LONDON's pastel sunset smiled on a pert, stemmed glass half-full (or was it half-empty?) with rosé, which blushed in response. In its vicinity were staggered several stout glasses of stale beer, each in a different stage of consumption before being dumped by their drinkers.

A couple of crestfallen pork pies skulked near a pack of pink prawns, their pristine packaging not preventing them from being condemned to a life punctuated by awkward questions about their sell-by date.

All of which went unseen by a pair of binoculars, which had a faraway look in its empty eyes.

There is much to be gleaned from studying the detritus of a day's play in the stands at the Oval before the small swarm of cleaners moves through, ant-like, to pick the place clean and ready for another day's play.

Yesterday, when England and SA contested the fifth day of the first Test, was just such a day.

For many, the day started with a jerk on the Tube, the engineering masterpiece that Londoners take for granted.

"D'ya think England will hang on, then?" Bell and Prior, yes; the rest, no.

"C'mon - we bat lower than sea level. Remember 'oo we're playing against, willya?"

All rails led to the Oval stop, where the cargo was disgorged on to impossibly crowded platforms, up stairs alive with pumping legs and on to escalators that became dangerously clogged at their summit.

From there, it was out into the brightness of what the locals called the "first real day of summer, finally", and along, at snail's pace, pavements as congested as those in downtown Dhaka, Bangladesh.

A bobby issued stern orders: "Stay on the pavement! Get out of the road! Let the traffic pass!"

Unlike in downtown Dhaka, he was obeyed. But, even in England, there's always a voice of unreason: "What law is 'ee breaking by crossing the road? Why don't you book 'im, then?"

The bobby stepped up, addressed the dissenter nose to nose, and order was restored. The gap had been minded.

"'E's already 'ad a coupla shandies, innit," was the verdict delivered as the Hobbs Gate loomed, at once stark and welcoming. Few experiences in sport can be as efficient, well-mannered and thorough as passing a steward's muster at an English cricket ground.

In the time it takes to draw a breath, you have been welcomed, had your ticket or press pass scanned and verified, your bag politely searched, and been apologised to "for the delay". Delay? What delay?

Once inside, the mad flow of cricket's culture code dictates. Blokes bearing beer have right of way, uber alles.

Kids trying to stay within hand-holding distance of their parents are next in the give-way pecking order, then old folks, then women.

For everyone else, it's survival of the fittest in a potentially fatal free-for-all.

Being able to foresee obstacles hidden behind other obstacles and avoiding them, all the while moving towards your seat at pace, and arriving just in time to see the first ball of the day, is at least as vital a signifier of success in cricket as knowing exactly where your off-stump is.

When, at an English Test ground these days, you hear the strains of Jerusalem ooze through the atmosphere as you wade around the back of the stands, you know you have five minutes to get there.

You hear the umpires announced, followed by the fielding team, and then the batsmen. Stairs disappear two at a time.

Collars of shirts and jackets are reunited hastily. A doorway is stepped through. Dale Steyn takes the first step of his run.

As with so many things in this silly, spectacular game, timing is everything.