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The cricket was the centrepiece at Lord's, as players and spectators celebrated the 200th anniversary of a ground steeped in tradition
Nagraj Gollapudi at Lord's
July 5, 2014
There was a kid standing in the queue, shaking his legs impatiently, just like kids do when they want something. Standing in one of the tunnels, this kid - an Indian - waited with his dad to enter the Mound Stand. In one hand he held a box of chicken wings, in the other some sauce sachets and a wooden fork. As he nibbled on his food, suddenly the most famous chant in cricket rang around Lord's: "Sachin, Sachin." The kid stared at his dad in disbelief, wondering why he was not being allowed to watch Tendulkar bat.
This is Lord's, though, and here the stewards politely ask you to wait and enter the stands only at the end of an over. It does not matter that it is Tendulkar batting, it would not have mattered had it been Don Bradman batting. At Lord's, a ground steeped in discipline, history and greatness, decorum is of utmost importance.
Lord's 200th anniversary was a celebration of its greatness, and great players like Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Rahul Dravid, Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. It was the only reason all these great players had been assembled by the MCC, the owners of the ground.
Two hundred years old. The grand old tree of cricket has stayed strong and its roots, steeped in tradition, have only grown deeper. The ground has been witness to great matches, legendary players and turning points in the history of the game. It was fitting that this match was a sell-out and that the crowd was undeterred by the drizzle on a chilly Saturday.
According to an MCC official, though tickets for the match were on sale well in advance, about 7500 were unsold until a couple of months ago. As soon as the squads were unveiled, however, and "Sachin and Dravid" featured in them, the remaining tickets sold within six hours.
Walking out of the crowded St John's Wood tube station in the morning and along packed pavements, it was hard to gauge the context of this match. Nothing was at stake. Yet people lined up obediently outside various gates with their food boxes, Pimms and wine. Some members had started queuing from 6am though the gates opened only three hours later. Dads wheeled pushchairs back and forth as toddlers napped. Tickets worth £50 reportedly went for £500 in the afternoon.
For a journalist it was an exhibition game, yet to the fan the buzz and the sense of excitement was unique. When Tendulkar hit his first boundary, a classical back-foot square drive, many fans in the Mound Stand - irrespective of nationality - stood up and applauded as the ball beat a diving Tino Best. When Best bounced Tendulkar, the same crowd gave the bowler a warning. One of the uniqueness of watching cricket at Lord's is the intimacy the ground allows between the player and the crowd.
Over the decades the MCC has worked hard to preserve the traditions of the game: its ethics, values and the spirit of cricket. The Long Room, the museum and the library embody those virtues. Events like today, though ceremonial in nature, carry a lot of meaning. An 81-year-old MCC member, walked into the library and told the chief librarian Neil Robinson about having watched the likes of Bradman and Wally Hammond as a teenager. "He told me today it was so exciting to see some of the biggest names in cricket on the scorecard," Robinson says.
Ask Robinson why this game had such importance, and he points to how dear the occasion is to the players. "You just have to look at Tendulkar and Warne, who could never get on the Honours Board, but still wanted to come and play and show what this game means to them."
Next to the Pavilion is a tiny path that people in wheelchairs use to get into the ground. Sitting in his wheelchair Ian Basnett, a 55-year-old doctor, patiently waits to get in. Basnett is paralysed neck down because of an injury sustained playing rugby 29 years ago. A doctor by profession, he has been watching cricket from 1975. "I have experienced some wonderful days at Lord's. The staff here are incredibly accommodating compared to everywhere else," Basnett says, as a steward lets him know the cricket has resumed after a rain break.
The respect between fans and caretakers is evident in the adjacent Warner Stand. This stand is more reserved, its occupants - many quintessential public school types - are quiet in celebration. When Tendulkar punches a cover drive for four, a ten-year old boy stands and waves his hands to signal a boundary. Such fanfare gets a disapproving nod and a stare from a middle-aged MCC member, wearing the egg and bacon tie with binoculars around his neck.
Jashwantrai Tanna, 75, has been an MCC steward for 19 years. Today he carried his appointment letter - wrapped in plastic - with the date - April 13, 1996 - to show some of his colleagues who were skeptical about his tenure. Minutes later Tendulkar, trying to play a cheeky steer against Muttiah Muralitharn, is bowled. Tanna rushes to the front of the stand to pay his respects. Lord's is up on its feet for a standing ovation. It is rousing. Tendulkar waves goodbye. In walks Lara. The crowd is still on its feet. The celebration continues.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Nagraj Gollapudi
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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