The final Test Match of the summer is always a special occasion at The Kia Oval and with a Test Series decider against South Africa to look forward to, Green Room guests arrived in fine fettle for this culmination of the summer international cricket season.
With tables pristinely set, cold Champagne bottles corked ready for service and our ambassadors Steve Harmison, Darren Gough, and Michael Vaughan ready to meet and greet guests, the weather gods had other ideas.
Menacing black clouds circled southwest London and under a bruised sky that could only indicate a downpour, respective captains Ben Stokes and Dean Elgar met in the middle for the coin toss. And a good toss to win it was for England too – damp, cloudy conditions and floodlights overhead meant the conditions for swing bowling were perfect.
With the trio of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ollie Robinson, you would be hard pushed to find a bowling unit better suited to the conditions. Sadly, with the players all but out on the pitch, the heavens opened, and a 30-minute apocalyptic deluge ensued leaving the outfield drenched and the chance of morning cricket completely wiped out.
Spirits in The Green Room were however not dampened. Our host Mark Durden-Smith was his usual rambunctious self, and it was a pleasure to hear not only from our ambassadors, but English cricket icons Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting also dropped by for a Q&A and to chat with guests. Rugby league legend Martin Offiah, Freddie Tuilagi, Judge Rob Rinder and Love Island’s Chris Hughes could also be spotted enjoying the atmosphere and the banter.
As guests soaked up the hospitality, conditions outside were not improving. Rain fell steadily throughout the morning and no play could take place, but the lack of on-field action only allowed for more entertainment from our cricketing legends. As a delicious three-course lunch was served, we had one such icon of South African cricket take to the stage for an impromptu Q&A. Shaun Pollock is one of the greatest Proteas’ cricketers and guests were thrilled to see him take a break from his SkySports commentary duties to join us.
The threat of no play was now profoundly serious, and with rain still falling, there was little do other than soak up the atmosphere. Steve Harmison, Darren Gough, and Michael Vaughan kept the mood up with hilarious stories from their cricketing past and before we knew it, attentive waiters were bringing out a mouth-watering selection of afternoon tea treats.
By now, news was filtering through regarding the situation at Balmoral and with cricket cancelled for the day on accounts of the weather, attention turned to updates from the Royal Family. Mark Durden-Smith could not have handled the situation better. As he let guests know the deeply saddening news about the passing of Her Majesty, the impact could be felt around the room, with many guests congregating on their tables to raise a glass in The Queen’s memory.
As a mark of respect, play was cancelled on day two, but the ECB made the decision to resume play on Saturday (day three) and hope that England could grind out a result in three days. Given their performances this summer, there was little doubt England could win in three days! England had won the toss and with overcast conditions scheduled on Saturday, could England’s bowling unit rip into South Africa?
As guests arrived on Saturday and the passing of Her Majesty still very much on everyone’s minds, the mood was respectful but also grateful there would be play and that the Queen’s life could be remembered and celebrated.
As the players took the field, you could not hear a pin drop in The Kia Oval. Dead silence greeted the players as they exited the dressing room to take the field and the respect shown by all that attended was unforgettable. The inimitable Laura Wright performed the anthems, and this was the first time anywhere God Save The King had been performed at any sporting event – a truly historic moment that will live long in the memory of everyone in the stadium.
With the formalities concluded, England’s record wicket taker James Anderson took the ball, and it was time to get stuck into the action. It was not Anderson though than struck first, just a couple of overs into the days play, Ollie Robinson delivered an absolute jaffa that sent Dean Elgar’s off stump tumbling. The floodgates had opened – England were on fire and Ollie Robinson took a maiden five-wicket haul, with England skittling South Africa for just 118 runs in 36.2 overs.
As England performed admirably on the field, the mood in The Green Room could not have been better. As Rory Bremner joined the entertainment with one or two impressions, guests were able to mingle with comedic legend Alan Davies, Olympic medal winner Kelly Sotherton and Made In Chelsea star Julius Cowdrey.
England, however, did not have everything their own way in the afternoon session. Unfortunately for Captain Stokes and co, South Africa boast some of the world’s best fast bowlers who were also licking their lips at the conditions. Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada wasted no time making inroads into the flimsy English batting line up. Surrey’s Ollie Pope ended the day as top scorer with 67 runs and in somewhat of a surprise, young South African bowler Marco Jansen ended up with a five-wicket haul.
England ended the day with a slender 37 run lead, but Green Room guests had witnessed an unbelievable day of Test Cricket. An incredible 17 wickets had fallen, England’s Robinson and South Africa’s Jansen had each taken five wickets and the likelihood of a result within three days was almost certain.
Despite the obvious sombre start to proceedings, the final day of Green Room cricket this summer was a remarkable experience for so many reasons and we were so pleased our guests chose to join us for this extraordinary occasion.
England were able to wrap up the Test Series on the final day, and with a Series win over South Africa now fresh in the memory, next up for England’s cricketers is the T20 World Cup and a long-awaited tour to Pakistan, all before an epic Ashes encounter with Australia next summer.
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