You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Gloom, drizzle and little cricket but Lord’s neighbourly magic still crackles

The Guardian logo The Guardian 18/08/2019 Tanya Aldred
There was little play on the third day of the Ashes Test but Lord’s was still full of conviviality. © PA There was little play on the third day of the Ashes Test but Lord’s was still full of conviviality. Australian supporters look on shortly before rain stops play. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images © AFP/Getty Images Australian supporters look on shortly before rain stops play. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

From the darkness of a 5am late-summer Friday morning, a train charged down the spine of a country divided, past paddock and canal, wind turbine and sleeping houses. The only sound, as we passed from Manchester to the Midlands and beyond, was that of nothing at all, the lolling heads of grabbed sleep, the silent music of headphones. Even at Milton Keynes, where London workers piled on in ironed shirt sleeves and shift dresses, the train remained quiet. The silence of the railway carriage, it turns out, is a powerful thing.

Just to the north-west of Euston station, where that train drew in, was where I was lucky enough to be going, somewhere else unique in its soundscape: Lord’s, putting on its best bib and tucker for the Friday of the Ashes Test, the highlight of any cricketing summer – although perhaps, just for once, not this one.

The queue outside the North Gate burbled with anticipation from well before 8am. Might Steve Smith be out before the end of the day? Who should open the bowling – Jofra Archer or Chris Woakes? In the members’ queue opposite, a peacock’s pride of blazers and primary-coloured trousers politely lined up. Phone calls were taken at higher-than-average volume “I walked from Baker Street.” “Did you get the doughnuts?” “Where are you?” A smiling woman shook a charity box tin, proffering jelly beans in return.

Then the unfastened zips of a bag check, the click of the turnstiles and in past the Nursery ground, where programme and scorecard sellers in huts squared up their wares. As the ground filled it sighed and smiled, lightened by 20,000 people’s delight at the conviviality of it all. Outside the Allen Stand a jazz band, with an average age older even than that of the MCC membership, rattled through some classics, camouflaging the gurgle and fizz of the nearby coffee van. And everywhere: greetings, handshakes, backslaps. Jerry, old thing.

Jofra Archer is who we’d come for. And there he was, warming up, all skinny legs and big white trainers. From the vantage point of a tier up, spectators pondered why he was bowling left-arm spin in the warm-up. It turned out no one had a clue but there was a lot of joy in the accompanying guesswork.

Shane Warne rang the five-minute bell and the players were out. The floodlights were so bright that you shielded your eyes as if it was the sun itself. Cameron Bancroft and Usman Khawaja steeled themselves. An intensity started to settle, the sort that comes when everyone recognises they’re watching something special – like this young man formed of liquid, thrown the ball at the Pavilion End, who strolled in and with a flick of the wrist produced 89, 90, 93mph deliveries. Bancroft took a couple in the ribs, on the pads, as Archer kept it short.

The ground enjoyed the Australians getting a good peppering, oohing and ahhing with a carry-on frenzy until, three quarters of an hour in, Archer at last trapped his man lbw. But what was this? Bancroft had the audacity to review and all held their breath – like a moment of feedback from 1990 as Graham Gooch approached his 300. Eyes moved to the big screen where a told-you-so roar said the review was junk. Unbridled delight. I was there – were you there? – when Archer got his first Test wicket.

Who next to the lions but Smith? The genius disguised as a medieval Saint Vitus’s dance. His reception was mixed – if there was booing, it was overlaid with applause and anticipation. This was the big one and we roared the bowlers in. But England couldn’t quite snare him, despite a pantomime of his most awkward fly-swatting leaves.

A couple more wickets, more reviews and that, it turned out, was that: three minutes before one o’clock the drizzle and gloom became too much and the players were ushered off by the umpires. On came the covers thanks to a well-drilled team, noiseless from a distance, then the marching band and the chatter of the ground announcer. By then food had taken over, though the pop of the champagne cork and the tearing open of crisp packets had been aural accompaniments since before play began at 11am.

An hour passed, more. The sky gently glowered, mostly without any discernible promise of future play. By the Bicentenary bar, a hum of bass and tenor was hemmed in by the wet and the wall; outside, the rustle of rainware, the whisper of disappointment and the murmur of indecision. “Shall we call it a day?” “Let’s give it another half an hour.” Water bottles were refilled at the fountains and a slow tap of walking sticks did a circuit.

As the damp continued, Lord’s fell back on its surefire winning formula and screened the highlights of the World Cup final on the big screen. In every stand, people in that slightly uncomfortable state of having been too cold already for a couple of hours gripped their arms across their chests in anticipation of a last ball that they already knew the answer to. As Jos Buttler ran out Martin Guptill (again) spontaneous applause and cheers burst from the ranks of the soggy and that, for the majority, was the sign. This thing wasn’t going to restart, it was time to go.

Through the awkward metal-clink turnstiles again went the red trousers and the accents fermented on the playing fields of schools with their own cricket pitches, their hampers now emptied of better-than-average plonk. But also everyone else too – whatever story the World Cup meeting of Nigel Farage and Piers Morgan here might like to think it told, Lord’s is more than just the playground for the well-connected and the ugly right-wing. The sound of Lord’s is that of a longed-for day off, a meeting place for old friends and beloved family and a chance, if you can afford a ticket, to watch the best players on the most famous ground of them all.

Pictures: Best shots from the second Test of the 2019 Ashes series

More From The Guardian

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon