May 4, 2001

Lord's - Holy of Holies

Like any keen follower of the game, I have always understood that Lord's is a very special cricket ground ever since I first came across the name some forty years ago. It was the headquarters of cricket, the hallowed turf, the ground among grounds and many other such exalted and reverant titles. And like any other cricket lover, I longed to pay a visit to Lord's.

In succeeding years, however I heard less complimentary things about the game's holy of holies. Fellow journalists told me that the ground was uninspiring, others wondered what the ballyhoo was all about. Sunil Gavaskar of course had a few unkind words to say about Lord's and this was even before his well publicised misunderstanding with a gateman at the entrance. The ground had no special atmosphere, it was alleged and the common complaint was that the members were stuffy and the staff high handed. Of course, over the same period, I also heard from visitors that Lord's was indeed something special, that there was a special aura about it, and its bond with history and tradition had earned for it the sacred place it has acquired in the game.

These contrasting opinions did not in any way diminish my desire to visit Lord's and see a day's cricket. For all the opinions expressed by others, I wished to make my own judgement and last week I finally achieved a lifelong ambition. A personal trip to London could only mean that a visit to Lord's was on top of the agenda. Of course, I planned to go to the Oval too but that remained second on the agenda.

The first time I saw Lord's was from the outside when my host drove me past the ground. The one obvious structure that one could see from a passing car was `the spaceship' - the press box constructed for the 1999 World Cup. A few days later, I finally entered the ground thanks to the initiative taken by a member. I gingerly took my first steps past the WG Grace Gates after having taken a long and close look at it. My host graciously took me around and I finally saw the museum, the shop, the committee room, the pavilion, the administrative area, the lounge and the bars, the library, the dressing rooms and the one place I wanted to see above all - the Long Room. It was all what I had expected. Swathed in history and tradition and full of the kind of memorabilia that one rarely comes across, I understood why it is a room quite unlike any other anywhere. I went around the various stands - the mound stand, the grand stand, the Compton and Edrich stand and all along my mind was full of rushed vignettes depicting the great deeds enacted and the great matches played on the ground. I stayed there for long, looking at the image of Father Time and soaking in the unique atmosphere. And to complete the happy picture, I found much to my surprise - considering what I had heard and read - that the members and staff were pleasant and even gracious. With a ready smile, they provided information and some even helped me in taking photographs at various places.

Unfortunately it was not a totally happy picture. For the fickle English weather did not allow me the opportunity to see a day's cricket on the hallowed turf. As I was making my tour of the ground, the skies were grey following rain in the morning. And with no improvement in the weather, the umpires called off play in the scheduled one day game between Middlesex and Durham at 1 pm.

All good things have to come to an end and I had to tear myself away from Lord's because of a prior engagement. And shortly after 2 pm, I reluctantly passed through the Grace Cates and suddenly found myself in the rather mundane area of St John's Wood, staring at a residential building appropriately called Lord's View.

Whatever Gavaskar and others of his ilk might say, Lord's has everything - a unique atmosphere, a lush green outfield, the very epitome of neatness and cleanliness, a structure gold rich in tradition and history and an aura of style, taste and elegance in the furniture. One visit and anyone would be quickly aware of being in the game's headquarters, a very special ground and a venue quite unlike any other in cricket history. What more can one ask for?