Lord's at dusk

The Lord’s Test

In About the Game by Bill Ricquier

There it is, in the diary: Thursday 25 June, Lord’s.

I had two tickets for each of the first four days of the Test against the West Indies.

Of course the series was cancelled weeks ago. Cancelled or postponed? it is true that England will play three Tests against West Indies starting on 8 July. For this all cricket followers owe a huge debt of gratitude to the cricket boards of England and Wales, and the West Indies (and Pakistan who will play three Tests in August). Of course the matches will be played behind closed doors so it will all be a bit strange but at least there will be play. The first Test will be at Southampton and the other two at Old Trafford. That is because these grounds have hotels onsite so everyone involved in the games can stay in an infection-free bubble.

This means of course that there will be no Test at Lord’s. Can there be such a thing as an English summer without a Test at Lord’s?

The answer is obviously No. It is true, of course, that the first Test of all, between England and Australia in 1877, was played at The Oval. I went to The Oval last year (for the World Cup match between Australia and Sri Lanka) for the first time since I literally can’t remember when, and I thought it was marvellous. But it’s not Lord’s.

What is it that makes Lord’s different? There is the history, of course, but The Oval has as much history, and Old Trafford and Headingley are not far behind. Because of the connection with its owners, the Marylebone Cricket Club (“MCC”), established in 1787, the historical backdrop of Lord’s is impossible to ignore. Byron played in the first Eton v Harrow match at Lord’s, admittedly at the first ground, in Dorset Square. Thomas Lord moved to his most enduring location in 1814.

It’s not easy to say what the difference is but there is an indefinable something. In a short story, hardly a story, more an “atmosphere” if there is such a thing, Neville Cardus, in A Sentimental Journey, imagined Old Jolyon, of John Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga, spending a day at Lord’s. “Jolyon remembered a phrase he had read the other day about Lord’s ‘Eternal England’; rhetorical, of course, but true in a way.”

The look of the ground is obviously part of it. I think that it looks as good now as it can ever have looked. The old Grand Stand, dating from 1926, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, who worked with Lutyens on the architecture of New Delhi and designed the War Memorial cloisters at Winchester College, with the weathervane Old Father Time, on the roof of the scoreboard pulling the stumps, was full of character, but the new Grand Stand looks as good and is more comfortable. (Old Father Time is slightly less prominent now located between the Mound and Tavern Stands.) The new Warner Stand is magnificent.

The Pavilion is the special glory of Lord’s. Erected during the close season of 1889-90, this structure is part shrine, part art gallery, part seat of governance, part sanctuary. Oh, and one of my favourite bars in London is on the roof. And of course the players are in the Pavilion. I don’t care how old you are, if you are a cricket person, standing in the Long Room while the players make their way down the central staircase through to the playing area makes your heart beat that little bit faster. I really think that, along with Winchester Cathedral, the Pavilion at Lord’s is among my favourite buildings in the world.

The Long Room, Lord’s

As with all places of worship, one should strive to arrive at Lord’s early. I realise that this is not always possible. People come from all over the country, sometimes just for the day, and one has to cope with the exigencies of public transport. If you are a member, and holing to secure a seat in the Pavilion, you turn up early and queue – for a big game, maybe at 6 a m. If social distancing is still in force next year the queue outside the Grace Gates will stretch back to Baker Street. The reward is a decent seat and, if it’s to your taste, a bacon or sausage roll and a coffee from the stalls at the back of the Harris Garden behind the Pavilion.

You want to get there early to soak in the atmosphere. To be fair, with the first day of a Test it is the same at many grounds. I have watched three Ashes Tests at Adelaide and there is something very special about the first day there. Adelaide is a small, attractive city with a large, historical and very agreeable ground, and if you start from the city there is only one way to walk to it- across the bridge that spans the Torrens river. That is an exhilarating walk. But nothing quite matches the arrival inside Lord’s.

You will always meet people you know, whether by accident or design. Cricket is the most companionable of spectator sports. No other game presents the same opportunities for purposeful or aimless chatter between events on the field of play, or course, or court or whatever it might be. You might drift off altogether and then, suddenly, something happens and you are back in the game. Of course that is the same at any cricket ground but there is something about the subdued but excited murmur of the Lord’s crowd before the start of play on the first day of a Test that is unique.

2019 saw – heard? – two more unusual sounds (I wasn’t present to hear them). By all accounts there were times when the noise made by the crowd during the World Cup final was more like that made by a crowd at Anfield or the other Old Trafford; and during the Lord’s Test against Australia there was the eerie silence when Steve Smith was felled by a bouncer from Jofra Archer.

I first went to Lord’s in 1965. My brother, who was much older than me, was a solicitor in Winchester. In those days provincial firms often used London firms as agents for particular matters. This must have been one such occasion, no doubt orchestrated to coincide with the Test. I remember being in the entrance hall to the office, my brother chatting to the receptionist. “Was he a mistake?” she asked. It’s funny what you remember.

