Sunday, July 28, 2013

Random Thoughts on the Ashes: Lord’s

A few hours before the start of the fourth and final day’s play in the second Test I got an insight into what it is like to be Shane Watson. It was when an earthquake struck Wellington, 6.5 on the Richter Scale. Measured by the alternative fast bowlers’ scale of earthquake power it was at least a Glenn McGrath—penetrating, disconcerting and getting movement where it was least expected. It may even have been a Jimmy Anderson, with dangerous swing a threat. One day  Jeff Thomson will open from the Harbour End while Shoaib Akhtar steams in from the Island Bay End, but not this time.

I was in the gym at the time, which, as friends have been kind enough to mention, means that two exceptionally improbable events coincided. The MCC Civil Defence Manual is clear enough on the course of action in these circumstances: drop, cover and hold. Which is all very well, but on the day of the game conditions are never quite as ordered as they are in the coaching book. There was no desk or table to dive under; my treadmill was next to a large, shatterable window, so dropping where I was did not seem a sensible option.

So I attempted to make my way across the undulating floor towards the shelter of the doorframe. This is the civil defence equivalent of plonking your leg down the line of middle-and-off and playing across right across an inswinger. You know it won’t work, that you’ll be plumb lbw, yet you can’t stop yourself. I feel your pain, Shane.

Besides, even had I made it, I would have taken space that others coming after me might have made better use of. A bit like using up a DRS review on a decision that even someone in the bar at deep square leg can see is out. Moral of the story: don’t stand next to Shane Watson in an earthquake.

Watching a Test at Lord’s has an added pleasure quotient, even on television from this distance. The first match I watched there was the Gillette Cup final of 1967 between Kent and Somerset. From the early seventies until I left for New Zealand in 1997 there can only have been a handful of seasons in which I did not visit the ground. I watched three World Cup finals there, plus numerous domestic one-day finals, plenty of Tests and a good deal of county cricket (which was always a bit odd, like a busker playing in the Albert Hall, but it was an opportunity to watch from the pavilion, even if was necessary to put on a jacket and tie to do so).

Lord’s has changed a good deal in the 16 years since I was last there, much more so since my first visit thirty years before that; the new grandstand and the media centre have both appeared since ’97, but seem so familiar thanks to television coverage. MCC has done a fine job in modernising Lord’s while retaining its character as a cricket ground. Compare that to the Australian experience. The Gabba and the MCG have been turned into characterless bowls, and the SCG and the Adelaide Oval are on the way to being so.

Another reason why Lord’s is by some way the best Test venue in the UK is MCC’s intolerance. “Intolerant since 1787” might be the motto of the club, translated into Latin obviously (my Blean Correspondent will assist here), and for much of its history it has been an entirely reprehensible characteristic, shamefully racist, sexist and class-ridden. But now the MCC grandees have learned to use their intolerance for the common good, and are exercising it purposefully, for among its targets are ersatz patriotism, fancy dress and community jollity.

The playing of national anthems at the start of the game is fairly new to cricket. The Australians are to blame I think; I recall standing for the anthems for the first time when I attended the final Test of the 1998/9 series in Sydney and thinking how odd it was. It doesn’t suit the rhythm of cricket, especially for opening batsmen about to face a Test attack. For unfathomable reasons, the ceremony as often as not begins with the two teams walking onto the ground with each player hand-in-hand with a child. Invariably the cricketer is at a distance and bearing an expression that suggests the suspicion that the child is carrying leprosy, while the child has the sullenness of any contemporary youth who is a) awake and b) deprived of their on-line gaming device. Nothing could be further from the idyllic spirit that it presumably is intended to symbolise.

MCC sees this for the nonsense it is. Lord’s spared us God Save the Queen and gave us instead…the Queen. We also managed without the Jerusalem, Parry’s arrangement of four stupid questions from Blake about whether Jesus visited Glastonbury, the answer to all of which is clearly “no”. As the TMS commentator Don Mosey pointed out years ago, it is poorly chosen for community singing as it contains one note—on “built” in the penultimate line—that few untrained singers can reach.

And fancy dress (the sporting of which is defined in my dictionary as “a sad attempt to fabricate wit by those who have none”) is also out, unless, of course, it is in club colours and purchased by members from the Lord’s shop. The result is a wonderfully peaceful atmosphere characterised by an intelligent murmuring, a sound recently described by Simon Hoggart (about the House of Lords) as being that of “a basketful of puppies waking up”.

No wonder tickets for Lord’s Tests sell out faster than anywhere else, even though they charge the national debt for them. A pity that all the good cricket came from the home team this year. The Australians could pray for an earthquake.

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