England visit Eden Gardens in Kolkata next week and this place rocks. With 90,000 people screaming the noise is immense and when India beat the Aussies here in 2001 to deny them a record breaking run of victories, it must have broken the sound barrier. The locals do tend to kick off occasionally with riots holding up play twice in the sixties versus Australia and the West Indies, whilst I'm sure we all remember the disgraceful scenes to mar the World Cup semi final in 1996 v Sri Lanka. Dharmasala is another interesting stadium, with the mountains covered in snow giving games of cricket a surreal edge.
Moving elsewhere in the world, and Newlands, Cape Town with Table Mountain overlooking it is an amazing venue on the eye, but St George's in Port Elizabeth on the other side of the Cape was the one I preferred for atmosphere. The ground is called a different name now under a sponsorship agreement, but the band, who stopped playing in 2003 used to make this a great place. The gospel tunes they would belt out were amazing such as Kum Ba Ya, and praising the Lord on one hand, whilst imploring Allan Donald to knock an opposition bats head off on the other, made this a wonderful paradox. The price of the beer will also makes this an extremely attractive venue for Middle Stump fans, as it is a damned sight cheaper than the piss water now served in English venues.
|Laban Benjamin...aka Gravy|
Another venue famed for music is also no longer, and that is the wonderful St John's in Antigua. A forward defensive prod from the house where Viv Richards was brought up, the rum shacks around the ground were as legendary as the flat pitch, scene of numerous world records. With Chicky's Disco blaring out of the double decker there, whilst a local cross dresser called Gravy, resplendent in various outfits would dance on a podium and fire up the locals, and this stand would party long after the game had finished. Flanked by a prison on one side of the ground, whose inmates would regularly do the ground work, and the Cathedral on the other, just add the sweet smelling ganja fumes across the ground and you have a recipe for a mental day at the cricket.
Whilst in the Caribbean, Sabina Park lacks the atmosphere of old after the new stands went up for the recent World Cup. Although overlooked by the stunning Blue Mountains, recent tracks of the sluggish nature have made this less of a venue compared to the ones of yesteryear where fast bowlers would see their reflection in the wicket and lick their lips! The Bourda is another one which can be fairly lively, and used less as the West Indies Board built a new stadium in Georgetown, Guyana. What used to be the only Test venue in South America has music blaring from DJ's in The Mound, whilst a really old pavilion in one corner completes a fascinating arena. I'm not sure however, the players found it so fascinating in a Test in 1979, when the crowd rioted and they were locked in the Pavilion terrified of the baying mob outside!
|The Bourda...in more sedate times|
In Australia, the MCG is vast and needs to be full to generate a really good one, and the folklore of Bay 13 where cups of urine would be thrown in the air during Mexican waves has been stifled by increased security. Sydney being smaller, and therefore closer to the action seems to be far safer for a Pommie bastard like myself. An old pavilion is the main focus of the ground, but the bars around the ground elsewhere are air conditioned and can be just as rowdy as the seats themselves. The Aussie grounds were far more atmospheric in the old days, when venues such as Sydney had the Hill and these days grounds like the Gabba have become faceless concrete bowls.
Closer to home, and we cover this in more detail in our book Cricket Banter which comes out in April of next year, Taunton can be lively. It normally starts fairly sedately, and then by 4pm when the cider kicks in, morphs into a cacophony of pissed up Wurzel songs, which are often very amusing. No wonder they call it the Wild West! Hove is a very different atmosphere with the sea being so close, the sort of ground still using blue and white striped deckchairs, but make no mistake once the beer flows here, versions of "Sussex by the Sea" are often heard.
|Hove...Sussex by the sea|
Canterbury is another we like, where kids play on the outfield still at tea breaks, and the locals are knowledgeable about the game, whilst Chelmsford can be wonderfully partisan. Scarborough is a great place, another partisan ground but the one in England at test level is Edgbaston.
Alec Stewart described it "up there on a world level with Eden Gardens" and especially for England games, this place goes nuts. The old Rea Bank was a pisshead's paradise and now replaced by the Eric Hollies stand, the atmosphere hasn't changed much.
Last but not least for atmosphere is Headingley. Recent developments have quelled the more boisterous behaviour but the old Western Terrace was a den of iniquity and we loved it. Fancy dress, beer flowing and songs on a mass level made this the venue of choice. I've even heard stories of some Yorkshiremen buying twenty tickets for the cricket, eighteen for them and their mates, whilst two were for local student females with no interest in cricket, and would be employed for the day to run back and forth to the bars just so the blokes wouldn't miss any of the cricket.
They do love their cricket up there!