Lord's a wonderful monument


WELCOME to my country and, in particular, a warm welcome to those of you who are visiting Lord's for the first time. I am about to take you on a personal tour of the old place, showing you some of the places that have fascinated me down the years.

I hope that when you get there for the first time you will be able to head straight for the hot spots and not get bogged down in the duller places. Not that there are many of those. Lord's is a wonderful monument and few cricket fans with an imagination will walk round the ground without sensing the history, the glory and the tradition that makes it so special.

Actually this tour begins outside the ground where you may observe a peculiar bird: the Lord's peacock. He is sturdily built, with full cheeks and smooth skin and often a stout stomach but it is his plumage that is most peculiar. All week he has grazed in the City, dressed in formal suit and tie, preening himself in one of the great finance houses, or a bank or insurance company; but his dream is always of his annual trip to Lord's.

He probably first came as a child, brought along by his equally wealthy father and learnt at his father's knee that it was important to look like all the other chaps and to wear the symbols of his class. This bird is not very bright, can only talk fluently on cricket and would not give up his luncheon basket, his smart blue blazer, his tailor-made sand coloured trousers or his red and gold tie without a fierce fight.

He is, of course, the typical MCC member who will vote as his committee instructs, always buys Wisden and considers anyone who is not devoted to the game to be beyond the pale. As he strides down St. John's Wood towards the Grace Gates, his problems at the office, his wife and the noisy brats - er, sorry, bright children - are forgotten. Still we don't need to talk to any of his ilk, do we?

Instead we will start at those famous Gates. Spend a moment or two here; don't rush off. If you stand in the large empty space just beyond the security barriers on the first day you are sure to see all the great and good of cricket.

Look, there's Tom Graveney, still as erect as a guardsman, as purposeful of gait as he was in the days when he was the most elegant of all batsmen and the hardest driver into the covers. He retains his soft West Country burr. Don't hesitate to ask for his autograph. He is the most obliging of men. That applies to Tony Lewis, recent MCC president, like the current office holder Ted Dexter; nice men, always polite, always full of enjoyable conversation.

Let's make our way clockwise round the ground. On your left are the sellers of memorabilia: ties of many clubs, replica shirts that are more expensive than many a dress shirt, sweaters from around the world, badges, pins, cuff links.

The road narrows towards the pavilion and you are bound to be barged and bounced as you make your way past the doors that are only open to members and, as MCC feels obliged to acknowledge the changing world, a limited number of women members too.

Sorry, but there is no chance of looking once a match has begun. If you want that privilege come back when things are quieter and pay six pounds to join the guided tour. You can, if you wish, go into the museum, but if you take my advice you will save that visit for a quieter day, too. It can be very busy during a Test and particularly if it rains.

It was in the pavilion that the intricate manoeuvres of the Bodyline controversy were ironed out by the MCC committee, rulers of the game from one end of the Empire to the other and much concerned with the political consequences of every decision they made. Seventy years down the line, the whole business sounds like a storm in a glass of gin and tonic but if there had been a split between England and Australia the consequences might have been dire.

Instead their rough diplomacy - all the MCC telegrams seem to say the Australians should get back into line - averted a crisis and as they sat in the committee rooms and thrashed out their replies to very angry men they knew the consequences of a wrong move.

They stood strong then and again when the South Africans objected to the selection of Basil D'Oliveira and when those who wanted the removal of apartheid threatened one of the half dozen best known structures in London.

Now MCC takes a back seat but, as you step forward into the spaces that allow a glimpse of the ground you will wonder that such an apparently old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy organisation has the imagination to put up buildings like the Compton and Edrich stands, the New Grandstand and, in particular, the ultra-modern Press Box which has been likened to a spacecraft.

Sorry, but I cannot take you inside the Press Box. There are too many visitors already. But it is a truly amazing place with a higher section for the electronic media and room for 100 print journalists. The air-conditioning makes it cool, the colour scheme keeps some excitable people calm and the view is second to none. With all due respect to Calcutta's Press Box, the one at Lord's is the finest in the world.

Behind the Warner Stand is the Rose Garden where many spectators put down picnic baskets and rugs so they can eat and drink at lunch time. Sometimes their lunch begins at 12.30 and continues until tea; sometimes the chatter there is more interesting than anything you hear in the press box or the committee room or see on the pitch; and many a famous name will mingle with the crowd.

Look out for Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, or Tim Rice, the creator of the musical Evita, or the former Home Secretary Michael Howard, or the ex-Prime Minister John Major, or a dozen film stars and TV personalities.

So under the Grandstand to the Nursery End where, if you are early enough, you can watch both teams at practise. Above there is a small balcony where you will see a dozen or so youngsters lounging. Note their faces. They are the next generation of England Test players from the MCC school that gave England Bill Bowes, Ian Botham and Phil DeFreitas and many more.

Hurry past the practising cricketers and the twin gleaming white towers that house the lifts in cricket to convey us - oh so slowly - to the grandeur of the new Press Box and into the commercial section where the bookmakers, the food merchants, the sweet sellers, the hamburger joints, the fish and chip caravan, and the Lord's shop sell their wares.

Nothing is cheap: but you don't need me to tell you that the men of MCC are as commercial as the rest; set to take advantage of men who will pay 40 pounds for a ticket and 20 pounds for their lunch by charging 10 pounds for a replica ball, full price for a host of cricket books, 95 pounds for a pair of MCC gold cuff links, six pounds for a pair of MCC socks, 14 pounds for a T-shirt with the Old Father Time logo and 80 pounds for a MCC tracksuit.

Our journey is almost done. Fifty yards under the cover of the stands next to a caravan displaying exotic sweets, you're sure to see the Bedser twins moving solidly through the masses like warships at sea.

Don't ask me which one is which. I have only one way of telling them apart. Alec, chairman of selectors when I began my life as a cricket reporter, recognises me and Eric, his identical twin, has no idea who I am!

So that's Lord's and I have only touched on a tenth of its attractions. You will have to look out for yourself the secret underground passages, the England and Wales Cricket Board offices, the North Gate, the secretary's headquarters, the tiny office which runs cricket in Europe and the home of ICC where a toilet used to stand.

It's time to watch the cricket. If it lives up to the reputation of this lovely old ground we will have a wonderful day.