Join the queue – Lord’s comes alive

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IT WAS only a domestic level Twenty20 match, but Lord’s was still the place to be as Chief Writer RON REED prepares for the biggest match on the Test cricket calendar:

SOME things never change, and Lord’s – the hallowed home of cricket – is, and is not, one of them. Like the great stadiums of Melbourne and Sydney, the pride of London sports fans has had its fair share of construction work, up-dated and up-graded, since I was last there for the 1997 Ashes tour, but it is  still impossible to mistake it for anywhere else. It’s aura and atmosphere is as unique as ever.

And this wasn’t even in Test match mode, which will be the case when Australia and England resume the Ashes battle on Wednesday.

It was just a night of county level Twenty20. “Just?” Ha! Middlesex were playing Surrey in the Vitality Blast, the English version of the Big Bash, which I naively thought would attract maybe a few thousand cricket buffs with nothing better to do as is the case with most county championship first-class matches.

But I learned long ago never to underestimate the pulling power of T20 and should have known better.

The local derby clash between the two London clubs was a full-blown blockbuster, the grandstands all full, every ticket sold in advance and touts scrambling for spares as long queues snaked around the venue, with its prison-like tall walls, long before the gates opened.

The Lord’s Tavern, the pub that sits adjacent to the famous Grace gates, was already chockablock so no chance of a pint to while away the time waiting for the queues to dissipate.

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From deep in the nearest one, I thought glumly that it would take forever to get in, and wondered what it might be like come Wednesday, but, hey presto, once the head of the snake began to move the rest shuffled through, including the now mandatory security pat-down, so quickly that I was seated in front of the Long Room in less than 10 minutes.

It was confirmation of something else I have long known, namely that if there is one thing the English do know how to do, it is participating in and operating a queue.

 So, because my Melbourne Cricket Club membership entitles me to a reciprocal pass, here I was in the Pavilion, perhaps – big call alert –  the most evocative place in the entire sporting world, with its amazing collection of ancient artwork dedicated to the game, as well as the customs and rules that apply to just being there.

When one’s pass is approved, one is warned in writing that the dress code – jacket and tie, of course – is strictly enforced without exception, although I do remember that the late, great Keith Miller, to whom rules and regulations never applied because he was so popular with everyone, arrived at the Long Room with knockabout former Richmond footballer Brian Roberts in tow, “The Whale” wearing shorts and a casual shirt – and they were waved through. Miller could, and did, get away with anything.

Around the rest of the ground, you can dress how you like – but only up to a point. At Edgbaston last week, half the crowd seemed to be in fancy dress – popes, footballers, Sherlock Holmeses, Mexicans in pursuit of Donald Trump, you name it – but this would never do at Lord’s. Such sartorial frivolity is banned.

Most unusually, these days, you can take your own picnic food and strong drink through the gate, just not too much of it – one bottle of bubbly is the limit, and no bottles of spirits.

Going to the cricket here is as much a social occasion as a sporting experience, not unlike the MCG on Boxing Day.

As for the game itself, like all T20 there are no guarantees about what you get, but it was well worth watching the great South African AB de Villiers and England’s winning World Cup captain Eoin Morgan compile big-hitting half centuries as Middlesex reached 8-210. Australia’s World Cup captain Aaron Finch replied with an even more aggressive 47 before being stumped charging down the pitch, which was pretty much the end of the ball game for Surrey, who finished 64 short.

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Afterwards, the President of the Middlesex Cricket Club, former Test seam bowler Mike Selvey – an old acquaintance of mine through his other professional life as a newspaper sportswriter – tweeted a photograph of a big crowd at a major event.

But it wasn’t the cricket. A short walk from Lord’s is the Abbey Road zebra crossing where the iconic photo of The Beatles was taken 50 years ago to the day, and at 11.38am – the exact time photographer Iain MacMillan climbed a ladder to facilitate the image – hundreds of fans assembled to recreate it.

One dude, Chris, came all the way from New Zealand for it. “It’s dedication or stupidity,” he told the Guardian newspaper. “But it’s a trip of a lifetime. When you’re here you feel like you’re part of the whole thing again.”

When the Test starts on Wednesday, I’ll probably be saying something very similar.

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Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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