Monday, March 03, 2008

The pilgrimage

Despite at least half-a-dozen visits to London over the years, the Lord’s Cricket Ground has always proved elusive. Finally, the visit happened over the weekend, on Saturday, 1st March 2008.

You step out of the tube at St. John’s Wood, and a bright sign greets you at the exit gate: Lord’s Cricket Ground 400 yards. Not a long distance, you think and start hitting the road, ignoring the Beatles’ coffee shop peeking at you from the corner. The first entrance you encounter, the North Gate, is, sure enough, just about 400 yards away. Except that this is England and we are dealing with the MCC, aren’t we, so this is not the entrance that lets you in; you’ve got to walk a further 200 yards or so, before you reach the real portal, the Grace Gate.

So I finally arrive at the Grace Gate at 10.25 am, all ready to be buried in history, tradition and the good doctor’s beard. Except that the ground tours start at 10 am and at 12 noon – too early for the first and too late for the next. After wandering around outside the ground for another hour (wondering about the people living in the vicinity and whether it is good or bad to live around the ground), I come back 11.30 am and start off by making my contribution to the running of the game - £12.

There’s still about 30 minutes to go, so you loiter around the museum. Considering Lord’s claims to be the home of cricket (as the signs outside modestly proclaim), it’s interesting that there are very few articles of interest in the museum outside of England (and, of course, the Ashes). Oh yes, there is a Brian Lara exhibition, on temporarily for Lara’s charity. One of the more interesting exhibits is a bat signed by Sachin Tendulkar with the following inscription.

The whole world knows Brian Lara as a cricket but I am fortunate to know you as both friend and cricketer.

Oh well, I suppose it’s a milder comparison than the monkeys and weeds that seem to be in vogue nowadays.

The tour starts with the long room, which is er, rather long at 90 feet. It feels a bit like a chapel – but surely that’s just the guide’s tone that makes it so. On match day, you can imagine members being too busy with their wine and other assorted liquors to be thinking of much else, oh a bit of the game perhaps, dear chap.

Then we move on to the dressing rooms, the home team’s (England, MCC, Middlesex) and the visitors’. It’s a nice feeling to be in the dressing room balcony, where Sourav Ganguly took his shirt off not too long ago (he was apparently chastised for breaking the dress code). And the walk from the dressing room – down the stairs, past the members and their wine glasses and through the wicket gate – no wonder debutants and first-timers at Lord’s tend to be nervous. But apart that, this is a ground, not a stadium, as the guide emphasises. It’s just a game, not a performance. Indeed.

The honours boards in the dressing rooms lend themselves to some genuinely useless trivia questions. As reward for still reading this post, here’s one for you: Who is the only player to figure in the batting (there’s a clue for you) honours boards in both dressing rooms? (Write in if you know the answer, free publicity guaranteed.) It’s also interesting to note the names that don’t figure on the honours boards – Sunil Gavaskar, Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar among the batsmen; Imran Khan, Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan among the bowlers, to name just a handful.

The committee room where all the board members meet looks like nothing more than a board room of a corporate organisation. The view from here into the ground seems to be blighted by the sight-screen, except that the sight-screen at Lord’s is a nifty thing – the material is translucent (bordering on the transparent) from the inside and opaque from the outside. Should’ve been canvas or cloth, shouldn’t it, with all the tradition and stuff.

Oh yes, no photography inside the long room or in the dressing rooms. Too sacred or too secret? Just so our cameras don’t go to waste, we go to one of the stands (opposite Father Time, just in case you’re interested), from where we keep going click-click. A sunny day with blue skies affords some splendid scenery – write in for pictures, and I’ll let you have them for a pip.

The Media Centre at Lord’s looks a bit like a mobile phone in a pyramid, but it certainly is swank, well-equipped and roomy. And it affords a fantastic view into the ground. It is from here that one gets a good sense of the famous Lord’s slope – 8 feet 6 inches from one side of the ground to the other. (Considering how well Glenn McGrath exploited it, may be it should now be called the Pigeon’s Beak?)

The Lord’s Shop that rounds off the tour is, not to put too fine a point on it, disappointing, especially the book section. Considering Mike Brearley is the MCC president now, surely The Art of Captaincy should be available? And some of the other classics? The only one I find (and pick up) is A Majestic Innings, a compilation of articles by CLR James.

Membership at about £400 a year does not seem quite too forbidding for Lord’s, except that by the time you get through the waiting list (about 18 years), England may have stopped playing the game.


Gaurav Sethi said...

Delightful ol' chap! Pigeon's beak, indeed!

Geetha Krishnan said...

Thanks, Gaurav.

mandar talvekar said...

Who is the only player to figure in the batting honours boards in both dressing rooms?

Would that be Greenidge? I think he scored a century against Rest of the World while playing for MCC.

Geetha Krishnan said...

You are absolutely right, Mandar. Now you are qualified to be a guide at Lord's.