December 11, 2007

Eight ideas for President Brearley

Some suggestions for the keepers of Lord's

Less starch, please: MCC needs to relax its rules on formal clothing, and unbutton in a lot of other ways as well © AFP

MCC, the world's most famous and influential cricket club, the institution in charge of both Lord's and the laws, has a new president. It is a former England captain who, when he goes to Lord's, seldom wears a tie, tends to sit among the press rather than the members, and can be relied on to question received wisdom. Oh, and he is a practising psychoanalyst. Yes, it's Mike Brearley.

This is the most radical move MCC has made since the late nineties, when it commissioned a new media centre that looked like a spaceship. Brearley has already said, in an interview with Mike Atherton in the Sunday Telegraph, that he wants to scrap the rule that requires members to wear a jacket and tie (or similarly formal garb for women) in the pavilion. To the outsider it has been clear for years that this was a ridiculous rule. Not even churchgoers feel obliged to wear a tie in 2007. Cricket-loving gentlemen are welcome to wear one if they wish, but forcing them smacks of stuffiness.

Brearley is also talking about keeping some tickets back to offer them for sale, at lower prices, on the day, as the National Theatre does, and encouraging the club to make more pronouncements. These are both good ideas too. The sermonising might come better from the MCC world cricket committee, on which both Brearley and Atherton sit, than from the club itself, but the important thing is that it should use its independence and good name to act as the game's conscience. With the national boards and the ICC all leaning too far towards the money-making side of their task, there's certainly a vacancy.

Brearley has made a bright start, just as you would expect from a clever, thoughtful, non-conformist character. But there are plenty more things MCC could be doing. Here are eight suggestions for his in-tray.

1 Put up another scoreboard - facing outwards
MCC's biggest weakness is its exclusivity. Clubs are entitled to be exclusive, but major sporting institutions are not. And MCC's exclusivity is written all over the face it turns to the outside world. Its walls are drab, lifeless, and have nothing to say about cricket. There is a captive audience trundling past, on the bus to school or in the 4x4s taking kids to the (equally exclusive) private schools of NW3. They should be able to see the score, and pictures of the players, and posters advertising upcoming matches. At the moment all they get is the odd poster, apparently designed and written in 1957, listing all the things they can't do in the unlikely event that they set foot in the grounds. Apologies if you've heard me say this before; I first made the point in 2003, and may have to make it a few more times before something gets done.

2 Reduce prices for children
This year I took my nine-year-old daughter to a Test match. I wanted to give her a taste of it and see it through her eyes, as I was writing a guide to cricket for children. It was teatime, and her ticket cost £20. A full day would have been too much for her, yet the pricing blithely asumed that kids would put in a full day. MCC should be making it easier to take kids in for a short time for less money: £10 a session, say. They could call the scheme Test Match Taster, and market it.

3 Give the museum more space
The museum has some great things in it, from the sparrow killed by a ball to the copy of Wisden that survived the Japanese Prisoner of War camps, but it's cramped, fusty and confusing. It needs to be re-housed in three times as much space, with clear, sparky, engaging signposting. This isn't asking very much: certain temporary exhibitions in the museum, like the one last year of Patrick Eagar's photos, were very well presented.

4 Have an honours board outside
Players talk about the Lord's honours board - which they can reach with a hundred or five-for - more and more. But it's in the dressing room. There is a copy in the tiny cinema at the back of the museum, but there needs to be one in full public view, and the public need to be able to see the engraver at work as soon as these great feats are achieved.

The can't-do attitude that glares out of the outside walls of Lord's also flourishes in the breasts of some of the stewards, who treat paying customers with something between suspicion and contempt

5 Let the stewards be more flexible
The can't-do attitude that glares out of the outside walls of Lord's also flourishes in the breasts of some of the stewards, who treat paying customers with something between suspicion and contempt. MCC's energetic new chief executive, Keith Bradshaw, should be giving them a pep talk on major match days and stressing the need to be helpful, to apply common sense, and to be flexible. It's not a crime if a punter from one stand wants to go and sit in another to chat to a mate for half an hour. Let him. It's a long day: it needs to be organised with humanity.

6 Allow members to hand down their membership
Because people are living longer, and MCC has a daunting waiting list, the 18,000-strong membership has grown old. The last time we heard about their average age, it was 57. Sometimes as you walk past the pavilion, it seems even higher. In an ageist world it's good to see older people getting a warm welcome, but the balance has tipped too far in that direction. And quite a few of the members are old gents who make it to the ground once a year, if that. One way of refreshing the membership would be to encourage them to make a sort of living bequest, handing on their membership to the person of their choice who is already on the waiting list - son, nephew, even daughter or niece. As a thank-you, they could retain a sort of emeritus-member status, with the right to drop by for one match day a year.

7 Let the kids meet the players
There's a lot of space at the Nursery End, and a lot of time before, during and after a day's play; plus, at any time, several of the players are twiddling their thumbs (literally, if they have their PlayStations with them) in the dressing room. Let's make use of these assets. If England are batting and Alastair Cook has been out, he should do a lunchtime autograph session. And not just when he puts his name to the inevitable ghosted autobiography.

8 Upgrade the logo
For such an elegant ground, Lord's has a clunky logo, in which the downstroke of the L turns into a set of stumps. If the place is going to have a logo, it should be a stylish one.

Tim de Lisle is the author of Young Wisden (reviewed here) and a former editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly. His website is here