somehow, after losing significant revenue this summer through half-filled grounds and premature finishes, they still ended up on a sticky wicket.

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