July 21, 2011

A plot of earth that knows its worth

Michael Henderson
Cricket is coming home for its 2000th Test, but even if the game's a dud, it cannot take away from the glory of the ground hosting it

Lord's, glorious Lord's! Whose step does not quicken at the prospect of visiting the greatest sporting forum in the world? Yes, greatest because it is not merely a place where cricketers play: it is the living, breathing home of the sport they practise. People come from all over the world just to set foot in it. And forum because it tends to attract those people who love the game most, and for whom the Lord's Test is a never-ending conversation.

Let's summon a few witnesses.

"Welcome to the greatest room in the world." With these words Harold Pinter greeted guests to a bash in the Long Room, organised on his behalf by the BBC, which was presenting a festival of the playwright's works on radio and television. Pinter loved Lord's. He bunked off classes at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art to watch the great players of the post-war era, and later in life could usually be found in a box during Test matches, watching intently the contest between batsman and bowler. Whether the Long Room is the greatest room in the world, it is surely the greatest room in sport, and the heart of Lord's. All those famous portraits on the walls, great figures from the past secretly judging today's players as they process through the room to take their place in the middle.

"Lord's is a pendant to the Royal Parks of London." So says Philippe Auclair, French journalist, broadcaster and author. Auclair was taken to Lord's when he first came to London, and now he never misses a Lord's Test. He is not an uncritical observer. "These people wandering round in blazers, trying to recreate the Golden Age. They're just buffoons. Don't they know that Grace and Ranji were pioneers? They weren't looking back." Lord's is indeed a pendant to the Royal Parks. What a wonderful phrase.

"It's a reason for living in London." This is how Michael Billington, the Guardian's long-serving theatre critic, sees Lord's. Growing up in Leamington Spa, a keen follower of Warwickshire, he imagined the delight of popping into Lord's for an hour or two to be part of London life. And it is certainly true that while Lord's looks magnificent en fete, with a full house savouring a classic Test, it looks pretty good all summer long, whether Middlesex are playing Glamorgan, or Eton playing Harrow.

What makes the Lord's Test unique? The setting, the history, the occasion. There are bigger grounds, and grounds some may consider to be more beautiful - Trent Bridge, Adelaide, Cape Town spring to mind. But Lord's stands alone, not in an arrogant way, simply as a plot of earth that knows its worth and sees no reason to apologise for its breeding. It has a dignity that nothing can erase.

There are bigger grounds, and grounds some may consider to be more beautiful - Trent Bridge, Adelaide, Cape Town spring to mind. But Lord's stands alone, not in an arrogant way, simply as a plot of earth that knows its worth and sees no reason to apologise for its breeding

As for a sense of occasion, that must never be overlooked. Even when people are not watching the cricket (and there are hundreds of people dining on the lawn of Coronation Garden who hardly see a ball bowled after lunch), they are still playing their part in the drama. It would be wrong to call it part of the "season" but it is a gathering of the cricketing clans. The invisible threads that link English society, through school, university and club, twitch vividly into life behind the Warner Stand every lunchtime. And Friday is the great day.

The best Lord's Friday of all? It is hard to beat the 2000 Test when England skittled West Indies for 54 to set up a victory target of 188. The next day was one for the annals. Not a mouse stirred as Michael Atherton and Michael Vaughan added 92 of the most valuable runs either man ever scored. Time and again Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh went past the bat. If an over yielded as much as one run it was a boon. The crowd, mindful of the circumstances, drank it all in, silently. Things reached a hectic pitch in the afternoon, as England won with two wickets to spare, and the celebrations were loud and long, yet it was the silence in the morning that remains the abiding memory of that day. It showed Lord's at its best, and the best of Lord's is unmatchable.

We live for such days, storing them in our minds, sharing them with friends so that they acquire a fresh lustre with each recollection. There are those who speak of Ted Dexter's batting against Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith in 1963, the match when Colin Cowdrey came out to bat with a broken arm. Others recall how the pavilion stood to acclaim Greg Chappell in 1972, when he made one of the great centuries. More recently Mohammad Azharuddin charmed everybody with his century in 1990, and Andrew Flintoff's ferocious bowling against the Aussies in 2009 added another chapter to the old story.

The 2000th Test match promises to be a classic contest. There are two good teams, and Sachin Tendulkar needs one more century to make it 100 hundreds in international cricket. Whatever befalls him, and the other players, we shall all leave the greatest ground with happy memories - even if it rains for five days.

