The entrance ticket puzzled me initially; a maximum of 750mL of alcohol per person could be taken into the ground. A maximum! Gee, back home you're allowed a maximum of nothing and lucky if you can get full strength beer.
Despite gloomy forecasts and ominous showers the night before, when we had walked to St John's Wood from Harrow Road it was reasonably sunny and obviously the game would start on time. Our first setback of the day was soon to occur though, at the body search area they were letting through amounts by far in excess of 750mL alcohol through but my Australian flag was confiscated as a prohibited item; I was told to wait until a Green Team manager came over who took me to the 'Confiscated Items Office' where said flag was deposited and I was given a number so I could collect it later; not too bad really, I thought that was the last I was going to see of it again! They weren't this toffy at the Oval for the World T20; flags were allowed there, cans/bottles etc, not. As this was occurring Strauss went out, second ball of the day, bowled Hilfenhaus (sure I saw that name in Germany last weekend).
Went to take our seats in the Compton Stand, top deck. Fantastic view of the ground, although no cover. Had to wait to take our seats, and as we did so another wicket fell, this time Swann, caught Ponting bowled Siddle. This brought groans from the Poms and cheers from the small pattering of Aussies, and allowed us to find our seats. The steward handed us each two feet of kitchen absorbent towelling; a sign of things to come no doubt.
We were pretty much smack in the middle of legitimate members of the ECB Twelfth Man club, with a few interlopers like us in between. Next bay though was mainly folk from Australia, mostly 'grey ghosts' on package tours, kitted out in various supplied uniforms that did look a treat. Broad went out the very next over, like skipper Strauss bowled by Hilfenhaus. I felt cockahoop by now, despite the Poms being none-for nearly two hundred we were going to bowl the bastards out for well under 400, less than at Cardiff when the tail wagged.
Unfortunately, three bowlers had other ideas, Jimmy Anderson, Graeme Onions and Mitchell Johnson. Every run these guys made was cheered like the Ashes has been won; I mean every run. Soon the 400 was posted to justifiably immense cheers, as the Aussies bled runs at a ODI-rate of 5 an over. No cheers louder than for the bloke who popped his champagne cork into the lower deck, or for any Aussie overthrows. It actually surprised me how raucous the fans would be, I expected a very reserved crowd, not one cheering every quick single or cork popping.
England were finally all out for 405, time for a quick drink and coincidentally the Queen's arrival, as the St George's Cross was taken down and replaced with some sort of Royal Standard we can only assume. On a tour here last year we learned Prince Phillip had twice been president, so thought he might have been here today but not his more famous Mrs (or not Mrs as it was). The tenth wicket ended up costing 47 runs.
The Royal visit combined with Anderson and Onions' tail wagging efforts had their morale sky-high, and the young Aussie opener Phil Hughes was again the first wicket to fall for Australia, this time for just four runs, the wicket taken by Anderson in the third over. His replacement, skipper Ponting, didn't last much longer himself, out in mildly controversial circumstances two overs later, caught by his opposite number and bowled Anderson. Ponting wanted the umpires to give him out rather than walk, the decision passed to the third umpire who ruled the catch had been taken cleanly.
The Aussies were certainly in a bit of a hole now at 10 for 2 and Katich still on nought. By lunch they crept to 22 runs for no further loss, altogether a fairly disastrous session overall.
Not a lot of excitement after lunch; two rain delays at least gave us a chance to engage in a bit of polite banter with our neighbours, heard one bloke's story of his cricket trips to the Caribbean and how at The Oval in the 1980s the crowd would be three quarter West Indies and was a great atmosphere. We found the same at the World T20 game with the Windies back in May. After the first delay, the pompous bloke next to me returned to grab his bag, but seemed in an altered state of mind and hurried off.
On the wireless in between shipping forecasts, as usual Ian Chappell was in his element in the rain delay, telling very amusing stories of his time in the Australian side. Just love the way he tells stories and does his impersonations of others with a bit of an uneducated tone ,no matter who he's quoting, to illustrate his point. Also for the second game running, Dizzy Gillespie gets asked to tell us all about the time he made two hundred for Australia, in case nobody heard it at Cardiff last week.
