If you had been anywhere near the Lord’s Cricket Ground on 4th September 2009, at around 9.50 am, you might have seen a woman running around trying to find a way into the grounds. It is also possible that you might have heard some loud cursing in at least 3 languages from her. That woman was me.
In case you thought that I was trying to break in to see some cricketer, perish the thought. I was running (and cursing) as I was late for a pre-booked 10.00 am Lord’s Tour, which meant that if I didn’t find the correct gate in the next 5 minutes or so, I was going to miss the start of the Tour. And my experience of guided tours in England was that They. Started. On. Time. Period.
Now I am not a cricket fan. Never was, and never will be. If India is on a winning spree, I might just listen to the talk around me, but that’s about it. So then why was I going to Lord’s then? It was because of my sports fanatic brother’s parting words at Mumbai airport before I boarded my flight for London in September 2008.
Don’t come back to India without having watched a cricket match at the Lords.
Since I never got around to watching a cricket match at Lords (to be honest I didn’t make any attempt to), I was on my way to do the next best thing—take a tour of the Lord’s Cricket Ground—and be forgiven by my brother for not watching a match there.
I was late because I had ended up at the wrong gate and the right gate was at the other end of Lord’s. Luckily for me, the security at the “wrong gate” offered to call up the security at the “right gate” and inform them about me. It was nearly 10.10 when I reached the correct gate and found a security guard waiting to escort me to where the tour group had assembled. To my utter mortification, the remaining tour group members and the guide were only waiting for me to begin the tour. A quick round of introductions later and general do and don’ts (for example, no photography till the guide gave the go ahead), we began our tour with a visit to the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) Museum, reportedly the world’s oldest sporting museum.
The MCC Museum documents 400 years of cricketing history through paintings, artefacts, photographs and documents. The pride of place in the Museum is given to the tiny, original Ashes urn and the Wisden trophy. Also on display are cricket bats, balls and kits donated by various players over the years.
After the visit to the Museum, the tour took us through the Pavilion to the famed Long Room, a room which doubles up as a cricket-watching and a cricket art gallery, with portraits of the game’s best-known figures, including WG Grace. The Long Room, through which players have to make their way to and from the pitch, offers the best views of the grounds, and unfortunately we were not allowed to bring out our cameras here. While the rest of the tour group “oohed” and “aahed” over the atmosphere in the room and the paintings, I was captivated by the beautiful antique furniture in the room.
Lord’s is owned by the MCC and is home to the Middlesex County Cricket Club and the England and Wales Cricket Board. The current Lord’s Cricket Ground is not the original venue; there have been two other venues in the past. The guide spent a lot of time giving the group technicalities of the Lord’s pitch, its reverse slope, sloping outfield (or was it infield?), etc. My eyes had almost started to glaze over, when he announced what I was waiting to see—the players’ dressing rooms. As we walked up, the guide also explained the rather elaborate protocol observed in allotting the dressing rooms. The visiting team always occupies the dressing room on the left and the home team the one on the right. If it is a county match, then the Middlesex team, which is the home team, gets the dressing room on the right. There were many other rules, but I cannot remember all of them now.
We were shown the dressing room on the left or the visiting side’s dressing room. This is also the room that will be allotted to the visiting Indian cricket team, when they play their 100th test against England on 21 July. I don’t know what I expected the dressing room to be like, but I definitely did not expect to see a sterile room, with a high table in the centre and chairs arranged all around it. That’s it. It kind of looked like an operating theatre.
The guide pointed out the favourite chairs of the players and then led us to the Lord’s Honour Boards, which records exceptional batting and bowling performances in Test matches played at Lord’s. He pointed out the name of Ajit Agarkar among the centurions at Lord’s (“Even his mother would not have expected him to make a century”) and the absence of Sachin Tendulkar’s name in the list of century makers at Lord’s (PS: this was in September 2009, maybe Tendulkar has hit a century in Lord’s by now?).
The guide then led us to the balcony of the dressing room to deliver, what was obviously a much rehearsed spiel. “And here, ladies and gentlemen, is the balcony from where the Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly, took off his shirt and waved it at the crowds bare-chested.”
As he said this, he looked at me very disapprovingly, as did the rest of the tour group who were all Australians. Though I tried my best to look suitably contrite on behalf of all my fellow Indians, I’m pretty sure I did not succeed. 😉
It was now time to move out of the buildings and actually go and see the grounds. This also meant that we were allowed to bring out our cameras take pictures now. It was a nice walk around the cricket ground and through the various stands and finally to the blimp-shaped media centre, which revealed lovely views of the Lord’s Cricket Ground.
After the visit to the media centre, we were taken to see the court where “Real Tennis”, a game invented by Henry VIII, is played. I found nothing real about this version of tennis, in the sense that it does not resemble modern-day lawn tennis. It is more similar to squash than the tennis we know today.
Our last halt for the Lord’s Tour was the MCC Indoor Cricket School, which is where (if this news report is to be believed) Sachin Tendulkar coached his son recently and offered tips to many other aspiring cricketers as well.
The tour ended at the Lord’s Shop, making it very convenient for the group to pick up souvenirs. I picked up some cricketing memorabilia for my brother as a peace-offering, hoping that it would go some way in appeasing him for my not having seen a match at Lord’s.
In spite of not being a cricket enthusiast, I could not help being affected by the enthusiasm, dedication and care taken to preserve and showcase a sport. For the tour guide, his job was not just “to show people around… it is to make people aware of the history and traditions of the game as well…”. Such a sincere committment can appeal even to the most jaded or unenthusiastic visitor. It certainly worked for me. Of course, the visitor also has to put up with some misinformation dished out at Lord’s. They think that Lord’s is the centre of cricket, the home of cricket. Even I know that the home of cricket, the centre of cricket is the BCCI. 😉
But seriously, even if you are a casual follower of the game and are in London on business or pleasure, do drop in for the Lord’s tour. It’s worth every pound. And of course, if you are going to be in England for the forthcoming Test series beginning on 21 July 2011, why don’t you take in the tour along with the match at Lord’s?