On Saturday morning at 10.54, the Oval felt like the quietest place in London.
This was quite an achievement, since roughly 25,000 were in attendance.
And yet there they were, silence personified, the peace broken only by the clanking of machinery outside the ground and a passing plane above it.
Cricket delivered a perfect tribute to the Queen during England’s third Test against South Africa at the Oval
The minute’s silence, then, was precisely that.
It was not a minute’s applause, which has come into fashion, as if spectators can’t trust themselves to keep schtum for 60 seconds, or at least don’t regard silence as sufficiently demonstrative.
It was proper pin-drop stuff, the ultimate sign of respect in a society where he or she who shouts loudest often shouts last.
Like the Queen herself, it was a throwback. This was a response in her image — unshowy, unfussy, understated. And that, surely, was the point.
While football made an early call on the decorum of playing sport, cricket handled things perfectly — cancelling the second day of the third Test against South Africa, then getting things going (following a first-day washout) on the third.
You could hear a pin-drop in the minute’s silence – the ultimate sign of respect in a society where he or she who shouts loudest often shouts last
Day three of the Test saw one of the first public renditions of the anthem God Save the King
The Queen was never too fussed about cricket, despite all her visits to Lord’s. Horses were her thing.
But it’s hard to believe she’d have been anything other than deeply moved, both by what didn’t happen at the Oval on Friday and by what did on Saturday — a double doff of the cap that was neither mawkish nor melodramatic, and appeared to capture most of the public mood.
Clearly, the continuation of the game was what the ECB’s accountants wanted: cancellation might have cost £4million, since there is no insurance against the monarch’s death.
But it probably coincided with the Queen’s wishes, too. In most respects, she was deliberately unknowable; in this instance, we could have a decent guess.
And so it was that while football called off everything, depriving millions of fans of light relief and costing thousands their train fares and hotel fees, cricket became the sport synonymous with one of the first public renditions of God Save the King — a symbolic shift in the life of the nation, whatever your views of patriotism and pageantry.
Cricket showed football how it could be done over the weekend – after the latter saw matches called off following the death of the Queen
It was sung impeccably by Laura Wright, and supported instinctively by the crowd.
Later, Wright told the BBC that she had had to relearn the anthem, breaking it down and putting it back together. It sounded a curious observation. After all, what more was there to do except change ‘Queen’ to ‘King’, and ‘her’ to ‘him’?
But by explaining it as a question of retraining the muscle memory, Wright spoke for many: so small a tweak, so large its significance.
The act of singing was in itself a way of looking back and moving on. Everyone at the Oval — monarchist or republican — must have felt privileged to be part of one of the new era’s first drafts.
Then came the applause, heartfelt and cathartic. And when the cricket started on Saturday, it was hard to find anyone who thought it disrespectful.
Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd
Part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group