Tuesday, April 20

Cricket fans feel the loss of crowds as intensely as players in the Covid era | Cricket


I I was idle through my smartphone one lockout night, when I randomly tapped on voice memos. There I found old recordings of my children singing adorably (into a mother’s ear), a husky Billy Bragg in Delaware Forest, and Anya Shrubsole speaking modestly about her inclusion as one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year. But in the middle were numerous unnamed files.

I clicked and immediately floated back to a different world, with different shadows. Until 2017, and a happy September day spent watching England play West Indies at Lord’s with my family.

For reasons now lost in the mists of time, I spent the day recording what I could hear during a day on the Test. This included things so completely normal and mundane that I can’t believe it bothered me, but now they seem extraordinary. A journey by tram, train and tube from Manchester to NW8. Queuing to get into Lord’s, close enough to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations and spend time unmasked. The lunch break and the sound of people eating together outside their family unit, rubbing elbow to elbow, cold box against cold box, so crushed between ranks of humanity that one person’s visit to the bathroom involved 10 others standing or sitting. in their seats. My father loyally carried the phone to the Long Room for an hour, where you can hear the low hum of the pavilion’s baritone: rich, resplendent and with pompous vowels.

The scorecard shows an England team transformed since then, with only Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad as mainstays. The top five of 2017 have been largely eliminated: Alastair Cook retired and Mark Stoneman, Tom Westley and Dawid Malan lost their test spots. Toby Roland-Jones has been the victim of the cruel tripping dangers of injury; Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow have fallen in and out of favor with the national team.

But the biggest transformation has been the way we’ve had to watch cricket in the past year: on TV or on the internet, sharing bad jokes and chatting with others on WhatsApp or Twitter rather than a nudge in the ribs or something thoughtful in the world. heard during a game passage. Even more peculiar, the cricket we have seen has been played in sterile and empty stadiums, barring the dribbles, then crowds, allowed at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad for testing and the first two T20s, until a local increase in cases Covid assured the rest of the T20 series would be played behind closed doors. And for that reason, my favorite recording of the seven I took that day in late summer in 2017 is the first dance, with all the drama of a beginning and a day yet to unfold. It’s something that, despite the best efforts of the commentators, is not the same without a crowd.

When the clock strikes 11, the reassuring voice of the Lord’s announcer is thrown into the air. We are given details of the lunch intervals, the Yorkshire tea break, the availability of scorecards, various places where people can buy food and drink, a mysterious “trigger area”, and we are even given the opportunity to meet John Emburey. Then there is applause from the crowd as West Indies hitters Royston Chase and Shai Hope walk onto the lawn, past the unmasked man from the Lord’s gate, through the non-sanitized pavilion door. We learned that James Anderson will be opening the bowling alley from Nursery End. The excited talk continues until suddenly silence, when Anderson presumably begins his career. A second or two later, a grateful “oooh” when Hope pushes a morning bat forward a touch too slow and is hit by Anderson.

Jimmy Anderson celebrates the Royston Chase window on the third day of the Trial of the Lord against the West Indies in September 2017
Jimmy Anderson celebrates the Royston Chase window on the third day of the Trial of the Lord against the West Indies in September 2017. Photograph: Tom Jenkins / The Guardian

If only he had continued recording, as three balls later Anderson induced a push from Chase off the stump and Bairstow caught it for three. Anderson went on to take a career best of seven out of 42 when England won at teatime, by nine wickets, in just three days.

This past week, watching Sydney Roosters and Manley Sea Eagles play rugby league on a hot afternoon in a lively SCG, and India v England in a hostile but exhilarating and Covid-filled Ahmedabad, the loss of cricket with a crowd suddenly it felt heavy. Virat Kohli is famous for feeding on spectators; You could see him whipping them in the test series after India lagged behind, you could feel him drawing strength from local fans on Sunday as he led India to an easy victory in T20, so much so that it looked like a six in a row from Tom Curran to come with. the naturalness of a puff of perfume.

But how much do we, as cricket lovers, also feed from a crowd: not only the closeness of friends, but the company of strangers.

This is an excerpt from The Guardian’s weekly cricket email, The Spin. To subscribe, visit this page and follow the instructions.


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