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A day at the Test match

The last day of a Test match is always a tempting proposition if the weather is nice and there’s the prospect of an exciting day’s play. Earlier this week, the Test match at Lord’s between England and South Africa went to the fifth day and that was not a prospect that I – or my Dad or my brother Alex for that matter – could turn down.

Sorting my things out for a day at Lord’s, I pack a sunhat and an umbrella along with my lunch. It’s an all-day event and you never know what’s going to happen weather-wise at a cricket match!

Making my way to the ground, I pass a bookie’s on Camden High Street. Out of curiosity, I pop in and ask what the odds are on England winning the Test. The man behind the counter checks his computer and quotes me odds of 20/1. I decide to put a couple of quid on England.

One bus ride to St John’s Wood later, I have no problem getting a ticket – as no-one knows before the game whether it will last for five days, the fifth day tickets are hardly ever sold in advance. Everyone’s excited, and there are more than a few people here who really should be at work. But no-one’s telling on anyone here. More than a few men in suits can be seen wearing the distinctive MCC tie, while others are more casual in an array of brightly-coloured t-shirts. Unlike at a football match, English and South African fans mix freely and exchange much banter. Everyone’s happy to be here.

Contrary to expectations, the sky looks very grey – so grey, in fact, that the floodlights are on as the players come out. Once inside the ground, we have some tea or coffee and decide that the Edrich stand (opposite the Pavilion) is the place to be. We have a panoramic view of the ground, and on the outfield we can see where the stands had been placed for the Olympic archery events which were held here. The groundstaff have done a fantastic job to get the place ready for a Test match so soon after that.

As the groundstaff prepare the pitch, and we use our binoculars to spot famous ex-players who are now part of various commentary teams, everyone’s talking about what looks like being an exciting day’s play. But just how long are we actually going to be here? England are over 300 runs short of the target with eight wickets left – the match can only end in a result by them scoring all those runs or (more likely) losing all their wickets in the process. They could be all out before lunch, although most people are estimating that the end will come between lunch and tea. Either way, we’ll get to see something.

As play starts, spectators continue to flood in, and when the stewards open up a whole section of the seats that had previous been reserved (we know not who for), everyone moves across. Although most of the fans in our area are English, we’re now in front of a family of South Africans who become increasingly vocal with the fall of each English wicket. In front of me, a middle-aged man dressed in a white linen suit, dark shirt and an MCC tie takes a seat. Why, I wonder to myself, isn’t he sitting in the Pavilion with the other MCC members?

It is now declared to be beer o’clock, and Dad heads down to the bar to get the first round.

By the time lunch comes around (after two hours of play), the sun is breaking through the clouds and I have taken off my jacket and donned my sunglasses and sun-hat. Cricket must be a unique sport in having intervals between periods of play that are named after meals. Why is this? It must be something to do with the fact that the game lasts all day, and tradition dictates that the players are actually given something to eat during the intervals. Plus, the spectators need to eat at some point as well. We tuck into our sandwiches, and I head down to the bar to get three more pints of beer.

Someone wonders out loud why this famous old ground is called Lord’s (with the apostrophe). Alex is on hand to explain that it’s named after Thomas Lord, an eighteenth-century cricketer who helped the Marylebone Cricket Club to acquire a suitable playing venue when they were formed in 1787, although not at the current site. The ground continues to be owned by the MCC (to all intents and purposes still very much a private club) to this day – something of an anachronism in the modern age.

By now, the sun is shining and the man in front has shed not only his jacket and tie but also his shirt, as well as rolling his trouser-legs up to his knees. I wonder if he really is an MCC member.

England may be staring defeat in the face but they’re not dead yet. Our batsmen – by now we’re down to Matt Prior and Stuart Broad, capable enough with the bat – continue to chip away at the total. Up in the Edrich stand, we’re cheering each run that is scored; for the most part, the crowd is gloriously partisan.

As the afternoon wears on, a Mexican wave goes round the ground, several times. As has become customary at Lord’s over the past decade, the MCC members in the Pavilion – sticklers for tradition – do not take part, and are loudly booed by everyone else.

With less than ten minutes to go to tea, another wicket falls. The new man in is Graeme Swann – a favourite of England followers thanks to his deadly off-spin, his attacking style with the bat, the fact that he’s one of the funnier sports stars who has a Twitter account and his hilarious video diary of the 2010-11 Ashes series. It’s safe to say that England fans love Swanny, and we love him even more when he dispatches the second ball he faces to the boundary with an unconventional reverse sweep. By the time tea comes along, he’s already got 12 runs.

Most of the spectators opt for something a bit stronger than tea, and Alex heads down to get three more pints while the talk is of whether England can actually win this. The target has shrunk to 120, and the English fans, who had previously been talking of our team pulling off a miraculous victory in order to wind up the South Africans, are now starting to talk seriously about it.

As play resumes, it’s clear that Prior and Swann don’t think it’s a hopeless cause – between them, they hit 60 runs in the next half-hour. The crowd goes wild. ENG-LAND, ENG-LAND is the chant. As the target continues to lower, the smiles broaden and we start to hope that, despite it all, we can win this. After all, cricket’s a funny old game and stranger things have happened. I wonder how long that bookie’s is going to be open for this evening.

But the run-rush can’t last, can it? Swann perishes on a suicidal run-out, and minutes later Prior is given out caught – only for the big screen to show that he was out to a no-ball. Prior, who’s walking back to the Pavilion, is reprived! England are 60-odd runs short, but we’re still in the game! The crowd are loving this.

But then, Prior’s out – for real, this time. The next man in is also the last man, Steve Finn. In the papers this morning, he was quoted as saying that he believed England could win this. But he’s out first ball.

And that’s it. The South Africans behind us pop open a bottle of Veuve Clicquot that they’ve smuggled into the ground for this moment. We all stand and applaud before making our way to the exit.

Were we sad that England lost? A bit, but it has to be said South Africa did deserve to win as they were the better team. Did we enjoy ourselves anyway? Of course! As Allison pointed out afterwards, the men of the Young family ALWAYS have fun at Lord’s!

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