A round one at the Oval

 When Twenty20 Cricket was introduced some six years ago to English cricket.  It is now a worldwide cash cow with competitions being played in most cricketing countries, and a World Cup due to start in early June in England.  In the early days virtually every game was sold out although the number of games played was far less than today.  The introduction of the coloured kits, games played under floodlights, music, pitch side dugouts and pizzas and players with mics so that they could chat to the commentators was revolutionary and certainly upset a number of traditionalists.

However they became a great success with the fans, and with the concept of a finals day with the semi-finals and final being played at one ground on one day was a roaring success (although the Oval final in 2006 with a “live” performance from Girls Aloud was a damp squib).  My favourite incident was back in 2006 when in a televised game one county set up a sofa on the boundary for some lucky fans.  A huge hit from one of the batsmen was heading for the boundary but a fielder raced round to try and make the catch.  He jumped but it was just too high for him, but sofa man had anticipated this, run round the boundary and took a one handed diving catch!  Take a bow son!!!

With the Twenty20 World Cup taking up the normal slots in Mid June this years tournament was in two halves.  The weather in May is always hit and miss so it was with some trepidation that the games kicked (or bowled) off on Monday.  The South group had been dubbed the “Group of Death” as Surrey, Kent and Middlesex had been previous winners, and Essex and Hampshire are two of the best one day teams in the country.  The first two rounds of results had seen wins apiece for all of the teams (bar Essex) so the next set of games would be crucial.

Mr Grumble (Joel) was up for this one.  Mr Grumble has worked for me a couple of times and was always the model professional, but he loves a moan – he is a cross between a Carry on shop steward and a barrister – always smartly dressed andvery dapper but not afraid to go on strike (as his girlfriend Jemma told me once!).  He’s had a hard time recently, suffering from the downturn in the economy so it was my job to cheer him up. 

The weather didn’t look good but we were determined to have a good chat, a few beers andwatch a bit of frenetic cricket.  Surrey had a fantastic reputation in the competition, winning the first ever tournament with stars such as Ali Brown (who still holds the one day record score of 176 in a huge 496 for 4 in 50 overs!), Alec Stewart, Mark Butcher and Mark Ramprakash and runners up the following season to Leicestershire Foxes. 

Surrey Brown Caps 125-8 beat Hampshire Hawks 124-9 by 1 run – The Oval – Wednesday 27th May 2009
The fine weather from the weekend had headed south to the Med during Wednesday and left us with a cold and rain-threatening evening.  With the Champions League final taking place in Rome, and more importantly in most living rooms up and down the country it was hardly surprising that the crowd failed to break the 5,000 mark – very unusual for a Twenty20 game under the lights at the Oval.

Surrey won the toss and decided to make the most of the light by batting first.  However, their plan came undone on the third ball of the evening as Afzaal was out caught and bowled for zero after facing just two balls.  This coming just forty eight hours after he hit a magnificent 98 not out at Lords against Middlesex which included 8 fours and 2 sixes.  Ramprakash came to the wicket but never really got going, eeking out just eight runs including a huge six before he was smartly stumped.

After this everyone contributed double figures to the score, with Walters top scoringwith 30.  The pick of the wickets was undoubtably the two run outs of Elliott and Speigel but a total of just 125 never seemed enough.  Surrey simply did not findthe boundary enough, with just 52 coming in fours and sixes (7 x 4 and 4 x 6).  Each of the Surrey batsman almost hit a run a ball but that is simply not enough in the Twenty20 game and Hampshire must have fancied their chances despite the natural light fading.

The half time entertainment was the ropey (and cold looking) “Surreyettes” who wandered around the edge of the pitch lobbing T-shirts into the crowd.  They certainly could have auditioned for the old Hammerettes with their 10 pairs of American Tan tights to add “volume” to their skinny legs.  Most fans had disappeared at  this point to the warmth of the concourse where the football was on, and the beer flowed, although those on the Fosters were taking it back at regular intervals as it tasted “disgusting”. How can you differentiate what a good pint of Fosters takes like?  It always tastes disgusting!

With Man Utd 1-0 down in Rome, the sparse crowd cheered on Spriegel as he ran in to open the bowling, and with just his 2nd ball Wilson took a neat stumping to put Hampshire 0-1.   This brought Ervine to the crease and he set about the task at hand with a quick fire 25 off 20 balls to put them ahead of the game.  When Lamb went in the third over Chris Benham came to the crease and along with Carberry put on the first (andonly) fifty partnership of the game.  With half their overs to go Hampshire needed just 55 and had 7 wickets in hand and looked odds on for victory.

But Surrey weren’t finished just yet and Carberry, Benham and Dawson were all removed in a space of two overs for just 5 runs.  The incoming batsmen simply could not play themselves in and three more wickets fell in the next four overs for just 15 runs, meaning that Hampshire needed 16 runs to win with just one wicket left and 8 balls to go.  Anyone who had put money on Surrey at the 10 over mark would now be licking their lips at a very nice pay out.  But nobody told Riazuddin that the game was up and with six balls to go andfourteen needed he set about the task wih two boundaries in the last over.  So with one ball to go Hampshire required 4 runs to win.  It was one boundary too far for them as they could only it the ball to deep mid-wicket for two runs and so Surrey had won a nail bitter. 

It was hardly riveting stuff but the end did give the sparse crowd some warmth in the end.  With Man Utd losing two nil Joel and I headed off in our separate ways for differing nights of pleasure.  Always a pleasure on catching up with Mr Grumble, even if he does has the life of woe!

About the Oval
The first ground in Britain to host a Test Match in 1884 has changed significantly to the 23,000 all seater venue you see today.  The latest addition has been huge floodlights that mean day/night games can be held early and late in the season.  The most recent development saw the building of the huge Alec Stewart Conference Centre and the triple tier OCS Stand at the Vauxhall endof the ground.  The ground also hosted the first ever FA Cup final in 1872 when The Wanderers beat the Royal Engineers. 

It is a magnificent venue for watching cricket anddoesn’t have the same stuffiness as Lords.  When the stadium is full for Englandgames or the “local derby” in the Twenty20 games versus Kent the atmosphere is second to none.  The famous landmark on the west side, the Gasometer is due to be demolished in late 2009 andto be replaced witha new stand.

How to get to the Oval
The ground is located close to the centre of London and is well served by local transport.  The nearest tube is Oval on the Northern line which is 200 yards from the main entrance.  Vauxhall, both tube and train is a 5 minute walk to the north.  Buses run past the stadium from Victoria on a regular basis.

How to get a ticket for the Oval
Tickets will depend on the game being played.  For the vast majority of Surrey games you can pay on the door.  Normally a couple of Twenty20 games will sell out in advance (Middlesex and Kent).  Tickets for one day games are £20 and can be purchased from the online store.  Tickets for normal championship games start from £10.  For test matches and One day England games go on sale via ballot in the January before via the website as well although the prices start from £60.

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