I wasn’t going to do a report from the cricket today but after Danny managed to get to the Oval early and bag us our own Executive Box (to be shared with the producers of South Africa’s major sports network and the BBC’s Manish Bhasin) with some stunning views of the action and an access all areas pass. The tournament had really taken off since the start of the Super 8’s and demand for the media seats had meant that you had to be at the ground some two hours before the start of play. No problems for our roving reporters as with the little Fullers packed off to the school fayre I was walking through the Long Room at 11.30am.
The Oval doesn’t have the pomp and circumstance of Lords but is a magnificent venue for cricket. It is also the one ground where the crowd can be passionate and withe the first game of the day pitting the pre-tournament favourites, South Africa with the form team, West Indies. In fact you couldn’t get more in form than the WIndies as this game started just 17 hours and some 150 away from the scene of their impressive victory against reigning champions India.
We had the customary wander round, ignoring the no entry signs and wandering through the history of the ground. Danny asked Nasser Hussain for a picture with his logo but the Ex-England Captain was having none of this football lark and goes into the rogues gallery with Steve Harmison from the cricketing fraternity.
And what a build up to the game….A fly by from the Red Arrows (trailing the Pepsi colours of course) had nothing to do with the Trooping the Colour, a fox that got lost on the concourse and ran amock and some sunshine at last in the tournament.
West Indies lost to South Africa by 20 runs – The Oval – Saturday 13th June
The West Indies won what I thought would be an important toss and put in the South Africans but this turned out to be a poor decision as the pace of the outfield saw the South Africans race to over 100 in the first eleven overs as Smith, Kallis and Gibbs made light work of the West Indies attack, peppering the boundary with the ball. Gibbs’s 55 from just 41 balls was a real joy to watch as he really went to town on Bravo and Simmons. We also saw the first “dance off” wars with the cheerleaders in front of eastern stands being booed when the male dancers got up and wild cheers when the not so unattractive females strutted their stuff.
With half-time approaching, our own Jeeves appeared and brought in a plate of mini-pies as well as taking our drinks order, which of course included a pint of their finest ale for Danny and myself. Our co-boxee Emmet (Ireland’s foremost cricket correspondent – in fact Ireland’s only correspondent who was originally only booked on a day trip with Ryanair a week ago and is still here thanks to their amazing performance) couldn’t have been happier with the service and had to phone his mate back home to tell them of this new found life of an international cricket correspondent.
So 183-7 was a decent score, but would it be enough with the big hitting of Chris Gayle to come on a very fast pitch? Well the reply didn’t start well as out of form Fletcher only lasting 5 balls for another duck and Gayle shortly following him, scoring just 5. But this did bring two batsmen to the crease who have built big reputations – Dwayne Bravo and Lendl Simmons who managed to put on fifty in a short period before Bravo was caught on the boundary for 17 after moving the run rate onto over 8. Simmons took up the mantle and continued to push the rate upwards, reaching his fifty off 31 balls. He was finally out for 77 (off just 50 balls) hitting to the boundary, and with 51 runs needed from just 4 overs it seemed a lost cause for the West Indies. With wickets tumbling quickly after that we saw one of the most bizarre incidents in the tournament so far. Kieron Pollard was facing Parnell and appeared to dolly one up to Smith. South Africa celebrated by Pollard was unmoved. The umpires were confused and after a huddle called for a TV decision. The big screens clearly showed it wasn’t a bump ball and it was a wicket. The TV umpire returned a verdict of “Not Out” to everyone’s amazement – including the umpires who changed their minds and gave him out! Parnell followed this up by removing Jerome Taylor’s stump with the next ball to give him figures of 4 for 9 off 3 overs – possibly the best spell of bowling in the tournament so far.
In the end it was 20 runs too much for the West Indies as South Africa confirmed their place as tournament favourites and more importantly bagged the first semi-final spot with a game to spare.
New Zealand lost to Pakistan by six wickets – The Oval – Saturday 13th June
So after a sumptuous Oval lunch of grilled lemon fish (is there such a fish and if so does it look like a lemon,or does the fruit look like the fish?) we headed down to pitch side to see if we could get a look at the trophy. With a few minutes to the start of the game the plinth was taken onto the field but we could not see the burly security men who would undoubtably be guarding it ? Oh no – along comes a random bloke with a small metal box, the kind you keep your tools in at home and there it was – all sad and unloved.
The crowd had gone through some kind of metamorphasis as the green wearing SA fans had now somehow found Pakistan flags to wave around. New Zealand won the toss and elected to bat first, hoping in the words of their fit again captain Vittori to score 180+. Fourteen off the first over was just the start they needed but Brendon McCullum fell in the 2nd over for 12.
And that was the highpoint from a New Zealand point of view. Wickets fell every couple of overs but that does not tell the real story. Step forward Umar Gul. Second change bowler but in a devastating spell of 18 balls he took five wickets for just six runs – a Twenty20 record. Danny and I watched this remarkable performance unfold from our own executive balcony with a couple of beers. Amazingly these boxes were left empty so we grabbed a couple of cold ones, and sat in our own private world. Oh how CMF would have liked to have been here and ticked off another “thing” from her list (not with Danny there of course!). Our dancer friend from last week (the one with the label – see here for more details)was really wowing the crowd with her new moves, splits, cartwheels and some very very interesting positions that the crowd and fielders alike enjoyed. OK – so I have changed my mind about their role in the game but only if she dances!
So Pakistan for once could be calm and controlled with exactly five an over needed. Calmness shmarmness…The word does not exist in Pakistani cricket and they started off as normal, although today lady luck appeared to be in their dressing room as every big hit fell between a fielder and after the 5 over Power Play they were on 40 for 1. There was another little wobble at 61 when both Razzaq and Hasan fell but in came the hopelessly out of form Shahid Alfridi to the crease. Ball one was an edged four to the boundary and after that he somehow rediscovered his loving feeling and hit 29 matchwinning runs of just 18 balls to see the Pakistani’s home with seven overs to spare.
There was time for a quick visit to the press conference, a “one for the road” in the Beehive and finally a train home and some Top Gun action (the film on TV not some game made up by CMF!). Life is made for days like this…