Lord's is where you must begin
Indian cricket fan Siddhanta Pinto had a longing to be at Lord's. After realising his dream in the first Test between India and England, he says there's a very friendly charm about the hallowed venue .
The morning after Lord's, the smile still keeps creeping back onto my face.
For the few days that I have been walking by the stadium, it is an easy task, thanks to my lovely sister who lives in St. John's Wood, a few streets away. Looking longingly at it, I always felt I would get in somehow.
Such confidence is unusual for an Indian cricket fan. Lord's may be the Mecca for cricket, the 'Home of Cricket, as the locals say.
It may have been the historic 2000th Test match, and England is trying to claim the No 1 position from India, but Lord's has a very friendly charm about it.
There are no high walls, you can walk around the ground freely, everyone talks to you and jokes around with you, and, perhaps, the only slightly imposing issue to deal with are the touts that stand outside the tube station, and around the ground.
Or so I thought.
Now if I was to pay 200 quid for a ticket, and I would only consider such idiocy because I'd come so far and the occasion was huge, it would make sense to time it just right -- which if you know anything about this match would mean watching a few hours of Sachin batting, and any other good cricket that happens around that event, and that's about that.
As I chatted with the touts, friendly chaps really, and the hovering policemen, even friendlier, I was relieved to hear that India had won the toss and put England in to bat. It was cold, drizzly and overcast, and I really needn't watch England bat in such conditions. I walked home satisfied after a few pictures from the outside, wherever there were glimpses of the beautiful green felt.
Image: Siddhanta Pinto enjoying the Lord's atmosphere
Photographs: Siddhanta Pinto
Line near the North Gate
Day two, however, began in glorious sunshine. Unfortunately England were only two down, and as the now familiar touts tried to convince me that I wouldn't get tickets later, I went for a lovely run to Regents Park. And got lost. When I eventually found my way home, England were another two wickets down, Praveen Kumar doing the job of workhorse and strike bowler brilliantly. Now this was getting really interesting.
Like my sister hovering nervously around the oven, waiting for the ideal moment to yank the cake out, I hovered around the live scores, thinking of when I'd shake that tout's hand. Would India actually get in to bat on the second day? Would it be worth spending so much on half-a-day's cricket? Surely our openers would last the first couple of hours too, and that meant perhaps Sachin would not bat on day 2?
I went for my daily stroll to Lord's.
I saw a line outside a ticket window near the North Gate. Interesting.
I stood in line and chatted up the Indians. Most had tickets and were hanging outside the stadium during the tea break, looking for tickets for the next day, day three. And then I learnt the concept of the late gate tickets. What an excellent idea! Why don't we have this concept back home?? The grounds would earn even more money this way! It essentially means Lord's releases a few tickets during the tea break, depending on the empty seats available.
It seemed too good to be true, JUST LIKE THAT I'd got myself a ticket to the upper Compton stand, worth 90 quid, for just 25. Of course, I'd get just three hours of cricket, and that if the weather held up. As I scrambled inside the stadium, juggling mobile phones, my jacket, my camera, my shopping bag and other paraphernalia, I walked up the steps to easily the best seats in the house.
Directly below the beautiful white egg-like broadcast booth, directly above the bowlers arm, I was in cricketing heaven.
Image: Fans queue up for entry to the stadium
KP was in outstanding form
Almost immediately as the public near about my seat spotted me, and I presume they do this with all new arrivals and wide-eyed greenhorns, they began a barrage of questions. 'Did you get the beers, mate'; 'Oh, you really want to sit with us fella, come on over!;, 'Where've you been all day?'
Overwhelmed, I went with the flow and squeezed into a seat surrounded by loud and hilarious cricket folk -- mostly elderly, but rather intelligent. Within minutes I figured out they were the typical English cricket fans, keen followers of the game, and Lord's had been home for them for years. When I mentioned I had come all the way from Mumbai, I immediately had a glass of red wine, fried chicken, and a glass of chilled beer thrust to me from various directions, accompanied with wonder and admiration for my love of the game. This was turning out to be a brilliant day.
What happened over the next three hours is a blur of sorts, which is strange for Test match cricket. It was quite literally, minute to minute action: India bowled, Tendulkar, Dravid, the oldies, fielded with purpose and got cheered each time.
England scored a lot of runs at a gallop, Tendulkar wowed the crowd with his sprints at cover. 'What isn't he 300 years old or something?'
Praveen Kumar had an altercation of sorts with the crowd, much to everyone's amusement, and then followed it up with some excellent bowling to take two wickets of two balls.
Pietersen continued his dominance, and, as the sun shone down brilliantly, and the spirits flowed, there came a magical over off Ishant. For England that is. 4,6,2,4 off consecutive deliveries and Pietersen uncorked wild celebrations in the stands with his maiden double hundred. And just while that was happening, they strode off!
