Henry Blofeld: Packed-out Lord's shows end to fuddy-duddy days

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The Independent Online

"Which is your favourite Test ground in the world?" is a question one is repeatedly asked.

"Which is your favourite Test ground in the world?" is a question one is repeatedly asked. This is usually the cue to launch into a decorative description of the Adelaide Oval before moving on to Newlands and Table Mountain and all those lovely oaks that fell to the developers' saws. Then comes the trip across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and Queen's Park Oval in Port of Spain and with its magnificent view from the Pavilion End to the Northern Range of mountains, especially when the flamboyant trees are in crimson bloom.

When it comes to England I always leave Lord's out, for it is unique, and settle for the friendliness, the charms and the homeliness of Trent Bridge, which is probably the most accommodating of all the Test grounds for spectators. At Trent Bridge the stewards on the gates are keen to welcome you in to the cricket rather than to try to find a disagreeable excuse to prevent you from crossing the threshold.

The last few days at Lord's with full house crowds in glorious weather have underlined not only its uniqueness, but also its brilliance as a ground upon which to watch cricket. MCC committees are generally and most unfairly considered to be reactionary dinosaurs who use every device available to cling on to the mores of the dim, distant past.

Nowadays, this could not be further from the truth. With great imagination over the past 20 years the committee has presided over the redevelopment of the ground with admirable sense and excellent good taste. In the Eighties, the New Mound Stand, with its roof of 11 sails, took the place of the original worn and rather shop-soiled Mound Stand with important financial help from the late Sir Paul Getty.

The Compton and Edrich stands then replaced the old "free seats" at the Nursery End in honour of the famous Middlesex "twins" of the immediate post-war era. Gubby Allen, unfairly thought to be the pillar of reactionary thought in the committee room, decreed that neither stand should be more than two storeys high so that the trees at the Nursery End of the ground and in St John's Wood churchyard were still visible over the top of the stands. It was an excellent decision and the healthy smattering of trees all round the ground help to bring a welcome rural flavour to London, NW8.

The handsome new grandstand is a recent structure on the west side of the ground also with an attractive, if rather less nautical, roof than the Mound. Like the Mound, it has a plentiful supply of the all-important hospitality boxes. The West side used to be the home of the scorers and Father Time and his scythe were poised over their heads to make sure the records were kept with meticulous care.

Father Time's new home is now on the other side of the ground where he cheerfully scythes away perched on the clock between the Tavern and Mound Stands. The Tavern Stand is now an elderly and more modest improvement dating back to 1967 when the membership voted rather meanly and miserably against building two tiers of boxes, a decision which has cost cricket and the club dear.

Then, in 2002, the decision was taken to re-lay the entire outfield and to put in a complex new drainage system. Any visitor to the ground that autumn would have seen the hallowed ground looking like a ploughed field. New turf was laid and play started on time the following year. The new drainage system is brilliant and, as a result, delays caused by heavy rain are much shorter.

Now, as soon as the present season has finished when England play India on Sunday 5 September, the builders will move in on the pavilion with a vengeance and almost £10m will be spent on a huge facelift from the basement all the way up to the top balcony. The result will be magnificent and it will be even harder after that to accuse the powers-that-be at Lord's of fuddy-duddiness. Not that a body which authorised the building of the futuristic media centre at the Nursery End could ever be given that label.

While all these improvements have been made, neither the atmosphere of the ground nor its character has changed. With the big indoor school and the permanent hospitality suites the Nursery ground is a little smaller. The Coronation Garden remains behind the Warner Stand, itself a glowing new structure when built in 1958.

During big matches the lawn of the Coronation Garden is traditionally used for innumerable picnics and on these occasions it is one of the most convivial spots in the ground. The Harris Garden behind the Allen Stand, on the other side of the Pavilion to the Warner Stand, is covered with tents on these occasions for purposes of hospitality. Before play and during the intervals, there is a delightful jazz band that plays at the Nursery End and the Nursery ground is another haven for picnickers.

If the weather turns nasty there is then the museum behind the pavilion that is full of wonderful cricketing memorabilia. For 35 years it came under the wing of Stephen Green, who retired only last year as curator and his successor, Adam Chadwick, is taking cricket's principal treasure trove from strength to strength. Other recent innovations include a statue of WG Grace in the Coronation Garden, a statue of The Bowler in one corner of the Nursery ground and of The Batsman in another, and they have proved great attractions during the intervals.

As you will have gathered, Lord's is the most vibrant of cricket grounds and made so by those who preside diligently, wisely and thoughtfully over the Marylebone Cricket Club. It has become a glorious, contemporary oasis in north-west London and the shade of that itinerant Yorkshireman from Thirsk, Thomas Lord, who founded the ground, his third in the neighbourhood, in 1814, will surely be beaming down on it all from on high with benevolent approval.

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