Shabby behaviour at the Oval – as I ponder pinching Bumble’s pork steak
I am such a fool. On reflection, what I should have done was reach across, grab it, snaffle it out in my trouser pocket and take it home to flog on eBay. David “Bumble” Lloyd’s pork steak, I mean. It’s not as if he wanted it.
“I’m giving up on this,” he’d already declared in frustration, pushing away the foil dish with a sizeable chunk of the offending article still uneaten, then focusing his attention on a somewhat less jaw-threatening fruit salad.
Still, I guess I was overawed just to be in his presence. Who wouldn’t be?
Friday, September 17, 2010: England versus Pakistan in the third One-Day International at the Oval. The visitors had just been bowled out for 241 – and I, for a few tantalisingly brief moments, had been granted entry into the inner sanctum that is the Sky Sports commentary box.
And it wasn’t just Bumble in there. Good Lord, no. I was breathing the same air, in an area about the size of our spare bedroom, as Nasser Hussain, Michael Holding, Michael Atherton, Rameez Raja – and, yes, the legendary Ian “Beefy” Botham himself. . . . I’m sorry, I mean ‘SIR Ian’ (as I noticed even the commentators’ rota, taped to the wall, deferentially referred to him).
Over in the far corner, Beefy was tucking into a lunch of his own. I tried to sneak a glance at what he’d selected from the menu – such details intrigue me – but sadly to no avail. Since he seemed to be wolfing it down quite contentedly, however, I think we can safely assume it was three Shredded Wheat.
Now, in case you’re wondering how I found myself in such exalted company – albeit without plucking up the courage actually to speak to any of these sporting legends – I should explain that it was thanks to the nice people at Sky Sports. They’d very kindly invited me to this Oval fixture to help me with my cricket education, and this behind-the-scenes tour of their operation came as an unexpected part of the package.
Excited? I was like a toddler on tartrazene.
And, no, of course I had no inkling of the wretched allegations that were to surface within hours of this fixture concluding: the latest claims and counter-claims of despicable on-field wrong-doing. None of us did; one of the ironic things about spot-betting is that the dirty deeds themselves, if they occur at all, can be nigh on unspottable, even to the experienced eye.
So really I just had a nice day out.
Besides watching an awful lot of entertaining cricket, I was given a peep inside Sky’s technical trucks – crammed with levers, cables, a myriad of buttons, knobs and dials and a billion-and-one miniature TV monitors – where a specialist team beavers away like crazy, and in semi-darkness, for hours on end, to deliver what looks so effortless and matter-of-fact on screen.
But awe-inspiring though this was, it was nothing compared to my 10-or-so minutes in the company of the aforementioned cricketing giants.
The only trouble is I’m far too reticent a character ever to make the most of such fleeting encounters with the famous. I’ve got friends who, in my position, would instantly have attempted to strike up a conversation with Beefy or Bumble, as if they were lifelong buddies, along with securing the obligatory cameraphone snap. And they’d have done it with an enviable lack of self-consciousness.
Me, I felt intrusive just by standing there.
So, anyway, all I needed to do was reach across while Bumble, less than a yard to my left, was busy tweeting on his laptop (he had something like 88,000 followers at the last count, the man is a virtual God) and surreptitiously slip this piece of surplus meat into a paper napkin. I’m sure I’d have got away with it, too. I’d have probably started bids at £50. Never wise to start stupidly high . . .
I did, mind you, manage to get a word out of that nice Michael Atherton chappy, who still doesn’t look as if he’s old enough to shave. I held the door open for him as he was stepping outside, in response to which he – yes, the actual former captain of the England cricket team – said: “Thanks . . .”
In my world, that’s tantamount to an exclusive interview.
As for what I witnessed for the rest of the afternoon /evening, it looked to me like a perfectly good game of one-day cricket. In fact, a remarkably enjoyable one. I felt particularly proud of Sussex’s Luke Wright, whose form has been a bit patchy of late but who silenced his doubters – or certainly the gobby one in front of me with the bad teeth – with an impressive, almost match-saving 48 not out.
Ultimately, I didn’t even mind that England lost. Well, all right, I did, but I wasn’t going to let it spoil my day.
As I headed back to Vauxhall station to catch my Clapham Junction connection (I was back in my house in Brighton within 85 minutes, I must do this more often), I reflected on how uplifting the whole experience had been from a spectating point of view. Booze had flowed for hours on end (not down my own throat or that of my host from Sky Sports, I hasten to add) and rival fans had sat side by side, and yet not once had I witnessed the mood turning ugly or confrontational. Call me a sentimental ninny, but it looked to me as if most people’s main priority, regardless of who they supported, was to enjoy the match and have, dare I say it, fun.
At one point, the Pakistan supporter directly behind me accidentally bashed me on the head as he leapt up to celebrate a boundary. “I’m so sorry,” he said.
“That’s OK,” I said.
So, there you go, see – a sport that unites fans, discourages aggression and puts me in such a civilised mood, even when I’m staring at defeat, that I’m happy for a crowing opponent to smack me on the cranium.
Probably a sport worth saving, I’d have thought.Tagged in: Bumble, Cricket, David Lloyd, england, Ian Botham, Luke Wright, match-fixing, Michael Atherton, Michael Holding, Nasser Hussain, ODI, One-Day International, Oval, Pakistan, Rameez Raja, Sky Sports, spot-betting, Sussex
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter