When, on 14 July, the players walk out onto Lord’s’ impeccably manicured turf to contest the final of the 2019 World Cup – bringing the curtain down on a six-week extravaganza of towering sixes, toe-crunching yorkers and brilliant catches – cricket will feel very much like a game for the here and now. Yet of all the world’s leading sports, perhaps none is more in thrall to its past than England’s summer game, and nowhere is this more evident than at Lord’s.
In fact, from the moment I arrived at cricket’s most storied venue – stopping to admire the Grace Gates, the cast-iron tribute to WG, one of the most famous of all Victorians – I could almost feel history hurtling towards me like a well-directed bouncer. And it’s a long history – one that stretches back to 1787 when Thomas Lord – the son of Yorkshire who gave the venue his name – secured a ground for the newly formed Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) to play on.Lord’s first forays into ground ownership were chequered: he moved the MCC out of its first home at Dorset Square after the area became a haunt of cutthroats; and was forced out of its second by the decision to carve the Regent’s Canal right through the ground. Even the move to the current site in St John’s Wood in 1814 almost ended badly, when Lord came close to selling the land to housing developers. Yet, once that fate was averted, the ground soon established itself as the epicentre of cricket. Rich Londoners were rapidly falling in love with the game, and the MCC – already established as the arbiter of cricket’s laws – was uniquely placed to exploit this passion.
Since then, Lord’s has witnessed many of cricket’s landmark moments – the first Oxford versus Cambridge match in 1827, Don Bradman’s flawless 254 for Australia in 1930, the first World Cup final in 1975. Yet in terms of sheer magnificence, nothing in the ground’s history has stood the test of time better than Thomas Verity’s pavilion, opened in 1890. A masterclass of Victorian grandeur, it’s little wonder that it is the most celebrated building in world cricket, perhaps in all of sport.
The pavilion isn’t just admired for its architectural beauty but also for what it contains. There’s the largest collection of cricket paintings in the world – my eye was drawn to a huge portrait of the West Indies’ master blaster Viv Richards; and there’s the honours boards in the changing rooms, listing every player who’s scored a century, taken five wickets in an innings or 10 wickets in a match since the first Lord’s Test in 1884.
But the centrepiece of the pavilion is surely the Long Room, cricket’s holy of holies. Part art gallery, part impossibly exclusive executive box, it’s here that MCC members gather to greet the players as they make their way onto the playing surface. It’s a circuitous route from changing room to pitch – just ask England’s David Steele who, on his Test debut in 1975, got lost and ended up in the pavilion’s basement toilets.
Cricketing gold mine
One of the beauties of a visit to Lord’s is that you can step out of the most famous building in cricket and, just a few seconds later, find yourself in front of its most famous artefact. The Ashes – the 11cm high urn that inspired the biennial clash between England and Australia – is the highlight of the MCC museum, situated just a few metres away from the pavilion, but it’s far from the only attraction. From WG Grace’s kit to the stuffed sparrow that was ‘bowled out’ by Jahangir Khan during a game in 1936, this, one of the world’s oldest sports museums, is a gold mine of treasures from cricket’s past.
Lord’s celebrates its history, but it doesn’t purely trade on past glories. The space age media centre (opened in 1999) that hovers above the ground’s Nursery End is testament to that. And, on 14 July, that centre will be packed with journalists ready to run the rule over a new chapter in Lord’s unique story.
VISIT: For more information on booking a guided tour to Lord’s cricket ground, go to lords.org
LISTEN: You can hear World Cup commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, and follow the tournament via the BBC website
This article was first published in the July 2019 edition of BBC History Magazine