I returned to Lords and for a variety of reasons found it a more enjoyable experience than the Friday. The Saturday test of the Ashes is one of the great sporting experiences and as I sat in the sun in the front row of the Mound Stand I could not think of anywhere else I would prefer to be.
I was able to watch closely the England team warm up with a soccer kick a round in front of us. Moeen Ali is good. I could see straightaway he had technique, control and got his head up to deliver a clever pass. They seemed a happy group and the fans enjoyed watching them as much as they did playing.
The morning play went England’s way. They have unearthed a fine talent in Ben Stokes. His bowling needs improvement but as a batter he takes the fight to the opposition without giving away his wicket. No one would accuse Alistair Cook of that, he is one of the great run accumulators. Every team needs your Boycotts, Barringtons and Cooks: the sheet anchors. Thus it was all the more surprising when the skipper reached 96 and I was just thinking he would not be cavalier a la Kevin Pietersen when he fluffed his lines.
Lords on a Saturday is a sociable place. You do not have to wait long outside the pavilion to meet a friend and I bumped into a barrister I’ve known for years who really knows his cricket. I then proceeded to the museum for a talk by a cricket collector. I only caught his first name – Roscoe – but he displayed his collection of Aussie kit. It was interesting how the simple shirt of Ray Bright morphs into the sponsored contoured stylish jersey of today. Roscoe was helpful on my question of provenance. You might buy a famous bat without knowing whether the batter used it for his feat or its just another from his coffin. I bumped into Jon Filby, the curator of the Sussex CCC museum, Committee member, Sussex historian and general good thing and hoped that my team Middlesex could beat Surrey on Thursday in the T20 blast and clear the way for a Sussex victory over the latter to a quarter final final spot.
In the museum, which houses the tiny Ashes urn and is worth a visit, I reflected on the polarity of Lords: tradition v branding and commercial exploitation. There is the food village, at least two shops, ubiquitous bars that charge £9 for a Pimm’s and the MC on the tannoy is forever promoting the Home of Cricket. On the other hand the traditions of the brick red pavilion hold firm: Victor the trumpeter of the Barmy Army cannot bring his instrument and therefore the Barmy Army are neutralised which the team would not like, Jonathan Agnew was reproached for not wearing a tie in the Long Room. I think they have got the balance right.
As for the game, despite the efforts of Stokes and Cook, England can only realistically get a draw if the weather intervenes. They are going to have to survive 5 sessions. One tactic that seems to have fallen off the tactical radar is the enforced follow on. Cook had been batting all day and if the Aussie speedsters could remove this redoubtable obstacle and two of Lyth, Balnce, Bell and Root the game could be over by today, which is perhaps why there is commercial pressure for a fifth day. Another sadness for me is the demise of the spinner. I’m warming to Moeen Ali but he is a batter with a spin resource, no Laker, Titmus, Underwood, or Swann – whilst the Aussies lack a Warne or even Stuart Magill. I also yearn for a speedster under six foot: lack of inches did not deter the likes of Larwood, Marshall and Tyson.
At 5-30 I made my excuses and left. The murmur of the morning had become more of drunken howl, litter was strewn everywhere and I did not wish to engage one of the great difficulties of attendance – transport – of British stadia preventing a timely egress. As I sat on the 82 bus, I considered this time that my enjoyment of this day would not have been experienced from the tv armchair.