On Thursday most eyes were focused on the football in Brazil. Not mine. I was among the many parishioners returning to the spiritual home of the summer game. Soaked in barbaric sun there was an added zest to the usual special atmosphere of the first test at Lord’s.
Like Francis Thompson, heaven is a day at lords with all its traditions and eccentricities. My ascent to Lord’s was delayed by an early morning work commitment, leading to a missed first session.
This meant I was denied a real pleasure which is a consequence of having an unreserved Rover ticket. To ensure a seat of one’s choice, it is necessary to arrive at 9.30am at the latest for the 11am start. The intervening 90 minutes have to be filled with the pleasures of coffee, a bacon roll, and lots of paper reading.
Running late determined an altogether different rhythm to my morning. I missed the rush hour battles with the wonderful and ever cheery commuters. I left my experienced father to wake and smell the coffee and trusted that he would find the regular excellent viewing spots.
Lord’s is a place of memories that never fade. I was present last year for the Ashes test. It was a full house on an impossibly hot day; we heartily applauded – between gulps of champagne – a felicitous century by Ian Bell. Everything was rosy in our in English garden of willows.
Not so anymore after the disastrous white wash in Australia which meant that continuity was matched by change. Once again the old ground was dripping like an old oil painting in perfect light and a full complement filled the seats. The same faces hid under the glorious sea of glossy Panamas.
However the mood was much changed. Cricket fans pride ourselves on being lovers of the game and custodians of the spirit but we are also exceptionally partisan. For nearly a decade, there has been an almost unmitigated success. It has been a pleasure to turn up, know the team, and watch poetic world class Englishmen win. Australia finally wreaked their revenge and ravaged half the team to retirement – the new breed was here and beginning today.
Confidence tinged with arrogance was replaced on Thursday with a cautious optimism served with a large helping of nervousness.
Like Vivaldi’s four seasons, each session of the day’s play has a different sound. The mostly male choir is set at a chauvinistic, but never misogynistic, timbre. Morning is a gentle chatter of sleepy heads and long lost friends, luncheon is a cricket-less wall of sound sung by tall poppies, the afternoon is clusters of raucous laughter and constant happy hum which slowly ebbs into a pre-tea somnolent lyric-less lull; after the tea time leg stretch, it is onto the final bottles and second winds- less joyful explosions of sound but absorbed content babbling.
I arrived just before lunch, drenched in sweat, to find my father chewing the ear off a chap from Worcestershire. The delight of this slice of England is, that due to our mutual interest, no man ever sits alone. I shuffled along the row of wise octogenarians and was greeted not by the accustomed “hullo” but by a twitchy “I really feel the sun is over the yard arm”. Like an old man’s urgency to quench his thirst, the cricket was mirroring the previous year – a top order collapse and Ian Bell stroking the ball around in his velvet gloves.
Some like to pack their hampers with innovative products but there is a lot to be said for traditional victuals- prawn cocktail, smoked salmon, pork pies, sausage rolls, roast beef sandwiches, and a punnet of strawbugs. All washed down with some Prosecco and a very agreeable Cotes de Rhone. Bliss.
The afternoon belted on and England lost wickets, yet batted keenly. Rather like Spartan children on the mountainside, the naked sun tests out the man in the crowd. Many characters sleep under their hats, a few decamp to the Harris gardens, and the strong willed sit and drink in the cricket in front of them. The returning Matthew Prior’s entrance was unusually quiet, yet he and Joe Root sedately restored English face.
After a tea time stroll around the ground it was back to the seats with hope for a big score. Prior and Root began to grind down the Sri Lankans. A Prior 50 was well received like a long lost uncle returning from Kuala Lumpur. The Sri Lankans, all pot bellies and long hair, began to wilt like an ageing MCC member and Root smelt a ton. Beginning the final over on 98, he hit a sumptuous on-drive for four to cap a wonderful day for him and the ‘new England’.
It was a new and, hopefully bright, day for the team that we follow. However the team on the seats stay the same and will never change their spirited fusty ways.