London: England IS probably the one country we hear about the most while growing up in India. The places, the history—of which there is no dearth—the towns, the atmosphere and even the weather. So when the flight actually crosses German airspace and flies over the North Sea — the same route taken during the German blitzkrieg as we learnt from the history books — and the various English towns start showing up on the Virtual Map, you almost feel like you’ve been there before. Everything somehow feels very familiar.
There are of course those—from Watford to Reading—that you recognize from the eponymous football clubs that they represent or those from cricketing folklore, Tunbridge Wells, where of course Kapil Dev scored his unbeaten 175 against Zimbabwe from a position of 17/5. There are others that ring a bell from more pop-culture references—Aldershot features in one of Sherlock Holmes’ more thrilling adventures, the one with the crooked man.
And once you’re done with the lengthy underground journey from Heathrow, you start marking everything that you expect out of England. Gloomy skies? Check. A nip in the air? Check. A polite almost apologetic drizzle in the air? Check. Red-brick houses lining streets that seem eerily calm? Check. And since it is London, everyone seems to be in a hurry, even at the odd hour. And once you get to the Oval, the first course of action is spotting the famous Gasholders, which isn’t too tough nor is the massive banner advertising the Women’s World Cup that hangs off it.
But that’s where the Englishness ends on Tuesday. You actually walk around the ground a few times to spot a few locals, for everyone in and around the Oval, from cricketers to fans to even the stewards, seems to be from the subcontinent.
The only English lot are those behind the many food stalls selling everything from the local brew to pies. And it’s a scene you expect to encounter over the next few weeks as the cricket moves to Birmingham and back to London, at least when the Asian teams are in action—there are close to 30 media personnel from Bangladesh and India respectively, for the record.
For good measure, as the India and Bangladesh match petered out towards a facile finish, one section of the Indian contingent suddenly erupted with a chant of “Gully, gully mein shor hai, Pakistan chor hai,”, and the Oval had turned into Wankhede, adding to the prevailing familiarity.