A Day at Lord's
A day of cricket at its ‘Home’ is an experience far richer than just watching the sport
Cricket is a gentlemen’s game. So I have heard. It’s also a game of forgiveness, of salvation. So I experienced.
One fine day this summer, I flew from Sweden to watch cricket at Lord’s. Though India was not playing, the prospect of watching a day of cricket at its Mecca on an English summer day was too tempting to let go.
On the morning of the game, abruptly, anxiousness gripped me. Having heard stories about the dressing and mannerisms at Lord’s, I felt unprepared. I had forgotten to carry my semi-formal summer jacket and leather shoes. I called up Greg, an old friend and a cricket enthusiast, to ask if I could borrow his jacket. Greg laughed, “No need! You will still find a few dressed formally but most dress casually”. Trusting Greg, I left for Lord’s dressed in an informal shirt and sneakers.
At St. John’s Wood tube station, the closest one to the stadium, I was caught in a swirl of men in felt hats and flannel jackets, carrying well-stocked picnic baskets and ice-boxes, tending towards the stadium. Many wore silk ties, stripped with red and gold, the official colours of Lord’s. Instantly, I felt underdressed. But it was too late to turn back.
Outside the stadium, a man, looking inappropriate in the staid ambiance, approached me. “Do you want a ticket for 100 quids?”, he asked. “No thanks” I muttered and enquired “Is the stadium full?”. “Lord’s is always full” the man replied while darting eyes across other potential customers. I had the ticket to one of the best viewing galleries, the Grand Stand, which I had booked well in advance. At 60 pounds, it was much cheaper than the black market rate.
Most come to Lord’s computing well in advance what to eat and drink. Some collected food hampers that they had ordered along with the ticket, from a pick-up point located next to the Lord's Food Village. Others carried picnic baskets. For the uninitiated ones, like myself, there were several bars and food joints that dotted the periphery of the stadium. On match days, tents selling wines, tea and scones come up in the open ground. Without yet having seen a single ball bowled, I drooled at the prospect of sampling the variety of food on offer. There were typical game-day options of burgers, hotdogs and chips, but what excited me were the tea and scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, soft rolls with English mustard, cucumber sandwiches, and the famous Dundee fruitcakes.
I settled down to watch the match unspool. England was playing against Pakistan. The fantastic thing about Test cricket is that little epic battles unfold within long sessions, adding tension and excitement. England’s captain Alastair Cook repeatedly dispatched Wahab Riaz’s balls to the boundary putting England in charge. The advantage was lost when Jonny Bairstow tried to attack Yasir Shah only to lose his wicket at a crucial moment. The favours shifted back and forth between the teams as the day progressed.
Eating was a constant even in pauses between the lunch and tea-breaks; the game itself seemed like an afterthought to the plush picnic. Around me, the chewing and quaffing was punctuated with ripples of polite applause on well-stroked shots. Though I had stocked books and newspaper to while my time during the more boring hours of the play, the ebb and flow of the game kept me charged up throughout. And when during one of the breaks, I finally opened Carlo Rovelli’s bestseller Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, an English gentleman from behind touched my shoulder and remarked cheerily “Seems like pretty heavy reading for a Sunday afternoon”. I agreed and kept the book back.
It was also a game where the Pakistani player Mohammad Amir was scheduled for a come-back , after a gap of six years, from a spot fixing scandal that sent him to jail and almost destroyed his career. Newspapers were folded, food trays shoved away, and a hush descended as Amir’s turn to bowl came at the deciding point of the match. As Amir ran to bowl at the last English batsman, I expected boos and shouts of ‘cheater’ from the local crowd to perforate the tense air. But bad behaviour is an alien idea to the crowd at Lord’s. The tension lifted as Amir bowled; there was even a hint of cheer on Amir’s bouncers from the well-behaved crowd. I turned to my neighbour who I had got friendly with through the day. He understood my wonder, and verbalized the philosophy of Lord’s, “At Lord’s you cheer the effort. The crowd forgives the past when the try is genuine. That’s why they call it Mecca, for here one can find redemption”.
In the end, Amir got the wicket that won Pakistan the match. The Pakistan team saluted the crowd, and the crowd responded with a standing ovation. The local team lost, but the game, almost throughout, was close enough to hold interest to the end.
As we walked out in neat queues, the attendants at the gates explained which routes we should take to exit smoothly. While I waited for the crowd to thin, the attendants asked for feedback about my day. At that moment I realised that it was not just a game of cricket that Lord’s offered. Rather it was a much richer experience – spanning across food, humour, mannerisms and most importantly, true sportsmanship from not only the players, but also the crowd – that I had collected. It was an afternoon worth tucking away in one’s memory.
A version of this story appeared in National Geographic Traveller