June 2009
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John Stern: It could be Rotterdam as Dutch ensure grim start for England

June 6th, 2009 by John Stern in Twenty20


As The Beautiful South sang, this could be Rotterdam or anywhere. The Nursery End of Lord’s as you’ve never seen it before, awash with orange in every conceivable manifestation: silly hats, cricket shirts, football shirts and jackets (maybe that was the stewards).

The World Twenty20 might be grossly and unfairly overshadowed by the Ashes in the minds of the British media and public but the Dutch had bought into it and then some.

It was a sight and an atmosphere to lift the mood. The look on the face of Colin Gibson, the ECB communications director, said it all: Sod’s Law was officially in operation. After an unbroken fortnight of glorious early summer weather, the temperature had plummeted and the drizzle started. The only place colder would have been a breakfast meeting between Ricky Ponting and Andrew Symonds.

KP won’t have seen this many Dutchmen in one place since he got booed in Johannesburg . Maybe that’s why he didn’t play. It wasn’t his Achilles, just some uncomfortable highveld flashbacks.

The tournament – or “turnament” as the Duke of Kent pronounced it in the lowest-key opening ceremony since Gordon Brown’s inauguration as Labour leader – deserved better than this. The Dutch deserved better (they got it later).

I assumed the ground was a sell-out yet there were stacks of empty seats. Hardly any of the hospitality boxes in the Mound Stand were occupied. Most of the seats in the pavilion were deserted. The man from the ICC insisted it was or as near as damn it. If it was then plenty of people didn’t show up or maybe they did but left before the start because of the rain and the cold. Maybe they came to see Alesha Dixon and departed when her part of the opening ceremony was canned because the podium was too wet.

So instead we had David Morgan and the Duke of Kent. A more incongruous unveiling of a youthful, vibrant global sporting event it was hard to imagine. Although the 1999 World Cup debacle ran it close.

It was also hard to imagine that the game which was about to follow would be any less of a damp squib. And despite England’s less than ruthless second half of their innings in which they added only 73 to the 89 they scored off the first 10 overs, no one – except the most orange or Orangemen – thought they’d cock it up.

“We can play a bit you know,” said one of the two Dutch journalists in the press box with about five overs to go as disbelieving English hacks gasped in a mixture of delight (at the remarkable story happening before them) and horror at the latest debacle after England’s winter of extreme discontent.

With seven needed off the last over, the easily identifiable Dutch were dancing in the stands. When it got down to two off the last ball, they were racked with nervous tension. And then … bedlam. The Dutch team stormed the pitch and the players linked arms in front of the Mound Stand while their euphoric supporters bowed in devotion.

If the players hadn’t been wearing long trousers, we could have been at Wembley. The scenes were somehow familiar to anyone who has witnessed a Dutch football pitch. Lord’s has never seen anything like it.

This was a grim day for England and perhaps post-Stanford karma for the ECB. Their team selection and fielding under pressure was flaky at best. But, in unpromising circumstances, this turned out to a great day for cricket and a perfect start to a tournament. England will just carry on talking about the Ashes.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer

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