Sunday, 25 September 2016

The MCC Museum

Lord’s Cricket Ground
St. John’s Wood Road
London NW8 8 QN

Thursday September 22 2016

We recently calculated that while we had tackled most of the military museums we had not been near any of the 5 sporting ones so today, rather to my dread and fear of boredom, we headed to our booked tour of the the MCC Museum  and grounds. This is an expensive venture – £20 or £15 concession – and what the website does not explain is that on a match day you do not gain access to the pavilion, changing rooms or ‘hallowed turf’ but you do get to sit in the stands and watch whatever match is on, which actually is quite a bargain given the average price of tickets.

I followed (and mainly overtook) the ranks of blazered gents heading out of St John’s Wood Underground as the Grace Gate is about as far away from both tube stations as you could get – Jo had wisely come by bus. Most of our group were overseas tourists, mainly Australians and Indians and very keen and knowledgeable fans. I’m not sure the tours get many unaccompanied women and they seem to form a small part of the crowd likewise – given that cricket happens during the day and all day that rather limits its supporters to being either the idle rich, the retired or both. The weekend crowds may be different but I had certainly never seen quite so many garish ties and blazers in one place.

Interestingly the story told us by the guide does not quite match the one related here. True, in the early days the blazer was the composite of the Oxford and Cambridge colours – so dark and light blue –however when the money ran out, as it did when the club moved for the second time, a Mr Nicholson whose fortune came from gin agreed to bail out the club to buy them some new land and ‘in thanks’ they revised their colours to go with the gin bottle label --- early sponsorship in other words. This site is the third home of the Marylebone Cricket Club (when I was little and still lived in a  Middlesex, which was not yet part of Greater London, I assumed the M stood for that county but no...) previous sites having proved too clay ridden or having to make way for the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union canal.  The various stands (which are of course all seats) are named after various famous cricketers, of whom I had heard of some.

Back to WG Grace (who was one of the famous medical students trained at Bart’s – see blog entry. Having heard about his frequent cheating – it’s probably just as well he played more cricket than practising medicine – WG claimed the public came to see him, not any random bowler who might get him ‘out’ so he would blatantly ignore the umpires who soon learnt to bend to the old man’s will... His bulk and presence would have been quite intimidating and even today the bearded busts and statues are immediately recognisable.

In the Museum itself, which is laid out over two floors with a commemorative window showing the refurbishment dating to the Nineties, there is a range of floor to ceiling glass cabinets. To be honest we did not look at them in detail (we were free to return at the end of the tour but had other things to do) but can be summarised thus – as bats and balls, caps and facts. So for instance there is a section devoted to famous/record-breaking wicket keepers including their padding, similarly for bowlers of different ilks. Cricket is a sport obsessed with records and dates so alongside each battered ball or signed bat is the relevant record – in both senses of the word. One of the most interesting manifestations of this attention to statistics is the classic score book – meticulous pen strokes on very narrow lines recording each ball and its outcome…

Our main talk took place in front of the display containing ‘The Ashes’ – it was good to hear the full story though if you know it skip this bit! The first ever Test Match took place in 1877 and seven years later the Australians came over for a test on the last day of which the English team collapsed and sustained their first ever defeat on English soil. Thereafter the Times newspaper wrote a half serious ‘obituary’ for the death of English cricket. By September of that year the English team set sail for Australia, where a revenge match was due to take place early in the New Year but of course the sea voyage would have taken most of the three months!!! The team arrived for Christmas and were invited to stay with the chair/head of the Melbourne Cricket Club, at his palatial pad. As a joke the wife of the chair emptied a perfume jar she had (that’s why the urn is so small) and filled it with the ashes of a set of bails and presented it to the English captain, who took it in good spirit and thence back to the UK. In 1927 the widow offered it to the MCC , where it has remained ever since save for two short trips away, one in the care of the Duke of Edinburgh.  I had always thought that like most trophies the ‘thing’ stayed with the winner until the next match – not so. As the winners don’t get anything except the glory and honour there is now a Waterford Crystal vase which does go with the winners and why it is currently here at the MCC.  The current tally is 32 wins each for England and Australia.

Our guide went on to tell us about the origins of world cup cricket, which has been a growing competition and has accounted in part for the developments of the whole Lord’s complex. Once out of the museum we were taken on a half circle under the stands, each with a different name, and where you find the facilities – toilets and bars mainly.   Once the MCC had taken Mr Nicholson’s gin money they have continued to have sponsors and these are also in evidence as you go round the ground. We quite liked the fact that Hardy’s wines, an old established Australian firm, sponsor English cricket…

Our guide led us out onto what is known as the Nursery Ground – acquired after 1900 from a plant nursery – and where the teams warm up/practice prior to the real matches. From there you get an excellent view of the pod which arrived in 1999 – the MCC realised with a pending World Cup there would be more media interest than they could  comfortably accommodate and held an architectural competition to design a new centre for journalists and broadcasters. The winner, chosen by the committee and not the members who hated it, was a Czech architect who had probably never seen a cricket match and never visited Lord’s but came up with a design that fitted the brief and was a lot more exciting than his competitors – it also won the   the Stirling Prize  for 1999 up against the Reichstag in Berlin!

Close by is a very unassuming building which used to house the ICC which for reasons you can probably guess has moved to Dubai.
Other tours would have got you into the Pavilion – seating for members only – and the changing areas. The ground currently seats 29.000 with building in progress to increase this to 32.000 in anticipation of the crowds for the next World Cup. The average age for membership if the MCC is 72 (so bang on for Jo & me) – previously you could put down some-one’s name at birth, now they need to be 18 and as there is a 29 year waiting list it takes a while…

The grass, we were told, had to be re-laid post Olympics (they held the archery contests here to provide a scenic background on TV) and the slope, apparently famous, was kept…
It lies on a bed of about a metre of gravel so drains better than your average London on clay grass.

At this point in the season – and it has been quite hot – the wicket looked pretty worn.
So there we were in good seats, under cover, able to watch the last 20 minutes or so of play leading up to lunch at what was probably the halfway point in the key match between Middlesex County (no win for 23 years) and Yorkshire (wins pretty often). Yorkshire were batting and doing quite well so we saw some-one getting out – clean bowled – and a catch and quite a  few runs including a boundary (automatically 4)  so actually quite a bit of action for cricket which can appear static and dare  I say boring in contrast to football – what’s more it takes days to resolve anything. [Pleased to report that Middlesex won the match the following day.]

To say I had been dreading this visit would be an exaggeration but I had difficulty in getting enthusiastic about it ( I shall feel the same about the Twickenham experience when the time comes) and actually found it was an interesting tour on a subject I know little about, and am pleased to have completed.  

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