As far as sporting experiences go, there’s nothing quite as English as a day at a Test Match. Sure, the spirit at a football game is louder and more engaging, and the roar of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” at Twickenham is probably better at producing gooseflesh. But for stiff-upper-lip toffness, nothing beats the gentle applause as the ball gets stroked through the covers for four. And so spending a day at Edgbaston was always on my agenda. (Yes, I know – Lord’s would be much better, but it’s much further away.) And so, I procured tickets for the third day of the third Test of the India-England series, and took great interest in the unfolding drama of the series. Which entailed, largely, the unfolding of the Indian team at the hands of the English.
By the time my day arrived, the series had been largely settled, and the best that the Indians could hope for was a consolation win. Or a consolation draw. Or at least, a consolation show of a little bit of backbone. The first two days had all gone England’s way – India had been knocked out for 224, and England had accumulated 456/3 by the close of play on Thursday. The ground was close to being sold out (around 25,000 spectators) and the English fans were in a pre-celebratory mood already. The atmosphere is palpable from the moment you step into the ground. There’s a hum from the early arrivers, the beer stalls are already doing reasonable business, and the field is greener than green. The players are warming up (and so is the Eric Hollies stand).
The trend in cricket these days is to the shorter forms of the game, with T20 getting most of the money and TV coverage, and the crowds are starting to expect swish & bang at every opportunity. Fortunately, the English Test fans still have a good appreciation of the game, and all its nuances. Watching Alastair Cook get his double century (and get so close to a triple) would have been boring for most T20 fans, but in the midst of an educated audience, it was enthralling. Even amongst the numerous stops for rain and bad light.
I should mention that the exception is, of course, the Eric Hollies stand in the late afternoon. There’s only so much alcohol one can ingest before silly things start happening. It’s very entertaining watching it develop over the day, but only from a distance.
Once England had declared, it was India’s turn to implode again, with Virender Sehwag making a good start by bagging a king pair. Which is only the second time that this has happened in the 140 years of Test cricket history. But what was fantastic about it is that he’s a highly rated, top-class batsman. One of the best in the world. He came into the series off the back of a shoulder surgery, replacing newbie Abhinav Mukund. Who nearly bagged a king pair in the second test, saved only by a dropped catch at second slip. A tough chance. Sehwag’s two wickets were caught by the wicket-keeper, and caught at first slip. It was as though he was saying to Mukund “Look, mate, if you want a king pair, don’t snick to second slip – the chances of getting it right are much higher if your snick is finer.”
England went on to win the test by an innings and 242 runs on the fourth day, sealing the series (which they went on to win 4-0).