The world of sport has given us some iconic images that remain indelibly etched in our minds. Kapil Dev, captain of the victorious Indian cricket team, holding aloft the Prudential Cup on June 25th, 1983 is one such image. India had won just one match previously in the last two editions of the world cup and not even their most ardent fan would have fantasized that India would win the cup. Kapil’s toothy grin was reflected by millions of Indians all across the world. It was a watershed moment in Indian cricket and was probably the seminal moment when an already popular game transformed into a religion in India. Fittingly enough, Kapil was at the Mecca of cricket, the Lord’s Cricket Ground, simply known as Lord’s.
On the last day of my trip to London in November 2018, I had a choice of four places to visit and time just for two. The Millennium Eye, 221b Baker Street, the British Library and Lord’s. The first two are on the itinerary of most tourists but the latter two appealed to two of my passions – reading and cricket. The British Library was a joy to visit and I have referred to it in another post. After a visit to the Ritblat Gallery at the library, I hastened to Lord’s to make it in time for one of their visitor tours.
I had planned to make it for the 1 pm tour and as I stepped out of the St John’s Wood Tube Station, I saw a souvenir shop selling Beatles memorabilia. I stepped in to ask for directions and picked up a pack of souvenir guitar picks. I then hurried down the road towards the stadium. I arrived at the stadium at about 12:30 pm and there was just another solitary Indian lounging around the ticket window, which was closed. I walked up to the gate and was told it would open in 20 minutes or so. I hung around outside, I thought I would stop by at the Pavilion Lounge Restaurant on my way out.
The ticket window soon opened and I found myself entering the gates of the stadium. I had to wait for a few minutes while other visitors picked up their tickets. I introduced myself to the other visitors. There was a father and son duo from South Africa, the dad had apparently played with Barry Richards, the legendary South African batsman. We were soon escorted to the MCC Museum and asked to wait in the foyer while a few other visitors arrived.
MCC, the Marylebone Cricket Club, is the keeper of the laws of cricket and the museum is amongst the oldest sporting museums in the world. We were told that we could spend about 30 minutes looking around the museum after which the tour of the stadium would commence. As I looked around, I realized that the visitors were fairly representative of the cricket world. The Indian tourists were in majority, a solitary Englishman, an Australian, a couple of South Africans, a trio of Sri Lankans and a lone Spaniard sporting a Barca cap. I asked him if he followed cricket. He replied he did not but he had heard that this was a hallowed cricket ground and he decided to visit it out of curiosity.
The museum is a veritable treasure house of artifacts and memorabilia for cricket lovers. My eyes were immediately drawn to the Prudential Cup that had been held aloft by Kapil Dev. Sunil Gavaskar’s skull cap, C.K. Nayadu’s bat and the original letter informing Sachin Tendulkar of his selection for the Australian tour are some of the memorabilia of the past Indian cricket teams.
While the Indian memorabilia attracted my attention, as a cricket lover there were several others. Don Bradman’s cricket gear, bats belonging to Jack Hobbs, W.G. Grace and Len Hutton. Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Shane Warne, Kumar Sangakarra, Imran Khan, Adam Gilchrist, Ian Botham and many other cricketing greats are represented. The exhibits included photographs, trophies, paintings, sculptures, cricket gear, uniforms and archives such as old scorecards and rules books. It is interesting to see the evolution of gear such as pads and gloves over the decades.
The piece de resistance is, of course, the original Ashes urn. Made of terra-cotta, it is reputed to contain the ashes of a cricket bail that was used in a match played between the visiting English team and the Australian Eleven in the 1882-83 Test Series. There is some disagreement regarding the exact sequence of events that led to the presentation of the urn but it is acknowledged that it was presented by a group of Ladies to the visiting English team and that the urn was originally a perfume bottle. England won that series in 1882-1883 and the rivalry continues to this day.
After about 30 minutes, our guide for the afternoon, John, introduced himself. A distinguished looking gentleman he pointed out the salient exhibits and spoke at length about the Ashes urn. It was then time to visit the stadium. We followed John into the pavilion. The players dressing rooms were under repair in preparation for the 2019 World Cup. It was disappointing to not be able to visit the dressing rooms but the Long Room more than made up for that.
