The British are known for their conversations about the weather. While for some it might be trite, anyone who has lived in the British Isles will readily confess to the seriousness of the conversation. After long and rainy winter days, which are full of dullness and gloom, the British always look forward to the sunshine of the summer. Of course, for most Pakistanis looking forward to the sun is simple madness—sitting in 46 degree Lahore, I would give anything to be in rainy climes, but the rare British sun indeed has its own charm and lure, which more than justifies the British obsession with the weather.
With the mild British summer, where even 25 degrees is ‘hot’ (!), one of the most sought after summer activities is the rounds of cricket which emerge from the winter slumber to become the most important summer pastime for the country. The various counties introduce and hone fresh talent, the national team plays home and away matches, and several international teams visit the country to enjoy a good game of cricket in the fleeting English summer.
It was therefore on one of those glorious days, that I ventured to the leafy St. John’s Wood area of London, to watch the first Test Match between England and Pakistan during Pakistan’s 2018 tour of the country. As fascinating as this clash could be, it was more exciting since it was being played at the ‘home’ of cricket — the Lord’s Cricket Ground.
The Lord’s, as it is called, is not just a stadium but a legend in itself.
The history of Lord’s is inextricably tied with that of its owner the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). The MCC emerged out of the gentlemen of the Hambledon Club and the White Conduit Club in the 1770s, who were interested in the game of cricket. These were quintessential private members clubs where socialising and sport were a central feature. Since cricket was still an unregulated sport — these gentlemen, as it was certainly a ‘gentleman’s sport,’ then devised the ‘Laws of Cricket’ which were initially written in 1744 and then revised and updated in 1774, to make it more organised.
The worldwide copyright of these rules, interestingly enough, still vests in the MCC, even though the International Cricket Council regulates the day-to-day business of international cricket.
In the 1780s, cricket was a very public affair, with all kinds of people coming and commenting on the game, the players, rules and other things. The gentlemen of the aforementioned clubs — being of high society, used to often get annoyed by these disturbances and therefore asked one of their own, Thomas Lord, to find a suitable private space, where they could enjoy the game in peace, and far from the public gaze. As a result, in May 1787, Lord acquired seven acres of Dorset Square, which then became the first Lord’s ground. The gentlemen also now officially came together and formed the Marylebone Cricket Club. The lease on this first ground, now called Old Lord’s, ended in 1810, and then it moved to another site nearby, now called, Lord’s Middle Ground.
But here too life was short-lived as in 1813 the parliament requisitioned the land for the development of Regent’s Canal. Thereafter, the Lord’s moved to its third and present ground in 1814, and firmly established itself, in what would eventually be, the centre of cricket in the world.
Walking into the Lord’s ground, one can clearly feel the centuries-old history of the ground and the MCC. The grand pavilion, where only MCC members can sit, (and I’m told that the average wait for MCC membership is 27 years!), the informative cricket museum (one of the oldest sporting museums in the world!), and the recently refurbished stands (the most comfortable I have ever sat on!) — all give a mesmerising, even romantic, look in the bright, yet mild, English sun.
Going to the Lord’s and that too for a test match between England and Pakistan, on a bright sunny day was simply a dream come true. The unpredictable rain did give people a scare on the first and last day of the match, but the excitement this match had generated perhaps mollified even the rain gods not to prevent this epic clash. Even though the first two days were during the workweek the stadium was comfortably full, and people were in a festive mood. Be it a boundary by England or Pakistan, almost everyone clapped and cheered, since the game and camaraderie mattered more here than simply winning.
One thing which struck me, more than anything else, was the ease and sheer joy with which people were watching the game. There were young children, teenagers, people with families who had brought in picnics, and old people, with some in wheelchairs even — all felt a part of the game and all enjoyed it thoroughly. British Pakistanis and expatriate Pakistanis were also present in full force, with several in Pakistan national team gear, with painted faces and flags. There was no separation between the English fans and the Pakistan fans, all ate, drank, and enjoyed the match together.
As a Pakistani, the match was all one could have hoped for: England were bowled out for 184 in the first innings, while Pakistan made a massive 363 in their first innings. England simply fell apart in the second innings, coming to a score of 130 for 6 by 4pm on the third day. It was interesting that even when it seemed that England was going to lose, the English fans were composed, and kept cheering on their team. There were no shouts, hooliganism, or mass exists — it really seemed that it was a gentleman’s game where country affiliations were a mere extra.In the end, Pakistan wrapped up the English team early on the fourth day, and by lunchtime — in a very English manner — Pakistan had won the test match decisively.
Walking back on the final day from the Lord’s I began to think what a refreshing and exhilarating experience this was — peaceful and cheerful, and yet with a keen sense of competition and excitement. I also wondered what a good effect it must have on the thousands of people who attended it, stealing them from the hustle and bustle of the busy world, to the centuries-old tradition of the imposing pavilion building, or to the futuristic design of the Media Centre right opposite it.
Cricket, and that too at the Lord’s in the English summer… no wonder they keep talking about the weather!