It is impossible to miss it as your winged carrier makes a pterodactyl-esque swoop towards the snaky Thames below. There it is to the south,if the aircraft is moving north towards Heathrow. There is the quaint roof you have watched on the telly,its parabolic beams gleaming blissfully,completely unaware of being completely off-centre in an otherwise symmetrical cricket stadium. And there is its trademark the steely,cylindrical gasometer casting a wiry shadow over the Oval.
With a shaking index finger still pointing at it,I inform my fellow passenger of the great discovery. “Are you nuts?” he replies,in a thick Geordie accent. “And there I thought you were looking out for the Tower Bridge or Buckingham Palace.”
If you’re a cricket fan,short-changing yourself is a way of life. And if you’re a cricket fan who happens to be descending into London for the first ever time,then the Oval is your Buckingham Palace and Tower Bridge rolled into one. And it is a lot easier to spot than Lord’s from up there,even if it is not so easy to locate when down there.
Like a man possessed,you worm your way there suppressing your urge to rise above the underground as the tube stations of Hyde Park,Piccadily Circus and Leicester Square blur past. For what better is there to do in London for a first-timer than claw your way towards what was once a large cabbage field?
It was here,between the leafy exteriors of a vegetable,where it all came together for the game of cricket. A mile-long walk from the tube station of Kennington gets you to the place that hosted the first Test match in England (against Australia,1880). And,for that matter,the place that hosted the first England international in football (against Scotland,1873),and the first FA Cup final (Wanderers vs Royal Engineers,1872).
The brick-walled home of Surrey CCC is just around the corner. But on Monday,you have to wade through an ocean of light and dark green (Pakistan and South Africa fans,respectively) to get there. When you do,there’s more green in the form of Jamaican stewards wearing their national football jerseys. “Where can I find the Sir Jack Hobbs gate?” I ask. A Jamaican,who goes by the name of Bling Bling,replies,”Dere no Jack man,but through Hobbs gate you shall enter. And dis is Hobbs.”
Mr Bling is not a cricket fan. Football and more football are his two favourite sports. But nine years ago,while performing his duties as a steward during the Champions Trophy final at the Oval,he couldn’t help but catch some of the action during the second innings. Chasing England’s 217,built mainly around a Marcus Trescothick’s century,West Indies found themselves in an sticky situation: 147-8.
“I don’t know the names of most cricketers for the Caribbean,” says Bling. “But I will nevah forget Browne and Bradshaw man.” With number 10 Courtney Browne,number 11 Ian Bradshaw and number 12 Extras scoring 35,34 and 35,West Indies won their first ICC title since 1979. And the Champions Trophy,in its fourth edition,found just the advertisement it needed.
The Champions Trophy,until 2004,was the tournament for the underdogs. South Africa,victims of innumerable suffocations on the international stage,won the first event in 1998 and New Zealand,the perennial quadrennial semifinalists,won the second in 2000.
And then,in 2002,when two World Cup winners in India and Sri Lanka played the final(s),two downpours ensured that neither won.
Then,when the West Indies pulled off one of the greatest turnarounds in ODI cricket at the Oval,the tournament well and truly became a platform for the out-of-towners. However,the Australians decided to wake up in 2006,and won the next two events. With that,the romance of the Champions Trophy seemed to die. With this edition,the tournament itself bids its final farewell. But not before,it is hoped,another spectacular finish on an English ground.