Perfect press box

The press box at Old Trafford gets full marks for thoughtfulness. By K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

The press box at Manchester’s Old Trafford is right up there with the best in the world. A view over the bowler’s arm is an accepted feature of almost all press boxes but where Old Trafford scores is the thoughtfulness that underlines its structure.

Most often in press enclosures, the front row reporters in hindsight don’t actually get the best seat in town. This is precisely because the televisions are placed right above their heads and every time they want to catch a replay, the scribes have to crane their necks or stand up, take a few steps backwards and watch.

It can get strenuous through the day but at Old Trafford, every reporter on the front row also has access to a mini television placed on his table. It makes work easier and added to that, the press box is spacious.

And for all sports hacks chasing razor-sharp deadlines, the biggest boon is the placement of the press conference hall right behind the press box. Once the day’s play is over, the harried sports writer gets those extra minutes to check and fire his report, before taking a few steps and slipping into the conference hall just before a player comes in to address the media. You cannot ask for more from a press box!

Dry humour, the British way

Lines that crackle with dry humour is innate to the written word as well as conversations across England’s landscape. For instance, in the Express trains that rush across the United Kingdom, the western lavatory’s lid has this interesting message on the inside flap: “Please don’t flush nappies, sanitary towels, gum, old phones, unpaid bills, junk mail, your ex’s sweater, hopes, dreams or goldfish down this toilet.”

In Old Trafford, there is no way you can get away from the greatest delivery in cricket — Shane Warne’s big leg-break that clipped Mike Gatting’s off-bail two decades back. And one of the lines quoted on the walls inside the venue reads thus: “How anyone can spin a ball the width of Mike Gatting boggles the mind” — Martin Johnson, on Shane Warne’s ‘Ball of the Century.’ That Gatting is a portly man is well known and there is no mistaking the tongue-in-cheek humour in Johnson’s line.

The First World War

England is awash with nostalgia over the centenary remembrance of the First World War (1914-18). Newspaper reports dwell into various functions that the government conducts and there are features about whether generations far removed from the great war, are truly aware of members within their families, who were martyrs in the long clash.

A local tabloid carries a picture of the Duchess of Cambridge laying a floral tribute at the military cemetery in Belgium and the headline reads: “We were enemies...today we are friends.” One night, August 4 to be precise, lights are switched off for a while all across Britain in memory of the martyrs.

The BBC publishes a magazine that is titled ‘The First World War Story’ and in that, issue editor Rob Attar writes in his prologue: “For four years, vast armies slugged it out across the continent, leaving landscapes scarred, empires shattered and millions dead or wounded. The war cast a long shadow over the 20th century and it could be argued that we have not yet escaped it today.”

Even cricket is not immune to this groundswell of emotion and during the course of the third Test at Southampton, both the England and Indian teams observe a minute’s silence in memory of innumerable cricketers, who were part of the war and lost their lives.

This concern crosses borders

In Manchester, don’t be surprised when your taxi driver lapses into Punjabi while talking on the phone to his relatives. A majority of them hail from Pakistani Punjab with roots in Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

And once they realise that Indian scribes are travelling in the cab, they quickly revert to local Hindi radio stations and the latest Bollywood songs waft in. When India performs badly during the fourth Test, a driver asks: “Why is India playing so badly?” His anguish is genuine and though he may be on the other side of Wagah, there is an overwhelming sense of solidarity with the neighbour.