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Lord's was a picture for the first big match of the season
May 20, 2004
Lord's was a picture for the first big match of the season. The sun shone, the recent rain meant the grass was emerald green, and everything was gleaming - including a rather surprising number of empty seats, given that most of the tickets had supposedly been sold.
Maybe the ticket-holders were caught out by the early start. In the days when Test matches started at half past eleven, or even later, received wisdom had it that a 10.30 start - especially in the middle of May - would mean a clatter of wickets. Today, all it heralded was a clatter of boundaries: New Zealand scored quicker in the first half-dozen overs than at any other time in the morning.
At the Nursery end the crowds submitted good-naturedly to the new security measures, which entailed a steward burrowing through bags bulging with bread rolls, bottles of wine, books (Wisden, naturally), binoculars ... and the occasional brolly (even a hardened soul in the press gherkin brought one, remembering a previous sunny start which ended with a pneumonia-inducing cloudburst).
After getting through Checkpoint Charlie the conversations started in earnest. The official programme was bright and cheerful, but wasn't four quid a bit steep? And then the chat took a left turn, into politically incorrect territory: were the npower promotional girls better-looking than the Vodafone ones? Several visiting Kiwis took an unlikely interest in British mobile-phone technology just to find out.
Up in the Edrich Stand lurked a benchful of the Beige Brigade, New Zealand's answer to the Barmy Army. They kit themselves out in the original figure-hugging coloured shirts the New Zealanders wore in the early '80s - beige, with black side panels, meaning that they were absolutely ideal for black-and-white television (mind you, so is All Black). Actually, I thought the "colour" was buff - but that wouldn't do: "The Buff Brigade? Sounds like a bunch of noodists, mate."
Over in the buffer zone of the pavilion the MCC members in their egg-and-bacon ties were in more colourful mood. The new see-through sightscreen, which allows them to stay put in the Long Room even when the screen is bang in front of them, was uniformly acclaimed as a Good Thing: but there was a more mixed reception for the planned renovations for the pavilion itself, which are slated to cost more than £8 million.
"It's absurd to be spending that much, without any structural alterations at all," spluttered one member, face almost as red as his tie. He wasn't entirely placated by the news that there would be a roof terrace atop the pavilion, or that the Long Room would be restored to its 19th-century grandeur, complete with period fireplaces. "Hmmm. I still know a builder who could do it for a lot less than £8 million."
His face might have been redder still if he'd been able to see the pavilion from the front - the rails, usually considered a no-go area for adverts, were a sea of signs.
And behind the pavilion, there was more extra security: a couple of earnest-looking stewards were keeping an eye on the members' cool-boxes, which were stuffed with smoked salmon and other treats. The boxes had all been inspected (presumably substandard canapés were relegated to non-members' areas) and left to await the feeding frenzy. Nothing - not even a warm champagne bottle - showed much sign of exploding before luncheon.
Generally there was perhaps an air of surprise that the English international season was underway already. After all, as some of the scribes' suntans attested, it was only about a fortnight since England stopped splashing around the Caribbean. But then the clouds rolled in, and everyone felt right at home again.
Steven Lynch is editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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