Of course I love my wife, but this is cricket

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The Independent Online
A group of thirtysomething Englishmen were chatting in a lively way near the members' entrance at Lord's. It was an alluring scene. Their boyish faces were animated - it was mid-morning on Thursday, they still had hope - their navy blazers and stone-coloured trousers perfectly pressed, their heavy brown shoes shiny. An upper-class Englishman is never happier than in uniform.

There was something about this particular uniform, however, that woke troubled memories. Who, in the recent past, had sported just such a blazer, his clean-shaven countenance lit with just such an expression of youthful enthusiasm? On the stands, someone opened a newspaper. Of course. Asil Nadir. And here they were gathered, the type of cricket-loving Englishmen among whom Mr Nadir longed to be accepted: diffident, charming, influential, conservative. Superficially, at least. At the back of the Pavilion a score of rugs lay on a patch of lawn, reserving picnic spots. 'They were here like animals early this morning,' said one of the bar staff, 'marking out their territory.'

Like male animals, for this is male territory, and the doorposts of the Pavilion a few yards away are drenched on these occasions, as Alan Clark's ministerial balcony was, with the heavy scent of male superiority. No women are allowed within its doors, except perhaps to serve. The last vote on this, two years ago, showed this is the overwhelming wish of MCC members. And others. 'I think it's damn good, actually,' volunteered Colin Fergusson, a Scot watching England's decline with some satisfaction.

Opposite, encased in the pink stone of the Pavilion, sat ranks of pink faces, mostly topped with grey hair. They form an odd sight to an outsider, men of 70 dressed in school uniform, ribbons in their panamas, striped school ties. Middle-aged women do not meet together in adult- sized gymslips and felt bowlers to watch younger women lose at hockey.

On the pitch, cream-coloured English figures ran, entertaining the Australian batsmen, and in the stands their supporters filled in the Times crossword until lunch. Cigar smoke drifted over the lawn behind the Pavilion, and the air was noisy with popping corks and the making of contacts. Back on the trading floors, the combined lures of Lord's and Ascot had made share-trading volumes dip. In marquees, City firms were entertaining clients, discreetly furthering friendships and influence.

Male clients, of course, largely, given the nature of the game. But not all. Maxine Reeves was there as the guest of Davies Arnold Cooper, City solicitors. 'I play cricket for my firm,' she said. 'Grant Thornton, chartered accountants. I don't play regularly. But I bat No 10 for the insolvency cricket team.'

Yes, she said, cricket was used within firms and in corporate entertainment as a way of getting to know people. 'Women tend to be excluded. From golf and cricket. Everything else is fairly equal.' She regretted that she hadn't been taught how to bowl at her girls' school, but she wasn't, personally, upset by being exluded from membership of the MCC. 'But why should women, if they support cricket, be excluded?' asked a man in her group. 'I'd strongly support them.' But he refused to give his name. On the lawn another, younger, man begged to remain anonymous.

'My wife has very strong views,' he said. 'She's an absolute cricketing fanatic. I think women who play themselves should be allowed. But if you quote me saying that, my father's going to be furious.'

The afternoon's play began. The Australians remained immovable. A small group of MCC members remained on the lawn behind the Pavilion. 'Trouble is, at the moment we have Essex oiks controlling cricket,' said Sam Leigh. Mr Leigh came from Pinner. The group was wearing ties of a crossed bat and bottle, the mark of the Upper Q enclosure, of a prefectorial class.

'It's the best club in the world,' said Robert Lawrence, from Wimbledon, in his striped MCC blazer. 'Cricket,' said Keith Banks, 'is more than a religion. You make very, very good friends. It's like a fraternity, worldwide. It's almost like a masonic handshake when you say you're a member of the MCC.'

A fraternity. Not a sorority, then. 'Hopefully, they never will be allowed,' said Mr Leigh. 'In the Pavilion one doesn't really want . . .' he searched for words. 'I love my wife dearly, but I don't want her in the Pavilion when I'm watching cricket. It's . . . another thing.' Mr Banks added: 'Its not chauvinism. It's a love of cricket. I don't want to join the Women's Institute.' They returned to watch the game. Matters had not improved. If Graham Taylor is a turnip, Ted Dexter is a more aristocratic, but equally ineffective, vegetable: perhaps a limp asparagus. The Englishmen in the crowd groaned quietly among themselves.

By the nursery ground, in the morning, a small group of 10-year-old girls from Pirton Hill Junior School in Luton had gathered. They were there to play Kwik cricket in the lunch hour, but the MCC ruled that the ground, like its selectors, was too wet. They had been playing for a year, they said, and enjoyed it very much. 'I want to be a ladies' cricket player,' said Arpana Patti. I asked if they knew that girls weren't even allowed to go through the door of the place from which cricket was run. Six shocked small faces looked up at me. 'That's bad,' said Gemma Dasley. 'I don't think that's fair,' said Lisa Simpson. 'It's sexist,' said Arpana, in a very small voice indeed.

Afternoon shadows lengthened, along with the faces of the men of the MCC. Michael Slater made his maiden Test century and kissed a kangaroo, and the Englishmen on the stands practised their graceful national art of losing. John Foulds, from Western Australia, was courteous in success. 'England's just in a trough,' he said. Colin Fergusson scanned the stands with binoculars, looking for a topless woman. I mentioned I had met six 10-year-old cricket-playing girls. Mr Foulds leaned back gestured at the pitch. 'Aren't they out there?' he asked.

(Photograph omitted)