The Lord’s you know and the Lord’s you don’t
Lord’s denotes some sense of regality but it is little more than chance that the 18th Century cricketer who developed the site was named Thomas Lord.
LONDON - On game day, there are four different cakes to choose from high up in the Media Centre of Lord’s cricket Ground. Carrot, red velvet, chocolate and a vanilla sponge drenched in rich butter cream. The table groans under the weight of these decadent monstrosities. Greedy journalists, commentators and photographers elbow their way to the front of the queue. There’s no need. There is more than enough to go around.
Earlier, trays of smoked salmon and steamed prawn sat side by side with a medley of vegetables and roast pheasant. It was probably baby chicken, but here at the self aggrandising Home of Cricket, the spiritual headquarters of this most prestigious game, things are not what they are but rather what you say they are. Keep telling yourself that the the chicken you’re eating is an exotic bird shot by men on horseback with bloodhounds barking at their riding boots and soon enough you’ll believe the lie.
There are lies in every corner of this stadium. First, there’s the name. Lord’s denotes some sense of regality but it is little more than chance that the 18th Century cricketer who developed the site was named Thomas Lord. It could well have been called Smith’s or van Wyk’s or Mhlangu’s.
Then there’s the pompous moniker. A hundred years ago this may have been the home of cricket when the only match that mattered was contested between an empire and one of its penal colonies. Back then, a three month voyage over sea was needed to connect players from Australia and England. No one else cared about the fate of a hard leather ball or how a bat was swung.
Today, the real home of cricket is in Dubai where the Board of Control for Cricket In India wields a big stick as they influence the International Cricket Council which, depending on your viewpoint, either stifles or encourages the game’s growth in countries like Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Uganda and the USA.
The Home of Cricket? What propaganda nonsense is this? It is nothing short of arrogance to assume that a game played by over two billion people in South Asia alone still rotates around a room in St John’s Wood that hasn’t been the ICC’s HQ since 2005.
But credit where it’s due. It is a mightily impressive room. If you can get in. I peeped behind the curtain only briefly when I joined the Cricket Writer’s Club earlier this year and upturned a few glasses in the Long Room as oil paintings in heavy frames towered over me and the polished wooden floors underfoot.
It smells of history. A dark, rich smell of linseed oil self-satisfaction. To stand in the bowels of Lord’s, the real Lord’s, the Lord’s you were told about as a child, the Lord’s that is revered as a destination of pilgrimage for the devout, is to be reminded that this game is not the pastime of the people.
Sure, it’s played around the world by barefooted children using handmade equipment, but that was never the intention. Unlike football, which was spread by British sailors and took hold because it was easy to digest and inexpensive to play, cricket was always meant to be a game for the upper classes. That is made painfully obvious when ensconced within the grandiosity of this room of leather and oak.
Apart from this rare occasion, the Pavilion, as the twin-spired, red-bricked building is known, is off limits to the likes of me. I am not a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club and so must only wonder what special privileges those (mostly) old white men in their yellow and red jackets and ties enjoy. Rumour has it that waiting lists to join this exclusive club are longer than the honours boards and that to one must undergo an ancient initiation process to be considered.
Directly opposite the Pavilion stands the Media Centre; a spaceship-like pod that stares at the Pavilion as if challenging its antiquated views. The Pavilion stares back with its heels dug in, rejecting the Media Centre’s new-fangled notions and obsessions with the future. They both scream at each other, aggressively declaring: “It’s just not cricket” as the action unfolds between them.
Flitting about between these two imposing figures are the fans. Those without media accreditation or wearing the bacon and eggs, as the MCC colours are branded, are kept well away from the other side of the velvet rope.
The Home of Cricket? The only ones made to feel at home are the ones watching in towers of glass or brick. The rest must make do with overpriced food and drink and plastic bucket seats.
Then there’s the cricket itself. A pretty average ground houses a pretty average pitch which stages pretty average action watched on by a pretty sedate crowd (this is Lord’s after all, and fancy dress and tomfoolery are both frowned upon).
Take away the context and Lord’s is like any other international cricket stadium. It does not have the menace of the Wanderers or the MCG. It does not generate the fervour of Eden Gardens or the Gaddafi. It’s not even the best ground in the city. The Kennington Oval south of the Thames wins every metric in the tale of the tape.
And yet, despite myself, I have to pinch myself that I’m here. I can’t help but fall in love with the place. I know I’m a hypocrite, and I know I should be more cynical and woke but I can’t help but become a puddle of cricket nerd as I guffaw at the red bricks and the statues and the MCC colours and every sign that sports the name ‘Lord’s’.
Cricket is the hypocrites game. It is the sport of the romantic who clings to hope despite all the evidence in the world that none exists. We know things are bad, they’re worse than bad. The best batters in history fail at least as often as they succeed. When the ice caps melt, and they will, cricket will be the first sport to be disbanded.
Cricket has never been cool. It will never be cool. One day it won’t exist. And yet, despite ourselves, we love the damn thing and we can’t help but consider Lord’s the Home of Cricket. It is the heartland, the centre of our universe, the glistening capital city built and held together by a lie we tell ourselves. It is important because we say it. I want to hold my nose at the hypocrisy. I want to scoff at the narcism but I so desperately want to be a part of it.
And isn’t it the pursuit of the impossible that keeps cricket going? It’s why bowlers beg their captains for one more over. It’s why batters continue to face demon quicks and bewitching spinners despite their 23.59 average. The game makes no sense but at the same time serves as a perfect metaphor for any dilemma or triumph we experience in the world. What is a divorce if not the end of a partnership? What is a marriage if not the registering of a milestone? Why do you think batters lift their bat when scoring a hundred?
Lord’s is the Home of Cricket because it encapsulates everything we love and hate about the game. The hypocrisy, the dread, the jealousy, the mundanity. It ignites passions and dulls the senses. It means everything and nothing. And if you close your eyes and chew on a chicken leg, you might convince yourself that what you’re eating is something far more exotic.