IT must be many years since a Test Match has been anticipated with such interest and, on the part of England's supporters, with such hope as the one between Australia and England which starts, weather permitting, at The Oval in London today. The cricketing issues have been debated endlessly and will not be determined until the winning run is scored or the final wicket taken. But there is another matter of more than passing interest that has to be settled this morning even before the coin is tossed to decide who will bat first. This is, simply, whether or not a new national anthem for England will be born at the Oval during the next few days.
Until comparatively recently it was unthinkable that unison singing might be heard at a cricket ground and, even if it had been thought acceptable, Rule Britannia would not have seemed appropriate; the Royal Family does not attend cricket with any regularity and, in any case, Scotland and Northern Ireland cannot be said to be major contributors to the game. But now crowd noise even at Lord's is comparable to Wembley's. So why not harness this vocal enthusiasm to a song which expresses some of the English pride stirred by the current team's successes?
But which song? At The Oval today NPower, the sponsors of the Ashes series, will be encouraging the crowd to sing William Blake's Jerusalem to Hubert Parry's stirring music before the first ball is bowled.
It's a good choice, evoking the spirit of England, and certainly better for the purpose than the somewhat jingoistic Rule Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory, or Swing Low Sweet Chariot which for some reason has been adopted by England's rugby supporters.
Furthermore, the timing is perfect; if the idea catches on and we hear Jerusalem at the Oval for the next three days its inauguration as the English national anthem could be confirmed by the full-throated rendering it will receive, as usual, at the Last Night of the Proms on Saturday. It's time for an English national anthem, let it be Jerusalem.
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