Snow in Sun: Lord’s in February

“Lord’s and its traditions belong to Australia just as much as to England” — John Curtin, 14th Prime Minister of Australia

Stereotypically, the morning is cold and grey – yes, it’s the first week of February, so it is to be expected in London. From Oxford Street on a Routemaster, the girlfriend and myself are in glee. For we have seen many sights in recent days – from the top of the London Eye, down to the Thames, past the Palace, around the West End, deep in the Tate Modern, through Trafalgar Square, oscillating around Oxford Circus.

But far away from the homeland is another home, one never visited until today, in NW8. It’s ours, after all, isn’t it? Australia has been playing here since 1868 – when our first team, an Aboriginal team from the Wimmera, stepped forth upon this part of North-West London. It’s just as much ours as it is England’s – they haven’t beaten us here since 1934 anyway.

We’re going somewhere familiar but very different. The girlfriend and I, both cricket tragics, knew we’d just have to make the pilgrimage to the great ground, to the heart of the game.

Bloody hell, it’s cold. It’s the opposite of that night, a few weeks ago on a balmy evening at the Sydney Cricket Ground, where we enjoyed the technicolour battle of the Big Bash League under a southern orange sunset. It feels like a million miles away in the crisp icy air.

The Routemaster drops us off at the end of St John’s Wood Road. The mind imagines those who have walked along this footpath – and those, like us, who have traveled such a long way to visit. Brick arches appear, much unlike the large red arches of my beloved Adelaide Oval, but brick arches mean leather and willow and whites and summer. Even in the cold English winter, this is summer.

“Ahem. Can I help you?”
“Yeah, we’re here from the 11am tour.”
“Right, well, then come back at 10.50am.”

Thanks, mate.  We walk to further explore what is a ridiculously expensive part of the world, according to most reports. This is the England of the monied. Far away from the two Test ovals that we’ve sort of been near over the last week and a bit – on the bus through the industrial area skirting Old Trafford and walking through the lovely green belt near Sophia Gardens.

And so many thousands miles away from our grounds. The trees are bare, as only English trees could be towards the tail of winter.

10.45am comes and we walk through the gates of Lord’s. This is England but it’s also Australia. Staying up through our winter nights – which now feel much more mild when walking out around here today – for Ashes tours, it’s intertwined with the Australian team we grew up watching.

Through the stands, we peek to the ground itself. The vivid green burned into our minds on television half a world away is dusted in purely white sleet and snow – with the pitches protected from the wintry elements, of course. The struggling winter sun breaks through the clouds, a reminder that we’re at the home of the summer game. Totally unlike the brutal summer sun of Adelaide from my youth, but there it is.

Like sun in the London snow
Like snow in the London sun

Away from the stereotypical miserable gatekeeper are the stereotypically jolly MCC employees at the entrance of the museum. They are very impressed that we’re here from Sydney on a February day. Much guffawing about how we’re choosing to field today in those conditions.

With a bit of time before our tour begins, we amble up the stairs of the MCC museum. And there it is.

It’s in prime position but not shown off like it could have been so easy to do. It appears tastefully and intimately. It’s the remains of English cricket, in a tiny little urn. It’s ours but they keep it. The Ashes. They’ll be contested for in a few months when the snow melts away and the sun is a little stronger than today.

There are other items. One of Don Bradman’s baggy greens – yawn, I grew up in Adelaide. I’ve seen his fine china collection about a thousand times already. There’s the Pataudi Trophy, E.W. Swanton’s 1939 Wisden and of course, a Talking VB-branded Warnie figurine.

We meet our guide, a friendly lady with quite possibly the longest hair in England. Very much home counties and very happy – very much as you would expect from a Lord’s tour guide. The touring party today is an English father and son now living in Florida and an Indian family.

The party goes back up the stairs to the urn. The good natured joking begins – they’re ours, you know! But of course, property of the MCC. A good yarn about the origin of the urn, presented to Ivo Bligh by the ladies of Sunbury – and one of those ladies became his wife afterwards.

On the way out of the MCC Museum, our Indian tour participants note a little something by the door – the 1983 World Cup. The actual 1983 World Cup. Now there’s a question – what’s that doing here? Oh, yes – property of Prudential. It was the 1983 Prudential World Cup. And that’s why it remains at Lord’s and not in Kapil Dev’s living room.

We make the short walk across to that most famous piece of Cricket architecture and the intimacy of Lords becomes quite apparent. Before we know it, we’re there – in the Long Room.

No egg and bacon today, the Long Room is quiet in its wintertime slumber. The hard wooden chairs of the MCC members are facing the window, waiting patiently for springtime, overlooking the snowy ground.

No photos, please. One of our party takes a photo anyway. Stuff your Empire.

The heart of our old bumbling imperial lords, and the history of Cricket in its built form, all in the one room. The floor, the roof, the fixtures are uncompromisingly Victorian. It’s old in here, it’s the past. And it’s small. Rather more intimate then it looked on television as a kid. The paintings of the walls are of gentlemen, from a past England, one that definitely no longer exists outside these walls.

