Cricket: The home of cricket must be our home as well

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The Independent Online
LORD'S. THE very word conjures up the traditions and nobility of the game. It is quite rightly the home of cricket. Yet when England arrive there for the Second Test this week we do so trying yet again to put behind us an indifferent recent record at the ground.

It is difficult to put a finger on why we have not done as well as we might have at Lord's. The opposition are inspired by playing there, which is perfectly understandable. But should not England be similarly lifted? Nobody - England player, New Zealand player or Venusian player - should go there and think they are playing just another match.

But for England the atmosphere is different from that which they experience at all the other home grounds. At Edgbaston, Old Trafford and Headingley especially we have become accustomed to vociferous support. This transmits itself to the players.

At Lord's it is not the same. Home of cricket it may be but it is not necessarily the home of inveterate cricket watchers. Many people, not all but a significant enough proportion, go for the social occasion of the Lord's Test. There are a lot of hospitality guests, who the game could not do without, but who are not following every nuance of play closely through high-powered binoculars.

Thus playing there can be almost like being at a neutral venue. But still this cannot explain our poor record, detailed by one of my colleagues in the Test preview above. I remember the point coming up when I played for England there in 1991, and here we are discussing the same point, so things cannot have improved much (though I was also in the team in 1995 when we beat West Indies).

I would say that we have the bowlers to take advantage of the pitch this time. If the seam bowling line-up is as it was at Edgbaston it will be a trio - Andrew Caddick, Alan Mullally, Alex Tudor - who are all tall and bowl from a good height with pace and bounce. Swing is also an important asset for all of them. This will help England's cause - as would the return of Darren Gough.

The relaid pitches at Lord's have altered the state of play at the ground. They encourage high-quality fast bowling, giving as they do just enough hint of slightly uneven bounce. Swing has been prevalent and the suggestion that the new stands, not least the Grand Stand, aid it, may not be completely awry. Finger spin has not been given much encouragement recently. Phil Tufnell will lend balance to the side, of course, but Lord's does not grant him the favours it once did. It can sometimes seem worth it to keep banging away with four seam bowlers, knowing that the uneven bounce might bring some reward. A spinner ties up one end but might not have as much chance of getting a wicket.

It should be a sound theory that Middlesex players, of whom of course I am one, should be more at home there. In theory. But in a way it is a different venue from that we play our county games on. A small thing perhaps, but playing for Middlesex you would drive in through the Grace Gates and walk the few yards to the pavilion. At a Test you cannot get in the Grace Gates, must park at the other side of the ground, the Nursery End, need a car park pass and must walk across the ground to the changing rooms.

The whole place is different. There are the people, of course, but there are the stalls, the sense of expectation. It is still a mightily impressive place. It has the best outfield in England and the best facilities. In the home changing room the boards on the walls list bowlers who have taken five wickets in an innings and the batsmen who have scored hundreds.

England will go there in good heart this time. The way we won against New Zealand was as important as the win. We were up against it but we came back. New Zealand were on the brink of victory, but lost. That surely should inspire us. It was a wonderful start for Nasser Hussain as captain. He would not give up, remained positive and I think it was perhaps significant that he tried many instinctive manoeuvres which came off for him. Early days in his captaincy but what a start.

I am not exactly going into this match with a welter of recent runs behind me. But bad form is when your feet are not moving well or your head is leaning awkwardly and you get out. Sometimes you get out when everything is in shape. Experience helps a great deal.

This match is a showpiece occasion, one to anticipate for any player at any time, one for us to start doing well in again. Maybe, without at all being rude to our guests, for Test matches we should treat Lord's not as the home of cricket but as the home of English cricket.