On the Front Foot: No long faces in the Long Room as Fry delivers line and length

Having apparently twittered on Tuesday morning that he had a boring cricket dinner to attend, Stephen Fry brought the Long Room down when he was there.

His speech on cricket and its place in the world was perfectly formed (and, of course, impeccably delivered) and if he was bored, his audience was enlivened. There could have been no more appropriate setting or timing for the delivery of such a statement on the state of affairs: a benefit dinner for the England captain, Andrew Strauss, on the eve of a Test match against Australia in the inner sanctum of the game. Fry (pictured) did not waste the moment. He was naturally amusing – "the time when that magical summer sound comes to our ears and gladdens our old hearts, the welcome sound of leather on Graeme Swann" – but he had profound opinions to make about a game he clearly adores. England's twitterers, Swann and Jimmy Anderson, liked it too and sensed its significance. Like so many lovers of the game, Fry can see it slipping away but he pertinently declared that it has seen threats to its fabric before and survived. The occasion was terrific and Fry was not alone in wowing the audience. Andrew Flintoff – giving not a hint of his intention to retire from Test cricket, which he announced the next day – was equally adroit during a question-and-answer session he shared with Michael Vaughan, Justin Langer and Strauss himself, and again provided evidence that one day he could be the new David "Bumble" Lloyd (not that we want the original to go anywhere yet). One doubt arose, which dare not speak its name, as it does on all these occasions. Why are sportsmen who earn easily more than 10 times the national wage still awarded benefits? It is an outmoded system which needs overhauling.

Treasure trove for the urn

With the vision that has epitomised many of their recent actions (and who could have written that statement 10 years ago?) MCC have produced one of the most evocative books about the Ashes. And there are loads of books about the Ashes about. What makes Bernard Whimpress's history of the great contest outstanding ('The MCC Ashes Treasury', Carlton £30) is not especially the narrative account, though it romps along pleasantly and informatively enough. The club had the wizard wheeze of delving into their archives for Ashes memorabilia, of which they made facsimile copies that have been placed throughout the book. Hence it is possible to see handwritten team sheets from the Oval Test of 1882. And gaze upon Ivo Bligh's thank-you letter for the original bag in which the Ashes urn was placed. And wonder at Plum Warner's grovelling, treacherous letter of apology for Bodyline. This is magnificent use of a treasure store which is seen by so relatively few and much of which is not on public view simply because there is so much of it. More please.

The bard of Cardiff

Still no word from the Ashes poet David Fine but OTFF readers keep contributing. The winning entry will receive a pair of tickets for a key cricket match. A rather telling little effort arrived from Sam Knight in Monmouthshire reflecting on the first Test match to have been held in Wales. Please send your entries to the email address below.

"First Test, second innings.

Strauss plods, Cook nods.

KP pretends, Colly defends.

Prior hashes, Flintoff crashes.

Boycott hisses at near misses.

Anderson drives, England survives."

It's driving them crazy

MCC may have shed a reputation for being gin-and-tonic-guzzling reactionary old buffers and gained one of being enlightened visionaries but they are not necessarily to everyone's liking. Some habits, you see, die hard. Mike Gatting, one of the committee, was assailed by a senior member as he arrived at Lord's the other day. It is a constant bone of contention that the committee park their cars in the ground during Tests, making access to the Coronation Gardens difficult.

s.brenkley@independent.co.uk

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