And my mind wanders. Picturing myself as an Australian opener, after the toss has been won on the first day. Wading through the masses of old MCC gentlemen, on the way to the pitch. My cricketing life flashes past my eyes – the schoolboy days of summer, the hat-trick in McLaren Vale, the epic partnership with Wille Tampara in the intra-school lunchtime league, the swashbuckling innings at Cardijn College, Sheffield Shield dollar days at the Adelaide Oval, Boxing Day Test at the SCG, my ill-fated teenage umpiring career, watching the 2007 World Cup on a web live stream in America, the drunken ODI nights at the SCG.

I’m walking with ghosts. How many great cricketers – and they’re mostly great, because you usually have to be great to play Test cricket – have walked through this room? The names of the our 90s youth barely scratching the surface.

Up we go to the English dressing room. The very first thing I notice is the smell. Even in deepest winter, this room smells like cricket – the warm scene of leather and willow. I feel out of place not wearing my best whites, the pants stained with the red of the new ball. The faded glory of the green leather benches are almost fully at odds with the modern Test cricketer.

A few stories are told about the seating preferences of latter day English test cricketers. Our tour leader mentions that Mike Atherton was her favourite cricketer and I feel rather sorry to hear that on a couple of levels. And yes, there’s the honour board. The England honour board. Who’s name has appeared upon there the most? I burnish my cricket nuffie credentials, saying Ian Botham rather quickly.

Down the corridor to the visitors dressing room. Terrific yarn by our tour guide on the way – when Pakistan and Australia played that neutral test here in 2010, the question was asked: who’s going to use the England dressing room? A coin toss was suggested until the intervention of Ricky Ponting, who advised that in no uncertain terms, that no Australian team will ever use the England dressing room.

In we go, to our headquarters behind enemy lines in the old imperial city. A mirror image of the England dressing room, the same scent of leather and willow. My girlfriend sits down and much to her happiness is informed that is Boonie’s old seat.

There’s the visitors honour board, plenty of Australian names up on it. From Giffen to Harris, from Trumper to Clarke. No Warne, of course. No Tendulkar or Lara. Steve and Mark Waugh are there – twelve years apart. Pretty good for twins.

Despite the cold, we head out on the balcony and conjure an imaginary Test on the snow. And recreate the winning celebration of the 1999 World Cup. How late did I stay up that night? Not very – that performance by Pakistan remains shockingly weak today.

We walk down the stairs, past paintings of the past masters. There’s no escaping Warnie, he’s got his painting there. (What image will they use on the stamp – the young baked beans-eating Warnie or the old plastic Tinder-using Warnie?)

And now for something completely different – Real Tennis. Yes, Real Tennis. Don’t think the Marylebone Cricket Club concerns itself solely to Cricket. Right behind the pavilion is a Real Tennis court and yes, MCC members play Real Tennis every day of the week. A few of the members are down there on the jeu à dedans. One old boy seemed like he was always there as the pantomime act for the tourists.

Back out in the crisp winter air we go and walk around to slightly less exclusive parts of the ground. We amble between the Tavern Stand and the Mound Stand, walking to the fence. Even under that dusting of snow and sleet, you can tell someone cares about the grass at all times, for it remains incredibly neat. The intimacy of the ground, compared to the vast ovals of the wide brown land, is most apparent at ground level.

To the Nursery End and the Lord’s Nursery. It’s no Adelaide Oval No. 2, but I suspect it has a lot charmer in the summer. We head up in the very tight elevators up to the media centre – reckon there might be a decent queue for the journos and commentators at the end of lunch.

And there we are, high up in the commentary seats. At last, you really begin to notice the slope. I mean, you really notice it. You worry that it’s going to upend itself, that’s how far the ground tilts down to one side. And the sun has uncovered more of the green. And yes, you can properly see Father Time.

That’s it. We’re duly deposited at the Lord’s Shop and were left a little in awe.  That was only 90 minutes? It felt longer, much longer. We walked through two hundred years of Cricket, one hundred and thirty years of Tests. No wonder time feels different here. So many ghosts.

We walk back out into a modern London. And the sun hides behind the clouds for the rest of the day.

About The Philby

Inconsistent contrarian. Barracker of Carlton FC and South Adelaide FC. Resident of Sydney. Holder of the record of shortest umpiring career with the South Australian Cricket Association.

Comments

  1. Beautifully rendered. London, Lord’s and St John’s Wood are all magnificent. Lord’s is such a mismatch of pieces, but of course the power of its place and history synthesizes it wonderfully.

    Thanks for that.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Doesn’t come within a bull’s roar of the AO tour – no scoreboard, no pictures of the Curtin brothers playing in the street outside their SAHT double unit. Does Lord’s have a chicken salt end? Could’ve saved yourselves the bother Philby.

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