A week ago I was lucky enough to be invited to the 3rd day of the 5th Ashes Test between England and Australia. Apart from being my first visit to an international cricket match, this was my first exposure to cricket beyond bashing at a tennis ball as a kid. I enjoy watching a little cricket on the TV, dipping in and out of a test series, but am not a cricket fan in any sense of the word. However, an Ashes Test Match was something special and I was very honored that my brother offered me one of two tickets he has managed to obtain - much to the disappointment of many of his friends.
The tickets were rather special as were provided by someone who worked at the Oval. The result was that we were in a special section, adjacent to the members pavilion, about 10 feet from the playing field, and 3 seats away from the steps that the players used. Just in front of us were the benches used by the substitute fielders and the big lenses of the professional photographers. For me this was a day out, watch some cricket, drink a beer or two, and lounge in the sun. I did not really expect it to be a photo op, but our location transformed that idea. I took my OM-D and two lenses, a 12-35mm f/2.8 and a 45-175mm consumer telezoom. This gave me a range of 24-350mm in real money, not wide enough to capture the whole ground and not long enough to really shoot the action, but a good compromise on weight versus quality.
If anyone reading this is a cricket fan they will know the story of the day, the slowest play in over 50 years of test match history. Australia started with a massive total and it seemed that England had decided there was no way they were going to win and so set out to avoid losing. This meant playing slowly and defensively, paint drying would be an apt metaphor, some of the papers suggested going to watch tin cans rust would have been more entertaining. BUT, I still thoroughly enjoyed the day, the atmosphere was amazing and the sense of being at a major event lent an excitement that the cricket could not take away. Jeremy and I had stayed up late the night before and so were not minded to drink too much, although that was not the case for the mostly white, male, middle-aged, and generally rather overweight crowd. This competed with the Oktoberfest for sheer volume of alcohol put away.
The net result was that I had far more time to take photographs than I had expected and so I started thinking about how I would document the day. This yielded a good many photos from which I have selected 15 that tell the story of the day.
The first eye opener was taking our seats at 11am and noticing that virtually everyone was already drinking. I generally have a rule of "sun past the yardarm" or something like that, but my brother insisted that we get into the spirit of things, so pints were duly purchased. We had 3 during the morning session. Which I thought was a lot, but not compared to our fellow spectators.
It was marvelous to be so close to the teams as they came and went, here the English batsmen head for the field - this is the most animated they ever appeared.
I really needed a wider lens to capture the sense of the place, but was able to capture a few iconic views, this is my favorite, the gasometer. Note the guy on the roof line to the right. I have always loved the strange juxtapositions that city photography can generate.
At the other end of the scale, my zoom was not really long enough, most of the pros had either 500mm f/4s or 400mm f/2.8s with extenders. The other issue I had was that at the long end I was shooting f/5.6 which on an m4/3 camera is more like an f/8 visually. Thus it was hard to really do much action photography, so I concentrated mostly on trying to capture the sense of the place and the structure of the game. It was also fortunate that the day was quite bright and so f/5.6 yielded a fast enough shutter speed.
I was quite impressed by what the camera could do with a cheap lens, the pros were using gear 20-30 times more expensive than I was, but I did OK - not great, but OK.
There was not much action, so a big tele probably would not have yielded very much anyway. However, what was interesting was the periods during the 3rd umpire's decisions, the Aussies clustering together, whilst the English batsmen fretted.
Getting out does hurt, KP was not a happy bunny as he walked towards the pavilion. It really is a long way to walk under the gaze of 18,000 people.
Aside from the actual play one thing I had not anticipated was how much time the substitutes spent on the field of play. Both of the Aussies actually fielded for a time, toilet breaks I think. However, they also ran onto the field frequently with drinks and other supplies. One aspect of where we were sitting was that we could actually hear them chatting with each other and throwing gentle insults back and forth with the English bench. Interestingly it really was a bench, a bog standard garden variety wooden bench.
Another aspect of the game that came as a surprise was how much activity there was additional to the cricket. Every break had some form of on pitch entertainment, here Kevin Peterson is being interviewed during some form of award for scoring many runs - well not today. Above and behind him are the corporate suites, rarely full, guess the free champagne and food was far more interesting than what was happening on the pitch.
There were a lot of cameras, I lost count of the TV crews working the event.
A rather interesting contrast was formed by an artist painting the scene, perhaps a reminder of the gentler times, when cricket was not such a media industry.
Later in the afternoon I was beginning to regret not bringing something to read as the play became progressively more tedious and the crowd turned to better things. I suspect she was brought along by her increasingly drunk husband and brought her own entertainment.
Towards the end of the day the crowd became very bored and started to make their own fun. This largely consisted of creating snakes. A lady just down from me and working for Surrey, explained that this was banned and the stewards had been instructed to stop such behavior, which she seemed to think was a shame. In the end they gave up, too many fans were involved in the game. To a continual chant of "Feed the Snake", thousands of empty plastic beer glasses were stacked in towers and then connected into a snake. This one is the longest I saw. Apparently a long standing tradition at the ground.
Finally it was over and we wandered through the ground a little. Everywhere we looked was the debris of an 8 hour drinking session.
A great day out, loads of fun, and in the end an opportunity to practice a little alternative social documentary. Sport is not my thing, personally or photographically, but large events of this type always offer up a different view of society. Technically I continue to be impressed with what mirrorless system cameras can do, I would have taken better photos with my DSLR, but I would never have taken it with me...
I have varied the crops on these images quite strongly, thinking not just about the subject but about the picture. I am increasingly finding that I prefer a more square frame to the 3/2 of a DSLR, the 4/3 framing of this system is pretty close to ideal for me.
I cannot really intellectualize about these photographs, there is no hidden meaning, except perhaps a simple comment on the excessive drinking of the 40 something middle class male, and for a change not this 40 something middle class male.