Michael Henderson is a former cricket correspondent of the Daily Telegraph

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sreekanth on July 22, 2011, 21:21 GMT

    I am from india and I had the oppertunity to visit Lords 3 years back when i was living in London.Its an amazing place and I loved the 'Lords Tour' and the cricket museum.I was told that no one could manage to hit a hix on to the media centre glass panel yet and it would be interesting to see if anyone can do that in this series.Anyone who plays at this ground is not just facing the opposition bowlers and the slope,but also the weight of cricketing history on a grand scale.

  • Subash on July 21, 2011, 20:09 GMT

    @CliffM: I envy you. I am an Indian cn the US, and tried to get tickets to watch this game at Lords and I could not get them. I definitely would want to not only visit this great place where it all started, but to actually watch a test match all 5 days. Honestkly it doesn't matter who the opposition is, as I just want to soak in that experience and also be the one to say 'I watched a test match at the LORDS'; There is so much history and tradition at this venue, it is just incredible.

    I hope for a great series between Eng and India and obviously hope India can come up victorious and retain their number 1 ranking.

  • will on July 21, 2011, 13:56 GMT

    To further the debate of the world's greatest sporting forum, there's a website that attempts to list and rank the 'world's greatest sporting theatres', and Lord's currently places 16th. But another cricket venue has beaten it by placing 13th, with a public vote of 76.93% to Lord's' 76.76%. Close! Maybe that'll have changed in five days time, but for now the MCG rules the cricketing roost.

  • Dummy4 on July 21, 2011, 12:58 GMT

    A lovely article. Lord's is my most favourite place on earth. And as Michael Henderson states is as wonderful empty as it is full. I first took my son to a Middlesex match when he was just four, and he immediately treated the place as his home. And we return as regularly as we can. I was priveleged to be present at the Saturday of the WI test he describes. I have never known so few people leave their seats to get a beer. An extraordinary day. And in Februrary my wife and I had the great excitement of sitting in the Long Room to enjoy the inaugural gala dinner. A great room indeed.

  • Ross on July 21, 2011, 10:14 GMT

    Lords gets a lot of hype, but I think it deserves it - it is a special place. I first went there in 1969 for the Windies Test, and as a boy it was the atmosphere and ambience that left the deepest impression on me. I was also there on the Saturday mentioned in the article when the usual Lords hubbub was replaced by four hours of rapt tense whispered attention. I've spent a lot more time there watching Middlesex with just a few hundred scattered around the place, and enjoy the atmosphere as much as the packed ground on Test match days. One thing missing from the article is kudos to the MCC for their sympathetic and aesthetically pleasing development of the grand old place. In the 70s it was a bit tatty, the Mound Stand was an old shed basically (cf. the picture above) but now it s a delight to the eye. Looking at the proposed developments it promises to be even better in the future. One of my favourite places.

  • Dummy4 on July 21, 2011, 9:35 GMT

    @tahir1234 whats wrong wid the current number one side dude?? why the struggling oz or south"we cant stand pressure" africa.????

  • Tahir on July 21, 2011, 9:27 GMT

    Hope it could be Australia or South Africa playing 2000th test at Lords.

  • Dummy4 on July 21, 2011, 9:23 GMT

    it is alovely ground and unique atmosphere but the arrogant pricing and ticketing policy grates . i sat freezing in a winter coat in blazing sunshine as SL saved the test earlier this summer ... quite unique . BTW mike henderson Didnt i read a article of yours some time ago that sachin was over-rated and never did anything when it counted ????

  • Cliff on July 21, 2011, 8:51 GMT

    I was fortunate enough grow up within 10 miles of Lord's. It was the venue of the first match I ever went to and I seemed to spend all my summers as a schoolboy / student there so I may be a bit biased. It is simply a wonderful arena in which to watch the game. The architecture is fabulous. @redneck: it might be a nice looking old world pavilion on the outside but the facilities inside, for players and members, are, in my experience, without equal. I have had the good fortune to attend sporting and cultural events around the world but nothing matches Lord's on Test match day. It's the hum; the buzz. Despite being in the heart of metropolitan London you feel a world away. Until you have experienced it you can't fully understand it.

  • Simon on July 21, 2011, 7:00 GMT

    Lovely article Michael. Those of us lucky enough to work at Lord's certainly agree with your assertions! I personally get a 'tingle' every time I walk through Grace Gate, even if I do it about 350 times a year. Only minor quibble, perhaps you could have found a photograph with the 'new' Mound Stand and Media Centre!?

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