The serpentine queue at Madame Tussauds had kept me on tenterhooks, though the slice of sunlight that pierced through a grey canopy that usually passes off as the London sky kept me in high spirits. A quick glance at my Tissot. I had just about an hour to wrap up my ‘date’ with the ‘waxed celebs’ and be at the ‘home of cricket’. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre had been ticked off my bucket list the day before and it was time to soak up Lord’s.
Emerging out of the St John’s Wood station and going past Wellington Hospital with a brisk walk, I wondered how it must feel to be confined within the walls of a health-care facility with roars of ecstasy or a collective sigh of despondence emanating from barely hundred metres away. Lord’s Cricket Ground was just across the road.
Minutes later, while inside the glorious Long Room, I almost pinched myself! ‘This is surreal. I am indeed at Lord’s’. My mind raced back to those blurry images and analogue-signal days of live television broadcast in India — 35 summers ago. June 25, 1983 … India had just won the Prudential World Cup and an ecstatic Sunil Gavaskar grabbed victorious skipper and teammate Kapil Dev’s hand and raised it up in what was perhaps the surest sign of two legends not just burying the hatchet of professional rivalry, but burying their king-size egos as well as they soaked up their Lord’s moment!
“This is one ground that has often got players to react in ways that they wouldn’t normally do at other places,” my Lord’s Tour guide Peter Beckley said and then went on to add: “Remember the Sourav Ganguly shirt thing?” Standing in the Long Room, as I was busy marvelling at the set of chandeliers that adorned the pristine ceilings of a hall that had witnessed a pantheon of cricketing greats add to the sport’s rich repertoire of history and folklore, Beckley reminded me in zest: “Ganguly opened his shirt on the balcony, went down the stairs and through the Long Room, waving it all through!”
Beckley also told me how Jonty Rhodes, after scoring a Test hundred at Lord’s, himself scribbled his name on a masking tape and got it pasted on the dressing room wall! “And Mahendra Singh Dhoni would always ask for a separate chair — one without the cushioning that adorns dressing-room chairs — for himself,” Beckley added. Ian Botham, too, always insisted on a chair of his choice, I was told. I fished out my phone for a quick snap, but Beckley was quicker with his admonition: “No photos in the Long Room and inside the dressing room, please.” What a pity, I told myself.
Minutes later, I was standing on the visiting team’s balcony. Goosebumps! I looked out. The early summer rain had given those minutely manicured blades of green a gloss of their own, as if in keeping with the Lord’s aura of aristocracy. Coupled with the milky-white gallery seats, the architecture of the members’ stand spoke of a steely resolve to stay rooted to time-defying class.
Oh, by the way, did I mention that you could actually hire the Long Room and its hospitality for £30,000 (Dh143,267) for an evening? Yes, that’s possible.
“What’s the capacity of this stadium?” I asked.
“It’s the ‘Lord’s Cricket Ground’, not a ‘stadium’, and it shall always remain so,” was Beckley’s terse reply. In fact, the trees that adorn the St John’s Wood neighbourhood are clearly visible from the ground even today and those living in the quaint row-houses nearby have forced the authorities to keep the floodlights at the ground lowered from their masts on all non-match days. No eyesores, please! It’s simply amazing how a sporting venue so talked-about the world over has still managed to retain it’s old-world charm.
As I was guided to the space ship-shaped JP Morgan Media Centre housed in one of the top tiers, the creaky, shaky elevator was a bit of a comic relief. “Imagine Henry Blofeld, Neville Cardus and Richie Benaud travelling together in this ...”, I said.
“They’d probably have a little less to talk about cricket, I guess,” my guide commented.
Indian actor Irrfan Khan, battling cancer and under treatment at Wellington Hospital, had said a few month’s ago: “As I was entering the hospital, I hardly realised it was on the opposite side of Lord’s. I saw a poster of a smiling Vivian Richards ... as if that world didn’t ever belong to me.”
That’s Lord’s. So very real. So very otherworldly.
You can follow Sanjib Kumar Das on Twitter: @moumiayush.