Lord's: Bats off to cricket's Holy Grail

By David Leggat

Lord's will be an intriguing fit with the modern Robin Hoods at the London Olympics.
Lord's will be an intriguing fit with the modern Robin Hoods at the London Olympics.

This takes a measure of imagination.

When the Olympic Games take place in London in 2012, the archery event will be staged at Lord's.

Cricket's Holy Grail for a century of players will instead resonate to the soft "plunk" of arrow on target.

At the Athens Games six years ago, archery took place in the stadium used for the 1896 Olympics. It reeked of centuries of history and intrigue.

But as eliminated archers left the arena, the loudspeakers boomed out Ray Charles' Hit the Road Jack. Incongrous? You bet.

Lord's, too, will be an intriguing fit with the modern Robin Hoods. Perhaps as befitting its name, Lord's takes itself rather seriously. A tour of the famous pavilion was preceded by dire warnings from our tour guide: "No pictures in the pavilion."

An English transgressor, taking a photo of the ground from the visiting team's balcony, was berated in forceful terms.

This place has security staff with a reputation for being notoriously uncooperative. One England player was refused admittance during a test. He'd misplaced his ticket.

His plaintive "but I'm playing today" cut no mustard. But if you are a cricket buff the pavilion is a place as hallowed as the turf outside.

The Long Room, the holy of holies, through which players on both sides must pass on their way to the field, can hold 500 members on busy days.

Its walls are adorned with paintings of some of the great names: Bradman, Hutton, Warner, Jardine and Thomas Lord, after whom the ground is named.

There is an argument that Lord, no philanthropic cricketing benefactor, more a pragmatic businessman, was not the most important figure in the ground's development. That honour might better suit James Dark, a professional who bought the land after Lord was planning to sell it off for housing in the mid-1800s. He made substantial improvements all round, setting off events which put the ground on its present footing.

As you walk the corridors hushed tones seem in order; the eyes of great men of the game stare down at you as you make your way along the corridors, one of which contains a painting of Wellington's Basin Reserve.

And it is possible to get lost. In 1975, English batsman David Steele was making his way downstairs from the dressing room to the Long Room and then onto the ground for his debut. He took a wrong turn, went down one flight too many and found himself in the toilet. One of the curious aspects of the ground is that it falls away about 2m from east to west. Bowlers talk of "the slope" providing a help or hindrance and it is clearly visible from the far end of the ground.

You can study the names on the honours board of the visitors' dressing room. New Zealand are well represented.

Familiar names, too: Sir Richard Hadlee (three times); Chris Cairns, Dion Nash, Dan Vettori among bowlers to have taken five or more wickets in an innings in a Lord's test; Stewie Dempster, Martin Donnelly, Martin Crowe (twice) and Jacob Oram among the centurymakers.

The day after England had beaten Bangladesh the names of a batsman and bowler had been pencilled in on the boards for permanent lodging.

Our guide huffed that he wasn't going to even try and pronounce the bowler's name. Try this: Shahadat Hossain. That had more than a whiff of old Empire to it.

And at the risk of sounding pedantic, tourists deserve to have facts presented correctly.

Any Englishman worth his salt knows it was 1953, not 1952, that Britain regained the Ashes after a 20-year absence. Also, West Indian great Sir Vivian Richards' 145 was in 1980, not 1982. Small things, maybe, but even so.

The Lord's museum is a treasure trove. There are New Zealand caps worn by greats Bert Sutcliffe and Hadlee, one unidentified New Zealand blazer and a 1937 team photo. And the little Ashes urn is there, arguably the greatest symbol of sporting rivalry. It was a Victorian lady's perfume jar, so legend has it - Victorian as in Australia, and as in Victorian times - before the ashes of a bail were stored inside in 1882.

So, you fancy becoming a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club? All you need are a couple of referees and a sponsor. Get accepted by the committee and you're in business - and on a waiting list 19 years long.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand has daily flights to London via both Los Angeles and Hong Kong.

Getting around: For information about travelling the UK by train see britrail.com.

For the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum and Tour see wimbledon.org. To book tickets for Wimbledon go to visitbritain.co.nz.

Further information: See visitlondon.com.

David Leggat explored sporting history in Britain with help from Air New Zealand and Visit Britain.

- NZ Herald

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