By Will Buckley
The perception of the M.C.C and the Pavilion at Lord’s is as established as bacon and egg is the centrepiece of the English breakfast: Stuffy, sniffy, pompous, ridiculous, outdated, misogynist…It is a home from home for Colonel Blimps. It is P.G.Wodehouse’s Drones club relocated from Piccadilly.
Behind the facade, however, things are satisfyingly different. I would estimate there are more reprobates in the MCC per square metre than any other club in London. And, gratifyingly, instead of talking about themselves (see every other club in London) they are only there to talk of cricket.
A friend remembers his first visit – ‘I was slightly nervous as I entered the club. I climbed the stairs on my way to the Long Room and a member slipped and tumbled past me. I made my way to the bar for a steadying drink. There was another member in front of me…”I’ll have two pints of crisps and a packet of lager, please.”…It was 9.30 in the morning. And I thought this is my kind of club.’
Alongside the reprobates are the playwrights: Harold Pinter was a member.
When asked to compare cricket with another male obsession the Nobel winner prioritised as follows: ‘Cricket is certainly greater than sex, although sex isn’t too bad either. But everyone knows which comes first when it’s a question of cricket or sex–all discerning people recognize that. Anyway, you can either have sex before cricket or after cricket. The fundamental fact is that cricket must be there at the centre of things. To put my cards on the table, I must also say that cricket means England to me.’
Tom Stoppard is a member. In his play The Real Thing, in which the one thing that is incontestably real is cricket, the protagonist Henry picks up a cricket bat and says, ‘this thing here, which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor. it’s for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you’ve done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly. What we’re trying to do is to write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it might…travel.’
Others include David Hare and Simon Gray and Ronald Harwood. Samuel Beckett gave a note to an actor asking him to imagine the parts of Vladimir and Estragon as ‘batsmen numbers five and six fretfully waiting to begin their innings at a Test Match at Lord’s’. I could go on.
The game’s the thing, of couse, and it takes precedence over petty partiality or patriotism. In the last two years the Pavilion has been stolidly behind Sachin Tendulkar and Shiva Chanderpaul as they have approached centuries. And given them standing ovations when they have failed. Lord’s is a stage for the greatest of players and mere nationality is an irrelevance.
All this and, perhaps most remarkable of all in these prescriptive times, the Pavilion (at the far left side of the stalls and the far right end of the dress circle) it possesses the last two smoking sections in a UK sporting arena. Can anyone name another?« And still the Germans win on penalties…. Giggs and the Olympic Football dilemma? »
Host of ESPN's Off the Ball, BBC Fighting talk panellist, practising sports law barrister, Chairman of Full Contact Law, author of “The Man Who Hated Football.
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