It~~s not cricket as football wins out in England

Published: Friday, June 16, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Southampton:Cricket is the new football. Well, some pundits in England were saying as much 12 months ago when Ashes fever gripped the nation.

Admittedly among those suggesting cricket was on the verge of overtaking football in the affections of the English sporting public were observers who, until the Test series against Australia got underway, thought short leg was some kind of physical problem rather than a fielding position.

But a year on from England's dramatic 100-run Twenty20 win over Australia at Hampshire's Rose Bowl base, anyone turning up at the ground for Thursday's corresponding brief encounter with Sri Lanka would have been left in no doubt about the order of priorities.

The start of what was only England's second Twenty20 match, and Sri Lanka's first, had been pushed back to 7.15pm local time (1815GMT) to allow the sell-out 20,000 crowd to watch live the England football team's World Cup 2-0 win against Trinidad and Tobago in Nuremberg on the Rose Bowl's giant screens.

"When the original fixtures were scheduled, the World Cup draw hadn't taken place," Hampshire marketing executive Jason Hill told AFP.

"As soon as we knew England were playing Trinidad and Tobago we saw it as a great opportunity to combine the two events and put on a great sporting extravaganza.

"And, by starting later in the day, it meant our new permanent floodlights would be used to greater effect in their first match. As far as we're concerned, the combination with the football is wholly positive."

Hill was understandably reluctant to accept suggestions that had the Twenty20 match gone ahead at its original start time the crowd would have been affected by sports fans opting for football over cricket.

But a brief, if albeit unscientific, survey of the stands told its own story.

Although a fair number of spectators were wearing replica England cricket shirts, they were outnumbered by those in football tops bearing the three lions.

Mark Game, an insurance broker from Sidcup, south-east England, was typical of many spectators in that he was wearing a white England football shirt with a white England cricket sunhat.

"I think it's a brilliant idea that they are starting this match later," he said. "I love my football and cricket but, if there had been a clash, I wouldn't have come and watched the football elsewhere."

For some spectators the chance to witness two sporting events in the one venue was an unexpected bonus.

"My wife bought me a ticket for my birthday," said Matthew Wilson from Chelmsford, east of London, who turned 30 on Thursday.

"I didn't realise the football was on as well," he added even though he was wearing a red England away shirt.

"But I did," said Emma, his wife.

However, the England cricket team couldn't match their footballing counterparts as they suffered a narrow two-run defeat in the Twenty20 clash.

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