The party continues at Lord's

England's international summer gets underway this Thursday - even if the weather and the largely leafless trees suggest otherwise - with the first Test at Lord's.
For the great and the good of the MCC, the May Test is something of an aperitif to the main match later in the season, when Pakistan play in late July. But it will still be a social occasion of some note, with the familiar picnics in the stands and the Coronation Garden.

For some time, however, there was a threat that the ICC were about to poop the party. They were thinking of imposing their worldwide ruling that no-one would be allowed to bring glass or tin containers into grounds. Members spluttered and the MCC, still a private club, took a stand. Allowing women in the pavilion is one thing, but barring wine and champagne was a bridge too far. The result is that, for this year at least, there will be no ban on people bringing in bottles to go with their lunches.

Lord's is the only international ground to have stood up to the ICC, citing its "unique and widely praised atmosphere on major match days" and objecting to a policy which a spokesman pointed out would have increased the cost of attending the game. One suspects that the members were more worried about the choice of wines available as much as being charged through the nose to drink them. And the MCC, which sells a selection of its own label wines, would have been uncomfortable with confiscating products they had sold to members in the first place.

As a result, they requested an exception and, after giving a number of guarantees, this was granted for 2006. But why did no other ground ask for similar dispensation to carry on as before? A cynic might argue that they realise that it is far more profitable to sell punters beer and warm soft drinks at grotesquely inflated prices than to allow them to bring in their own. While the ICC's aim might have been to improve security, the result is that the vast majority of the paying public will be left out of pocket. The only ones to profit will be the ground authorities.

The ICC maintains that the decision to ban containers was reached purely for security reasons - it did not want long leg felled by a well-aimed bottle of Chardonnay - but there was a hint of double standards with the admission that the great and the good in the corporate/sponsor enclosures would be exempt. That could not be anything to do with the inhabitants and their ability to behave themselves, as anyone who has witnessed many private boxes at throwing-out time would testify, but at least it ensured that fine wines could still be served to the privileged, including board members, the ICC hierarchy and the all-important corporate sponsors. The prospect of serving your best sponsor with a glass of Chateau Latour Pauillac poured from a plastic bottle would be unbearable.

And the MCC rightly argued that ground authorities were far more aware of local issues than the game's rulers in Dubai. A spokesman pointed out that local policing "is best determined locally (by the ground authority, the police and the relevant safety licensing body), rather than through a standardised international approach." A blanket policy is clearly daft. Venues in the same country are all different, let alone ones on different continents.
Sadly, at all other venues in England - and around the world - we are likely to see a repetition of spectators having alcohol and soft drinks removed by overzealous security guards and then queuing to buy the very same product, only with a large mark-up.

The ICC insists that enforcement is "down to individual boards" who "in many cases will opt to devolve that responsibility to their hosting venues. Those venues have experience of dealing with such issues and the expectation is they will act with the appropriate level of tact." The evidence so far suggests otherwise.

Supporters of the ICC's decision argue that such regulations apply at many other sports, and they are right. But then again, I would not expect to turn up to a football or rugby match with a four-pack or a bottle of wine - in those instances I am only in the stadium for around two hours, and for such a short period most people can survive abstinence or a single round at rip-off prices. At cricket, spectators are in situ for up to eight hours - food and drink ceases to be a luxury and becomes a necessity.

And that doesn't even touch on issues where the sensitivities of sponsors are brought into play, as they are bound to be at the World Cup where the wrong brand of cola could result in people being barred. But that's a problem for next year.

So all will be normal in St John's Wood on Thursday. The clampdown starts in a few weeks' time. You have been warned.