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Tomorrow morning, England begin their long-anticipated Ashes series against Australia at the spiritual home of cricket, Lord's.
July 20, 2005
Tomorrow morning, England begin their long-anticipated Ashes series against Australia at the spiritual home of cricket, Lord's. Revamped and modernised in recent years - yet retaining all the tradition that makes it so special - Lord's has not been a happy hunting ground for England; they haven't beaten Australia there since 1934, when George V was on the throne, and Adolf Hitler was the German chancellor.
Bill Brown, who opened the batting for Australia, is the only survivor of that 1934 match. Brown, who turns 93 at the end of this month, is unable to attend tomorrow's game. If he had, he would almost certainly have been the sole member of an expected 30,000 crowd at the ground to have witnessed that result. In that match, the second of his career, his innings of 105 was the foundation for Australia's innings of 284 - batting against the masterful bowling of Hedley Verity. Verity, with match figures of 15 for 104, became the only player to take 14 wickets in a day in a Test match, a record that still stands to this day. How England would love a spinner of his quality to emerge - and perform as spectacularly - regardless of the venue.
Players from around the world consider playing at Lord's the pinnacle of their career - and raise their game accordingly. Bob Massie took sixteen wickets for 137 in the 1972 Test, a feat all the more extraordinary for the fact he was making his debut. Glenn McGrath doesn't need much more inspiration when playing against England, but the hallowed turf of Lord's was the scene of his eight for 38 in 1997, decimating England's batting.
Yet for Englishmen, the ground's familiarity has bred a run of poor performances, as the home crowd - always respectable, but becoming more partisan in recent years - suffered the ignominy of watching opposing teams batting and bowling as though it were their backyard. Steve Waugh did just that, in his first Lord's Test match, scoring a match-winning and undefeated 152 in the 1989 series.
Michael Atherton played 15 of his 115 Tests in St John's Wood, yet never had his name inscribed on the honours board. The closest he got was 99, in the 1993 Ashes series. Needing three to reach his hundred, he turned but slipped, and 20,000 spectators gasped at his vain attempt to claw his way over the line. Healy duly whipped off the bails, and the match was effectively Australia's for the taking. In that same match, where no English batsman scored a hundred, Australia scored three - and nearly four, as Mark Waugh was also dismissed for 99 - in their colossal 632 for 4 declared.
In recent times England, with their confidence soaring, have produced players with exceptional Lord's records. Michael Vaughan has scored five hundreds and averages over 62 and Andrew Strauss, who made his debut at Lord's in 2004, has cracked two hundreds and two fifties. He could have made three there by now, but for Nasser Hussain running him out for 83 against New Zealand.
So, 71 years on, England have another opportunity to fix their Ashes Lord's jinx. With a mixture of aggression and youth, this is their best chance in years to provide the Lord's crowd with something memorable to cheer.
Will Luke is editorial assistant of Cricinfo
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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