Leading Edge: Only one winner in Oval v Lord’s

Sunday Times


HER voice could have frozen the foam atop a pint of bitter: “Excuse me!” It was the voice of someone used to issuing orders and having them carried out. Or else. Because that’s what being alive means. Of course it does. You’re stupid if you think otherwise.

“Excuse me!”

She spoke from a dark place, and not just of the soul. The coldness came from an open window leading into a small, glum, gloomy room just inside the North Gate at Lord’s.

It was early last Saturday evening, and a couple of reporters who had been beavering away for hours on stories about the next day’s World Cup final had discredited themselves — an in-joke: they had packed away their accreditation passes — and were on their way out of the ground, babbling to one another as they walked. To the pub perchance …

“Excuse! Me!”

Finally, she had their attention.


She fixed them with a stare of contempt.

“Where have you come from!”

The reporters had been shot in this kind of movie before.

One of them entertained, briefly, the thought of saying: “From East London, originally. Then a few years in Durban — nice, laid-back — another few in Johannesburg — manic, but it’s not hard to see why — and now Cape Town, which is wonderful. So, where are you from?”

Instead, he said, as deadpan as his rising bile allowed, “South Africa.”

She rolled the greys of her eyes, and, no doubt, offered up a prayer for divine intervention to St Theresa May.

“No! Where have you come from now!”

“Ah,” he said. “The pressbox.”

Disappointment slid across her face. Bugger. They can’t be detained and abused for much longer.

“Can I see some accreditation! Please!”

The reporters removed their bags from their backs, fished out their passes, and thrust them through the window with an awkward mix of triumph and pity.

They didn’t ask what the point was of demanding to see their accreditation on their way out of the ground. They didn’t ask how she ended up living this sad life. They didn’t want an apology. They just wanted to go to the pub.

“Lovely! Thank you! You have a lovely evening now!”

They did, and the next day they returned to cover one of the most thrilling matches they will ever see. Heather Knight’s England beat Mithali Raj’s India, and there was a certain jadedness among the reporters about the fact that the spontaneity was over and in a few days they would again be trying to find new ways to describe the same-old, same-old of the men’s game in the third test between England and South Africa.

But at least they would do so at The Oval, just eight kilometres to the south-east from Lord’s but in a different world.

“Lord’s is the home of cricket,” an Oval Steward said as the same two reporters pitched up for a press conference, “but The Oval is its heart.”

Another steward at The Oval, seeing someone walk from the stands towards the Alec Stewart Gate, leapt after them — not to hold up their leaving but to offer them an umbrella against the falling rain.

The Oval is celebrating its 100th test this weekend, and making a damn good job of it despite some iffy weather. The Lord’s tests should be played there, too.


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