Saturday, 22 September 2012

My Trip To Lords

Today, I fulfilled the missing leg of a promise I made to mates during the heat of backyard cricket, even before I reached long pants. Admittedly, I claimed I would play on all three of Sydney, Melbourne and Lords, something I can confidently recognise I have failed to do. At the time, I had only ever been to the SCG, watching Doug Walters score those historic twin centuries in February of 1969, the memory of which eventually found its own place in the museum at the SCG.

Instead, I have watched glorious deeds too many to name from the boundary in Sydney and done tours in, around and under the SCG so often, I would be happy to substitute as a tour guide. In my thirties, I finally added Melbourne to the list, touring the ground with my Dad. Today, I completed the third leg, nearly fifty years after bragging to my playing companions between overs of a Test at the LCG.

It was a overcast day: rain threatening but unlikely to arrive until the evening. My wife was to share the event in much the same way as I had stayed at her elbow as mystery collapsed and the Mona Lisa became real for that dairy farmer's teenage daughter from Woodford Island on the NSW North Coast. She got there eventually, via Armidale High School and a very clever, very committed Art teacher and thirty years of persevering with a passion. She had gone to bed with a cold which treated her badly during the night.

Reluctantly, I left for the tube station by myself.

Members Pavilion
After visiting town, carrying the ball that I had dropped yesterday - our London passes - I switched tracks and arrived at St Johns Wood in time to walk to the WG Grace gates on the southern side of the ground. The vibe started spreading over me as I walked up to the ground museum, behind stands which don't impose like Melbourne or Sydney but still keep the ground hidden. After flashing my pass at the front desk and removing my jumper to reveal my colours - my official Australian supporters shirt - I dove into the memorabilia. There was the hand stitched bag made for the blessed little urn that grown men will fight over in less twelve months, at this very ground. Nearby was the first World Cup, sponsored by Prudential but not enough insurance to provide an England win. Won twice by the West Indies and then by India, it was discarded in favour of a replacement trophy. Bats belonging to Geoff Boycott, Bradman, Viv Richards ... WG's cap ... well, this would be a forever list, so I'll leave it there.

Eventually, we were called to order by Graham, our tour guide and showed the little urn itself. The age old debate about Ashes never leaving Lords surfaced but I let it run, even the claim that the MCC is simply following Ivo Bligh's - the original owner - instructions. He  raised the doubt some people have that what we were looking at was a facsimile and went on to say that the urn had gone to Australia in 1988 for the bicentenary and a few years ago because Richard Branson made the price right. I expressed doubt that the real McCoy traveled on either occasion and was met with a rye smile.

The media centre
The visit to the Long Room was, for me, the best moments of the 90 or so minutes we were under guidance. So many ghosts rattling the silver wear and a soft hush of boots walking over carpet and the same hush as members still their conversation to allow Bradman to pass between them like a flanneled Moses. On the wall at the back the room, a quartet as famous as any: Jardine, Bradman, Miller and Hutton. Across the players entrance from them, Pelham Warner and Gubby Allen, an Australian by birth and one of five fast bowlers who toured with England during Bodyline but refused to bowl it. Many stories on that wall alone.

The guide chose to declare his disbelief that a young lad from South Africa not only didn't recognise the Little Bugger from Bowral but had never heard of him. His father was declared negligent, admittedly in a friendly way. I took exception to the naming of Bradman as the greatest batsman of all time and when challenged to name an alternate, had no hesitation in declaring my innings on Tendulkar, a selection the Indians in the tour delighted at.

We inspected the visitor's dressing room and spent some time dissecting the honour boards. I wasn't aware but "The Colonel", Dillip Vengsarkar, is the only visiting player to score three centuries in three consecutive tours. Australians feature strongly on the boards, this being a happy hunting ground for the Aussies since WWII, despite losing here last time. Graham Smith has the highest score at Lords but it was generally agreed, even by the South Africans present, no one knew how!

The retractable light towers 
The slope on the ground is obvious from either end and stands out when you take photos down at ground level.

The media centre stands out like that part of a dog which suffers the most during spading. At least, by putting it at the opposite end to the Members, your line of sight never has to contend with both buildings at one time. Mind you, apart from the Members Pavilion, the rest of the stands are plain and undistinguished and frankly inadequate by the stands of modern grandstands in stadium but then, this isn't a stadium and never will be. In Australia, we make arenas but England have small grounds to fit gently into their landscape, often controlled - as Lords in - by old clubs who own their grounds and therefore set their own agendas. No flags or musical instruments at Lords but you can bring your own food and either four bottles of beer or a bottle of wine. The dress standard has been relaxed everywhere except the Members Pavilion and Lords even allows women into areas previously reserved for more that 150 years for men.

We finished with a visit to the media centre and then below it, were given the chance to walk onto the ground. The young Sarth Efrikan did so, with his father promising great scope to his cricket education. I declined. I hadn't earned the right.

Lovely tour and as I purchased my England cap - odd choice I know, but it looked good on me - I knew I had sated a thirst, closed the last side of that boldly stated triangle of promises and ticked the second number on my bucket list for this trip. Two, three and four are now completed.

Despite all of these considerations, the SCG is still a better ground and its tour more interesting, more informative. I may have walked about the home of cricket, the place where Father Time looks down the years and affirms the game and the single place which has influenced the game more than any other, on and off the field. Even last week, in a committee room which shares a wall with the Long Room, England's selectors dropped Kevin Pietersen.

It was great but Sydney is greater.