A day at Lord’s
The cricket was excellent, with the advantage swinging back and forth, superb bowling by Steyn and Morkel and impressive batting by Bell and especially the young Bairstow. My only problem, as a spectator, was the crowd.
First, it was almost uniformly white, male and affluent. In fact, this was the whitest and male-est crowd I’ve seen at an international cricket match in many years. It wasn’t aged (these weren’t the gin tippling fogies of yesteryear) but it certainly wasn’t youthful. I spotted very few spectators under thirty.
People who assume this mono-culture is typical of cricket in England are wrong. In recent years, and obviously when the south Asian countries are playing, there’s usually been much greater diversity.
The two 30-something men sitting to our right spent much more time out of their seats queuing at the bar than they did watching the cricket. That’s their call, of course. But the group behind us came close to ruining our day. When one of the few young women present walked across their field of vision she was greeted with an old fashioned “wolf-whistle”. That my partner Liz was sitting right in front of them, and might have found this offensive or intimidating, did not cross their minds. The MCC and ECB are forever talking about making cricket a “family outing”. But if there had been any children present, at least in our section of the ground, their parents would have been squirming at much of the “banter” accompanyng the cricket.
In some ways it was like ‘Life on Mars’, a return to the 70s. Except that in the 70s cricket crowds at Lord’s (and other English grounds) were much more racially diverse than now, with large numbers of West Indian spectators – who have virtually vanished from the grounds in the last twenty-five years.
Part of the reason for the uniformity of the crowd is the exorbitant ticket prices – minimum £90 for an unrestricted view. In addition, you can’t hope to get a seat of any kind unless you apply eight months in advance and pay with a credit card. In the 70s, groups of friends could turn up on the day, buy a cheap ticket, and find seats on extensive unreserved benches and even on the grass verge outside the boundary rope. (The seats on the grass were eliminated when sponsors insisted TV cameras have an unobstructed view of the adverts on the boundary boards.)
South Africa is of course anything but a uniform society and that diversity is now reflected in the cricket side – but not (at least yesterday) in the crowd.
A day of Test cricket is a long one, starting at 11am and finishing at 7pm, which means that the people surrounding you can make a big difference to the experience. Unlike football, there are longueurs and intervals which can be filled with casual conversation on any topic under the sun. Sadly, the spectators seated in our section seemed uninterested in discussing anything other than money, the quality of the beer and their holidays at posh resorts. Because the seating is jam-packed, and because it’s not possible to change seats, you’re pretty much forced to listen in on the chatter around you. Now I have been to matches when those sitting next to me expressed annoyance with the topics of my conversation (racism, war, the depredations of the Coalition or New Labour). However, unlike the people gabbing away at Lord’s yesterday, I don’t assume that everyone around me shares the same world view and I moderate my volume and tone accordingly.
One of the things the first drew me to cricket was the custom of applauding good play by the opposition. That’s still adhered to by some but is much less common than it used to be. (In India it’s all but vanished). At Lord’s, scintillating displays of the highest skill by Steyn and Morkel went unappreciated and as far as I could see largely unnoticed. I have no problem at all with people going to the cricket for the craic, the beer, or a day in the sun. But there’s a tipping point when the atmosphere becomes so one-dimensionally nationalist – when all that seems to interest or excite the crowd is a four by an English batsman or a wicket by an English bowler – that the joy for those of us with a more multi-faceted interest in the game is squashed.
But then as I’ve been told many times on the Guardian’s Cif and elsewhere, I’m a killjoy who can’t abide other people having “fun”.
(We attended the match on Friday 17 August)