I can recall nothing about the cricket whatsoever, literally nothing, apart from a vague sense of being there. It was the South African Test, I know that. We did a similar thing two years later, in 1967, for the Pakistan Test. This time I do remember one particular thing. Not long after we arrived there was an enormous roar from the crowd. I had never been part of such a large crowd before, and this really made an impact. Looking at the scorecard in Wisden, it must have been to celebrate Ken Barrington’s century.

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After that, things get better. I can remember a lot more. We had two amazing days at the Ashes Test of 1972, seeing England’s remarkable collapse to Bob Massie and Greg Chappell’s famous century, one of the great Lord’s innings. There is another great thing about Lord’s. You need to walk around the ground, of course, and get a feel for the whole place – much more easily accomplished there than at other big English grounds. Behind the Pavilion is always exciting because you are likely to catch a glimpse of interesting cricket people. I must have done well that year because among the six Jack Fingleton books in my library are two inscribed “Best wishes Bill – Lord’s 1972, Jack Fingleton”. One of them, Cricket Crisis, published in 1946 (mine is a 1947 reprint), must have been brought along on the off chance. The other, Fingleton On Cricket, was probably brought at the shop on the ground. Somewhere I have the scorecard, signed by former England captain Bob Wyatt.

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In 1973 we saw Gary Sobers, unquestionably the greatest cricketer of my time, score his final Test century. That year I also watched the first day of the University match. Because I was up at Oxford – or was I a member of OUCC, I can’t remember (I did write a bit for The Cherwell – I could watch from the Pavilion. I had been in the Pavilion before, when Hampshire were playing Middlesex. This was different somehow. My friend Trevor Glover, also a rugby Blue, opened the batting and at lunch, after two hours, was seven not out.

I spent most of the summer of 1975 In London, and saw the Saturday of the Ashes Test: John Edrich made a big hundred against Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.

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For various reasons that was the last Test I saw at Lord’s for quite a long time though I did see the 1977 Gillette Cup final, won quite easily by Middlesex but made memorable by Glamorgan’s Mike Llewellyn hitting a six that almost cleared the Pavilion.

My next visits came in the early 90s when we were living back in England. I tended just to see one day, usually though not always the first. A few highlights: the first day of Graham Gooch’s triple century against India; Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis in 1992; two cup final wins for Hampshire; a century for Michael Slater in 1993 and a magnificent 142 for Martin Crowe in 1994 – I can feel that I am watching that innings now, sitting in the sun at the Nursery End.

Then it was back to Singapore. Of course we made trips back. I watched a not very exciting day of the New Zealand Test with my brother in 1999. It seems hard to believe but that was the last day’s Test cricket I watched in St John’s Wood until 2013.

We did of course continue to make visits to England; it must have been a timing issue I suppose. By now my MCC membership had come through so things became a bit different.

The Lord’s Pavilion

Since 2013 I have tried to be there for one of the usually two Tests played at Lord’s each year and hopefully see the whole game. It is most fun to invite guests (especially if they bring a picnic…) but sadly you can’t bring guests into the Pavilion during a Test match.

A few more highlights. Australia, 2013: a big hundred for Joe Root opening the innings; a Shane Watson masterclass on DRS. None of us knew it but it was Phil Hughes’ last Test.

2015, Australia again. Too soon again and very different with a double century for Smith. Then Mitchell Johnson really tore into England. And our batsmen were not the only victims of Australian brutality. While I was sitting watching Johnson from an eyrie in the Pavilion – not a million miles from the aforementioned bar – that ultimate arbiter of good taste, Shane Warne, laid into my blameless hat; the results are not without amusement.

Mitchell Johnson, Shane Warne … and me

The game ended early on the Saturday and I walked back into town with a friend, pausing for tea on the roof terrace of the lovely Georgian home of the vicar of St Marylebone: somehow a very Lord’s moment. And in its way a Singapore moment too: I discovered that Raffles was married in the church.

In 2017 it was the West Indies. They were disappointing after their amazing performance at Headingley. Iffy weather and an almost unplayable James Anderson are the principal recollection.

In 2018 it was Pakistan. England were rubbish.

Then there was 2019. I think I was in England and/ or Europe four times in all during the calendar year. I did go to Lord’s once, to pick up my Men’s World Cup media accreditation kit (I thought I would drop that in) but I had gone to the wrong place – it was at The Oval. I watched three World Cup matches, but none was at Lord’s.

Naturally I had arranged to go to the Ashes Test there. Irony of ironies – in view of what’s happened since – I had ‘flu, or at least a bad enough cold to discourage me from taking a 13 hour flight. So I cancelled the arrangements.

And now we have 2020, and where we are.

I am slightly sceptical of the power of prayer, but please let us get back to Lord’s next year.

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