If you are watching the ongoing World Cup and you watch a match being played at Lord’s, the television camera will show the batsman who is out, walk up the steps of the pavilion into the Long Room while the next batsman walks through the Long Room from his team’s dressing room on the way to the pitch. John told us that this walk is pretty long and confusing and visiting players have been known to get lost while heading out to bat. Photography is prohibited in the Long Room. It has high ceilings and the walls are adorned with paintings. The room is open to members of the MCC during matches.
John meanwhile gave us a history primer on Lord’s. Named after Thomas Lord, this is not the original site of the MCC’s cricket grounds. The original site was established in 1787 and after a couple of moves, the present ground was established in 1814. The ground evolved over the years, lawn mowers replaced sheep to keep the grass in check! The pavilion and stands were added over time. It has hosted the Gillette Cup, Natwest Trophy and Prudential Cup finals over the years. Don Bradman, acknowledged to be the greatest batsman of all time, scored 254 in 1930, an innings he considers to be his best, Hedley Verity, the English spinner, took 14 Australian wickets on a single day in 1934. Verity was later killed in WWII. The pavilion has a memorial for cricketers who were killed in the two World Wars. Incidentally, the pavilion at Lord’s was designed by an architect called Thomas Verity.
Even though the dressing rooms were out of bounds, we got to see the Honours boards. Any cricketer who scores a century or takes more than 5 wickets in a game has his (or now her) name etched on the boards. There are two sets, one for the English team while the other for the visitors. I was never a good cricket player but I used to read a fair bit of cricketing lore and follow matches around the world. I found myself answering John’s questions, recalling notable innings, scores and individual feats. John was pleased when I pointed out Vinoo Mankad’s name on the Honours Boards. Mankad was not part of the touring Indian team in 1952 and was playing county cricket in England. A spate of injuries to the Indian team led to his selection for the second test that was played at Lord’s. He achieved the rare double of taking 5 wickets as well as scoring a century in that Test. In the mid-seventies, my uncle had presented my brother a biography on Vinoo Mankad penned by Sudhir Vaidya. All those summer afternoons re-reading that book counted for something!
Vinoo Mankad’s feat assumes special significance when one considers the names that are conspicuous by their absence on the Honor Boards – Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara amongst the batsmen and Imran Khan, Anil Kumble, Shane Warne, Wasim Akram and Curtley Ambrose amongst the bowlers. While the Honors Boards are no indication of a cricketer’s prowess, I’m sure it is a special badge of honor to have one’s name engraved on those boards. Dilip Vengsarkar holds the record for visiting batsmen, his name figures thrice on the board! I took special satisfaction and pride as I noted the name of Rahul Dravid who managed to get on to the board on his last tour of England in 2011, having fallen agonizingly short for 95 on his debut at Lord’s in 1996. Dravid was my junior in High School and while I did not know him personally, I’ve admired him over the years for his grit, tenacity, composure and rock-solid technique.
It was then time to go outside the Long Room and view the balcony where Kapil Dev had held aloft the Prudential Cup. It was a lovely day, bright and sunny and as I looked onto the field, I could imagine the surge of emotions he must have felt as he surveyed the thousands of cheering Indian fans who had swarmed onto the field below the pavilion. Sportsmen spend years in anonymity honing their skills, practicing for hours each day, watching their diet and trying to make it big. Few do, and of them, only a rarefied group achieve the kind of success that all of them dream of. Kapil Dev and his team of 1983 did.
After taking a bunch of pictures, we walked down the steps to the stands. I sat on a seat and looked across the field. John pointed out the slope in the field that the commentators refer to as “the hill”. I walked down to the edge where the turf came up to the stands. John kept up an interesting conversation all along, talking about the history of the MCC as well as sharing anecdotes about the players. We then walked over to the Media Center which had been constructed for the 1999 World Cup. The center is well equipped for journalists, however, in my opinion, the modernistic aluminum structure feels out of place in the traditional environs of Lord’s.
As with all tours, we ended up at the Gift and Souvenir shop. I picked up a set of souvenir coasters and then hurried to the St John’s Wood station. I passed the Beatles Memorabilia shop again without giving it a second thought. I was all excited about my visit to Lord’s and as I was talking to my friend that evening, he asked me if I had visited Abbey Road, “It’s just around the corner”, he said. I looked at him in disbelief. I had seen pictures of the iconic Zebra crossing several times and I had missed visiting it! The British Library, Lord’s and Abbey Road, all on the same day – it would have been a Hat-trick!