Image: Kevin Pietersen celebrates after scoring the century
This was crazy: I had watched excellent cricket, experienced the best possible weather at Lord's, made some wonderful friends, and watched non-stop cricket for three hours, ending with watching India bat as well! Yes all I could think of, at the risk of sounding irritating even to myself, was Paisa Vasool!
And thus transpired an absolutely wonderful experience at Lord's. Where else could you walk by a stadium hosting such a historic event, stand in a short line, and buy a cheap ticket?
As my newfound friends Patrick Battersby, and John and Nigel said, 'You cannot ask for more mate!'
Image: Matt Prior wait for Harbhajan to bowl
Photographs: Siddhanta Pinto
Jam packed ground
Day Four: Bag packed, with a full day's cricket definitely on my mind, I strode out into the morning of the fourth day. England had just begun their second innings, well in command, and since I'd unfortunately missed Day three, due to personal reasons, with all of Dravid's heroics and Sachin's thirty odd, I was determined to make the most of the sunny Sunday.
As soon as I hit the main promenade towards Lord's, however, this confidence made way to a distinct sense of dread. The streets were crowded already at 8:30 am, while play was scheduled to begin at 11. I hurried, nonetheless, towards the ticket counter, to already find a line assembled, and my worst fears were confirmed when the crowd gathered outside said that for the first time in four mornings, the ticket counter hadn't opened.
Just then I was approached by two Indian-looking gentlemen. Unlike the touts, these men seemed a little nervous and unsure. 'Need a ticket? How many?"
'Oh dear, here we go again,' I thought. The going rate that morning for a single ticket into Lords was 250 quid.
'Need just one, man.'
'Come to the side, let's talk.'
Uh-Oh, that would mean I'd lose my much coveted spot in the ticket line.
'Can't we talk here?'
'No, it's illegal to sell tickets just like that.'
Image: There is no seat left on the ground
Photographs: Siddhanta Pinto
Wonderful English players
These were definitely not touts, and they seemed much too decent and nervous to be touts. I went with them to a side street.
It turns out Subhash and Mahendra, God bless them, had gone to unimaginable lengths to acquire tickets for ALL 5 DAYS of the Test match. Indians from Gujarat, and I knew it immediately from the lilt in their accent, they had moved to London for business after growing up in Uganda.
'We have just one ticket spare, our friend cannot make it.'
'Oh, perfect. Will you sell it to me at face value (85 quid)?' I asked, hopefully.
'No, you take it for 60!'
Now how do you react to that?
I just quietly hugged them, hurriedly walked into the ground, and chatted with them for the rest of the day as we watched Test.
Lord's in the morning, before the start of play, is resplendent. It is easily the best time to be at Lord's during a big Test match.
As I was quickly learning, for warm-up and net sessions, the players walk through the crowds gathering underneath the Compton stand, some of them ambling through the crowds, to get to their practice grounds. This is amazing.
Probably nowhere else in the world can you interact with players in such a way. I got autographs of Chris Tremlett, Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Strauss, and Sreesanth. What is glaring in its difference, however, is how the sets of two fans behave.
With the English players, it's a wonderful calm, you shake their hand, joke around with them, they sign a few things, and the British fans will holler a few funny things at them from a distance. Of course, as the crowd builds, the players get hardly any space to amble along.
Image: Kevin Pietersen signs autographs before the play
Photographs: Siddhanta Pinto
Broad, Prior punish India
But you bring ANY Indian cricketer to the same place, at the same time, and it's like you're back in India again. Not only the Indian fans present, but everyone seems to want a piece of the action! Fans fall onto these players from all angles, security staff all of a sudden have a role to play, and far fewer autographs are signed! It's definitely more fun this way, being part of a star struck clamouring crowd.
My awesome morning then just got better.
As I got to my seat to sit next to Subhash and Mahendra again, that session of play was special. We were off our seats cheering crazily like in the World Cup final. Praveen Kumar started if all off, and then Ishant, fielding just below my stand -- the mount stand, took over with the ball splendidly. By the time the bails were off at lunch time, England were 5 down!
I had witnessed one of the best sessions of play after tea on the second day, but this, this was even better!
Post lunch however, while delirious Indian fans were contemplating a victory, Stuart Broad, and Matt Prior, like he had done in the first innings, frustrated us with their excellent innings. It was this frustration that prompted me to get up and roam around the lawns of Lord's.
I bought myself a Pimms, and then became one with Lord's. On the lawns, just adjoining the players practice area, is where I experienced my most favourite cricket watching experience of my life. As I lay down on the amazing turf sipping away, watching the action on the big screen, with children running around, men and women of all ages playing their own little Test matches with toy bats and balls, and merry men high on Fosters and Pimms, rolling around on the grass, I knew this was the home of cricket. The rumble of the crowd in the stadium drew our attention to the cricket now and then, the rest was quite simply a picnic
All in all, a fabulous two days spent at Lord's. India didn't do well as you must now very well know. But know this too, Test cricket is here to stay, and if you have any interest in the game, Lord's is where you must begin!
Image: Stuart Braod and Matt Prior celebrate after putting a century stand