By David De Winter, Sports Writer
I like to think that I’m a man of the people. When I’m not working (which is most of the time) I like to spend my time wine-tasting, going to the opera and answering questions on University Challenge – pursuits to which I think the common man can really relate. When not doing these things I can often be found playing real working-class sports such as golf, tennis and badminton. In fact, possibly my favourite pastime is watching cricket.
In my opinion there is no finer way to spend an afternoon than lounging in the sunshine watching a fast bowler skittle a batting line-up or a batsman dominate an attack. It is a quintessentially English hobby that, no matter how hard I try, cannot be successfully explained to any foreigner unfamiliar with the subtle nuances of Test Cricket.
It was therefore with great pleasure that I selflessly headed down to the ‘Home of Cricket’ on a sweltering June morning to watch the first day of England’s test summer against Sri Lanka. To the untutored eye, Lords might seem like an exclusive ground into which only the upper echelons of society are allowed. The reality could not be more different. There is no dress-code, tickets are readily available to the public via a ballot and you can even bring alcohol into the ground (limited to a bottle of wine or two cans of beer).
The match tickets were not exactly cheap. At £75 per seat (that’s just under £1 per-over of cricket) it does leave a sizeable hole in one’s wallet if you include on top of that travel, food and refreshments. It’s worth bearing in mind that my seat was in no way a premium vantage point either. Tickets can cost well over £100 for the best seats at Lords. Nevertheless, once I’d settled in to my pew and the first overs of the day had been negotiated, I popped open the first of many bottles of bubbly with my friends and looked forward to a competitive day’s Test Cricket. There is nothing quite like watching a day of international cricket at Lords. The gentle hum of idle chatter, the occasional ‘pop’ of a champagne cork, and the ripple of applause when the ball whistles past the bat or is stroked to the boundary; it is all so much more than just the cricket.
From my seat in The Mound Stand I could see the dynamic history of the place: the imposing pavilion to my left with all the MCC members in their colourful ties, jackets and panama hats; to my right, the modern media centre which looks down on the ground like a hovering space-ship; and behind me Old Father Time, the patron of the famous Lords clock, observing proceedings with stoic approval. One gets the feeling of being somewhere special, where tradition is respected and treasured but where also innovation is encouraged (free Wi-Fi is available all around the ground).
The greatest thing about a day at the cricket is that it lasts all day. Only maybe a trip to the Wimbledon Tennis Championships can rival cricket in terms of its duration. A top rugby or football match costs a similar amount of money yet the entertainment only lasts two hours or so. Also a sport that stops for lunch and tea definitely gets the thumbs up from me. In fact the cricket picnic is certainly the most important part of the day – it requires meticulous preparation but get it just right and the enjoyment of your day is increased tenfold. Added to that, one is spending the whole day lapping up the sunshine in the company of friends, drinking and generally making merriment whilst watching world-class cricketers strut their stuff. What’s not to like?
So what of the actual cricket? Even though a day at the Test is so much more than the sporting entertainment on offer, it is infinitely improved if a) the weather is fair and b) England pile on the runs. By happy coincidence, both of these things occurred as Gary Ballance, Ian Bell, Moeen Ali and Joe Root with a century ensured England finished the first day on top.
We ended the day singing names of Root and Matt Prior to the tunes of the Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Kum-ba-yah my Lord’ respectively after a few too many visits to the bar. We were in a large minority in having a little sing-song because, whilst Lords is hardly stuffy, there is still an air of respectability round the place which we had evidently transgressed. The atmosphere at The Oval on the other side of the Thames for example and at other Test grounds around the country, particularly Headingley and Edgbaston is noticeably more rowdy. Mildly disapproving looks from other members of the public aside, I thoroughly enjoyed my Lords experience.
Admittedly it is not the first time I have ventured onto the hallowed site (I have even had the privilege of going into the home dressing room) but it is a pilgrimage that every cricket-lover (and cricket non-lover for that matter) should, and can do. Although my favourite ground is still The Oval the sense of history and tradition of Lords is something unique that no other cricket stadium in the world can match. I cannot recommend it highly enough.