Pompous bloke returned sans bag but holding laptop and blackberry as there's still a few spits of rain, and takes his seat. Showed us all a photo on his blackberry his mate sent him from the MCC bar. Shortly thereafter the mate returns, after this life-changing experience. Pompous one asks if he has his bag; no he says, so pompous one asks around after said bag; we had to turn away to hide the giggles. Lefties Katich and Hussey batted very sensibly, giving nothing but creeping towards fifty runs each to reach 87 for 2 by tea, held late at 4:20 due to the rain delays. Pompous one eventually realised he's lost the bag so set off at tea, promising to buy the folk behind a bottle of wine (he doesn't come back).
We were then treated to a bit of Cricketing royalty, as Ritchie Benaud joined others inducted into some sort of Cricket Hall of Fame. If only Ritchie or his younger broadcasting colleague Shane Warne could roll the arm over and let Nathan Hauritz rest that dislocated finger of his...
After resting following both rain delays, Flintoff took the ball first after tea. The Hundred was up shortly after, from 30 overs as I bet the Mrs Katich would reach 50 first. I soon lost this bet as Katich was out leg glancing into the deep, caught by Stuart Broad to the cheers from the Lord Tavener's stand off Onions for 48, Australia 103 for 3.
Flintoff gave Michael Clarke two high balls to start off with to 'Ooohs' from the fans, but Clarke was soon off the mark with a single. Hussey scored his fifty with a single from the next ball, even getting a few in our area to stand and clap politely. Next over however he made his first mistake, leaving a 95 mile an hour ball from Flintoff that removed his off stump to leave us 111 for 4, and the rot set in again.
Clarke was next to go, caught at mid-on by Cook from Anderson, 111 for 5 now. First talk of Australia needing to follow-on, but this talk was dismissed as wishful thinking, after all the two in now (North and Haddin) each made centuries at Cardiff (then again so did Katich and Ponting).
Haddin got off the mark stylishly, well sort of, three from a misfield that should've been a dot ball. But his technique was flawless as he gave every ball and his wicket the respect they deserved, meticulously counting the number of fielders each delivery so he knew where he could score. North was similarly conservative, but seemed content to block out each delivery and not make a single run. After umpteen balls and about half an hour he was out for a duck, bowled middle peg by that man Anderson, who by now was starting to menace with both bat and ball like Flintoff of 2005.
Started to feel a bit sorry for my clansman by now, as the English sportsmanship came to the fore again, en mass getting stuck into anyone in yellow so much as going for a slash getting a rousing 'cheerio' on the way out. It was now up to Johnson to atone somewhat for his bowling effort and have a long innings and let Haddin score. He was out soon however, playing a similar shot as Katich but in front of our stand, caught near the boundary by Cook off Broad for 4, 148 for 7 now as 'Are you Kiwis in disguise' was chanted out.
The 150 was brought up however Haddin was next to get himself out, a real shame after such a promising innings, out hooking, caught Cook off Broad for 28. Hauritz now took to the field, dodgy finger and all. Not surprisingly, an over later when the light was offered the Aussies charged from the field at 156 for 8 at a little before half past six. On the way out we saw our mate with the lost bag, only this time he was minus his laptop also and really looked in a state.
A perfect day's cricket for the English fan; the tail wagged, the Queen appeared, and Aussie batsman were literally shaking in their boots. And for many folk the £125 charge for a magnum of champagne was no object, so why wouldn't you be happy! For our lot though I didn't think it could have gone much worse really. But I will not forget today and will make sure next time we're on top of our game to ensure similar good sportsmanship next time I make it to an Ashes test at the MCG (or in any other sport for that matter). Still think we can 'save' this game, or even win it, just need the top four to get a century each in the follow on and skittle the Poms for under 200 in the fourth innings.