Lord's Diary: Minister who preferred Tests to exams

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The Independent Online
It turns out that the new Minister for Sport is a cricketer after all. Far from considering it a game for toffs ("I don't know who made that quote up, I can make up my own thanks very much"), Tony Banks confirmed excitedly at Lord's that he blames cricket for his modest academic achievements.

"I went to school at Archbishop Tennyson's, which overlooks London's other great ground, The Oval," he reminisced. "In those days there were no other buildings in the way and I spent many a happy summer hour gazing from the gym window on my heroes, Laker and Lock, May and Barrington, Loader and Surridge.

"I played for the school team. What was I? Usually out, that's what. But it all probably explains a lot about why I did so badly at school and also why Tennyson's exam results have improved since the line of sight between school and ground was cut off."

The Minister was thrilled to be in the hallowed Long Room for the first time but refused to accept any credit for the feelgood factor sweeping the country. Still, he is convinced that his boss, Tony Blair, will become only the second Labour Prime Minister after James Callaghan whose administration has seen an England victory in the Ashes.

IN the interests of political balance it is perhaps important to record the visit of John Major to Lord's on the first day. It was probably his last public appearance as leader of the Conservative Party.

Mr Major, a Surrey (and Chelsea) fan like the Sports Minister, appeared early in the afternoon and was ushered through the gate at the back of the Tavern stand after being greeted by the MCC secretary, Roger Knight. The crowd milling round the ground in the absence of play were held up and gave him a cordial greeting.

The next time Mr Major appears at a cricket match, of course, he will be an ordinary MP. He may have to forgo the official welcome if not the cordial greeting.

THOSE who bemoan that cricket is no longer like it was in the old days must have felt perfectly at home on the old ground during the Second Test. It was precisely like the old days for rain to ruin the occasion.

As early as 1888, the second match here between England and Australia, play did not start until 3pm on the first day and was played on a mud pitch on the second when 27 wickets fell, still an international record.

In 1893, 1902, 1905 and 1912 rain meant a drawn match. Between the world wars the weather settled down but in 1964 and 1968 it cost half the playing time and in 1977 nearly six hours were lost.

This is, marginally, a good portent. In those eight series, when rain destroyed the Lord's Test, England went on to win the Ashes in five of them.

ALL the traditional sponsors of English cricket had advertising boards round the ground (and there has been plenty of time to look at them). Except one. Cornhill Insurance, as backers of the Tests, naturally took pride of place behind the bowlers' arms. Britannic, NatWest, Axa Equity and Law (not forgetting Tesco, the company of which Lord MacLaurin was chairman) all had a presence.

But there seemed to be no space for Benson and Hedges, sponsors of the 50-over one-day competition. "Perhaps," mused a spectator looking at the cylindrical devices being used to gather in the covers, "they're sponsoring the roll-ups".

LORD'S was the venue for the first Test match in which there were no byes, in 1890. It has happened only once since in matches there between England and Australia, Massie's match in 1972, which is somewhat incredible considering the distance the ball was swinging. Ian Healy's hopes of helping to make a hat-trick of bye-less Ashes Tests at Lord's lasted only as far as the second over when his dive failed to prevent a loose, seaming ball from Paul Reiffel racing for four byes.

IF poor Mark Butcher fails in the second innings, is dropped and does not play for England again (but let us hope that is not the case) he and his father, Alan, would set a new record for the fewest number of England caps won by a father-son combination. Butcher senior won one, Mark has two while Charlie (two) and David (three) Townsend totalled five between them.

Book mark: "There can be few modern sportsmen who have failed so convincingly to cash in on all the money that goes with a high sporting profile in today's world. Cricket has always come first ... He hates talking about money." From Athers by David Norrie, an honest to goodness if unstartling chronicle launched at Lord's last week in which Michael Atherton confirms the point: "Not putting up a fight is a far bigger crime in my book than losing, especially when you are representing your country."

Birth of the Nursery End

In its present capacity the original Nursery End is 110 years old. For, strictly speaking, the phrase refers not to the fact that MCC's young cricketers do much of their practising there but to its previous existence. Until 1887, when the MCC bought the three-and-a-half acre site where now stands a second, smaller cricket ground and the indoor school, the Nursery End was home to Henderson's Nursery, also called Pine Apples. The best, if not the only pineapples in England were grown there as well as tulips. (Among the English batsmen on Friday morning as the ball seamed around there might have been a feeling that the main ground itself was fit only for growing pineapples.) There was a nice moment at the Nursery End on Thursday which demonstrated that this Team England is not completely self-centred and wrapped up in itself. Nasser Hussain, about to take part in his first Ashes Test at Lord's, left the nets and bumped into his brother. "Hello, Mel," he said, "how's that bat going I got for you?"