Cricket: Flaw Lord's out of order

Stephen Fay looks at why the hosts never seem at ease at the home of cricket
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The Independent Online
WHEN the sun came out after a good lunch yesterday, Lord's seemed the perfect place to spend an afternoon. The breeze was light; the outfield was green and plush; there was an eager buzz from the full house of 30,000; and Nicholas Grimshaw's hi-tech new Grandstand challenged Michael Hopkins' exotic Mound Stand in a thrilling architectural competition. The only trouble was England's cricket.

One of the summer's great mysteries is why capacity crowds turn up at Lord's every June to watch a ritual humiliation of England's cricket team. Perhaps the reason is that Lord's encourages England's opponents to play out of their skins. Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock had the damp atmosphere to assist them in the morning, but their bowling would have been awesome in any conditions. As England's chairman of selectors, David Graveney, put it: "The ball moved about and they got it in the business area."

Overseas visitors find Lord's an inspiration. They respond to the genuine warmth of the welcome, which begins in the Long Room as the members applaud them privately on their way out to the wicket. In Australia, Lord's is referred to as "this shrine, this Mecca of cricket". The puzzle is why England players persistently under-perform at Lord's.

Take the case of Nasser Hussain, out yesterday in the first innings to Donald in his pomp. Hussain had scored a boundary off Pollock, flashing precariously and finding the gap at fourth slip. It was the wrong shot at a tense moment and, when he tried it again against Donald, he was well caught by Mark Boucher diving in front of first slip. "He would have been disappointed by the way he got out," Grave-ney said - a remark as close to criticism as he gets.

That was Hussain's fifth Test innings at Lord's and his previous scores had been 36, 28, 19, 0 and 15. Yesterday he seemed intimidated both by the bowling and the occasion. He looked more confident thoughout the afternoon, ending up with 52 not out, and the prospect of his first decent Test score at Lord's today, but he had looked as if he doesn't like playing Test cricket there. At least his sixth attempt produced his best Test score at the ground.

Although Graveney denied that England cricketers have any great hang- up about playing at Lord's, in his account of last summer's series against Australia, Hussain says the English team feels "we don't really belong here". He doesn't like the list of things he can't do - can't arrive at the Grace Gate, can't wear shorts in the outfield, can't get good nets. "It's as if this is a members' club and the England team are on the outside. I believe even Lord MacLaurin feels this way, because I've heard him say that we must try to make Lord's more cricketer-friendly," wrote Hussain.

My statistics - calculated without benefit of modern technology in the MCC library yesterday - are by no means Frindall-proof, but they suggest that batting at Lord's is no fun for Michael Atherton, who has averages just under 30 in 13 innings there. Graham Thorpe does better at 43, but the only England player of this generation who responds well to Lord's is Alec Stewart, who averages 53.

When Atherton and Hussain put on 94 they gave the crowd something to cheer as well as to wonder at, it was too late to save the game - only three teams in Test history have won after following on. Even the optimistic Graveney said: "There is a lot of batting to be done."

England's record at Lord's in this decade will then read: "Played 12, drawn three, lost six". There ought to be a public inquiry.

Second Test scoreboard

England won toss

SOUTH AFRICA - First Innings 360 (J N Rhodes 117, W J Cronje 81; D G Cork 6-119)

ENGLAND - First Innings

S P James c Boucher b Donald 10

(19 min, 15 balls, 2 fours)

M A Atherton c Kirsten b Pollock 0

(16 min, 12 balls)

N Hussain c Boucher b Donald 15

(65 min, 47 balls, 3 fours; flat-footed drive at wide ball)

*A J Stewart lbw b Pollock 14

(32 min, 21 balls, 2 fours)

D W Headley c Boucher b Donald 2

(37 min, 30 balls; edged swinging ball to keeper)

G P Thorpe c Bacher b Kallis 10

(43 min, 22 balls, 1 four; brilliant short-leg catch off middle of bat)

M R Ramprakash c Boucher b Donald 12

(95 min, 64 balls, 1 four; inside edge behind)

M A Ealham run out (Kirsten-Bacher) 8

(21 min, 16 balls, 2 fours; suicidal single to backward point responding to call)

D G Cork c Kluesener b Pollock 12

(52 min, 41 balls, 2 fours; defensive edge to gully)

R D B Croft not out 6

(20 min, 10 balls, 1 four)

A R C Fraser c Boucher b Donald 1

(5 min, 4 balls; edged lifting ball)

Extras (b8, lb10, nb2) 20

Total (207 min, 46.3 overs) 110

Fall: 1-15 (Atherton), 2-15 (James), 3-40 (Stewart), 4-48 (Hussain), 5-49 (Headley), 6-64 (Thorpe), 7-74 (Ealham), 8-97 (Ramprakash), 9-109 (Cork), 10-110 (Fraser).

Bowling: Donald 15.3-5-32-5 (13-5-21-3, 2.3-0-11-2); Pollock 18-5-42- 3 (nb3) (13-4-29-2, 5-1-13-1); Klusener 8-5-10-0; Kallis 5-3-8-1 (one spell each).

Progress: Second day: Close 40-3 (Hussain 10, Headley 0) 13 overs. Third day: 50: 104 min, 23.3 overs. Lunch 94-7 (Ramprakash 11, Cork 4) 41 overs. 100: 189 min, 42.3 overs. Innings closed 2.06pm.

ENGLAND - Second Innings

M A Atherton c Kallis b Adams 44

(197 min, 142 balls, 7 fours; lofted catch to square-leg off attempted sweep)

S P James c Kallis b Pollock 0

(13 min, 7 balls; edged swinging ball to second slip)

N Hussain not out 50

(204 min, 157 balls)

D W Headley not out 0

(20 min, 19 balls)

Extras (lb 3, w4, nb1) 8

Total (for 2, 54 overs) 102

Fall: 1-8 (James), 2-102 (Atherton)

Bowling: Donald 11-4-30-0 (nb1,w1) (4-2-16-0, 5-2-11-0, 2-0-3-0); Pollock 13-10-5-1 (6-4-4-1, 5-4-1-0, 2-2-0-0); Klusener 12-3-34-0 (5-1-14-0, 7- 2-20-0); Kallis 6-4-11-0 (3-2-8-0, 3-2-3-0); Adams 8-3-16-1 (1-0-4-0, 7-3-12-1); Cronje 4-2-6-0 (one spell).

Progress: Third day: tea 47-1 (Atherton 26, Hussain 15) 19 overs. 50 in 85 min, 19.4 overs. 100 in 194 min, 48.3 overs.

Hussain 50: 181 min, 147 balls, 9 fours.

Umpires: D B Hair and G Sharp. TV replay umpire: B Dudleston. Match referee: Javed Burki.