New Age czars of the game may argue that the mecca of cricket is now located in the East; at Eden Gardens in Kolkata or the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, perhaps. But there is still an aura about Lord’s that remains undeniable and undiminished—and all cricketers would accept as much.
More than any other cricket ground, it is at Lord’s that you will find a cricketer overwhelmed by the place, yet made to feel as important as any other mortal. Every brick that has gone into the making of the clubhouse and every blade of grass on the field, as it were, speaks of the rich tradition and history of the game.
Baring more than his soul: Sourav Ganguly breaks tradition by going topless after India defeated England in the NatWest Trophy final at Lord’s in 2002. PTI
It must be said, though, that not everyone associated with Lord’s is necessarily soaked in this history. For instance, on my first visit to the ground, to get accreditation for the final of the 1983 World Cup, the stewards at Grace Gates expressed bemused disbelief that India could have come this far.
“Oh! So now we have Gandhi coming to Lord’s,” said one to his colleagues. The impact of Richard Attenborough’s film on the Mahatma—which swept the Oscars—had clearly not spared the crotchety stewards at Lord’s either. But while they knew something of India through cinema, this did not necessarily mean they were in step with Indian cricket.
In 1990, the redoubtable Sunil Gavaskar was stopped at Grace Gates by the unbending stewards who failed to recognize him—this became a cause célèbre. Gavaskar was mighty miffed. Not one to let such a slight go unpunished, he returned his membership to the venerated Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC).
The story was splashed across the sports pages of The Times of London, raising a right royal din that found resonance all over the cricket world. It was a few years before Gavaskar could be cajoled into reaccepting MCC membership by the then president of the club, MCC aka Michael Colin Cowdrey, who flew down to Mumbai to do the honours.
Since then, Indian cricket and MCC have shared a fairly peaceful relationship, barring the occasional blip—like 2002, when Sourav Ganguly, in an unrestrained act of ebullience, shattered the much-touted sanctity of Lord’s by removing his shirt and waving it from the players’ balcony after India won the NatWest title.
The history of Lord’s shows no record of any player—leave aside a captain—baring his torso and enthusiasm thus in public. The fact that Ganguly’s high-voltage, melodramatic victory celebration was accepted in the spirit of the occasion showed how much times—and the centre of power—had changed in the game.
Cricket’s home: A match in progress at Lord’s cricket ground in London
Less than a decade earlier, in 1996, a much younger and sedate Ganguly had made an immediate impact in international cricket by scoring a hundred in his Test debut at Lord’s. Another debutant in the same Test was Rahul Dravid, who made 95.
By this time, Sachin Tendulkar was already a stellar international player. Soon, V.V.S. Laxman was to join them. And a few years later, Virender Sehwag was to arrive to form a batting line-up that many aficionados believe is the best in Indian cricket history. Of the five, Ganguly will be seen in the commentator’s box during this series, while Sehwag is still recovering from surgery and will not be playing at Lord’s.
Also, of this set, neither Tendulkar nor Dravid has made a century at Lord’s. Nor had Gavaskar for that matter. But, interestingly, Ajit Agarkar has lent credence to the cliché that cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties—he scored a Test century at Lord’s in 2002. Even more amazingly, Laxman has yet to score a Test century in England—so there’s a personal challenge of sorts.
Lord’s has seen starkly contrasting performances by Indian teams and players since 1932, when C.K. Nayudu led the first-ever Indian team on to a cricket field to play a Test match. His spearhead Mohammed Nissar packed off Percy Holmes and Herbert Sutcliffe—who had put on 555 for the first wicket in a first-class game just a few days earlier—for under 20 in his opening spell to leave spectators gasping.
England were saved by skipper Douglas Jardine (incidentally, born in Malabar Hill in Mumbai), and went on to win the Test. But the Indian players had left their impress on the most discerning spectatorship then in the world with their spirit and skills—pacemen Nissar and Amar Singh making the most impact—though their lack of experience was plainly evident.
In the eight decades since, there have been some outstanding performances by Indian players at Lord’s. In 1952, Vinoo Mankad scored 72 and 184 and took 5 wickets for 196 runs but India still lost. This match has gone down in posterity as Mankad’s Test, and there can be no better tribute to the all-rounder’s genius.
Another player who revelled at Lord’s was Dilip Vengsarkar. His three hundreds in successive Tests (1979, 1982 and 1986) make for a record that would be the envy of Donald Bradman. The last of these was instrumental in helping India win the Test, which has not often been the case at this ground despite some spectacular individual performances.
In 1990, for instance, Mohammed Azharuddin, using his bat like a scimitar, made a scintillating century, moving Mike Brearley to draw comparisons with K.S. Ranjitsinhji’s tensile wrists and “non-Christian” stroke play. In the same match, I was witness to the most outrageous manner of avoiding a follow-on—Kapil Dev hitting off-spinner Eddie Hemmings for four consecutive sixes. Vengsarkar failed in his attempt to score a fourth successive hundred at this ground, but the even bigger failure was Kiran More dropping a sitter off Graham Gooch. The captain, who was then on 33, went on to score 333, making for arguably the costliest miss in Test history.
Indeed, India’s worst performance in Test cricket has also come at Lord’s. In 1974, India were bowled out for 42 by Geoff Arnold and Chris Old. That was a particularly unhappy tour, with all three Tests being lost. The team was plagued by internal strife as senior pros, skipper Ajit Wadekar and Bishan Bedi, were constantly at loggerheads.
Personally, my most memorable experience at Lord’s has been seeing India win the World Cup in 1983. Starting as no-hopers, India pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of sport by beating the West Indies. This was a cathartic moment, and the future of the game was to change dramatically thereafter.
While the 1983 result was completely unanticipated, the first Test of the current India-England series that starts at Lord’s today throws up several possibilities which could give the game a fillip, if not change its future course. The statistics in themselves are compelling. This is the 2,000th Test in history, the 100th between India and England, and Tendulkar is poised on 99 international centuries.
So what could be the perfect script from an Indian supporter’s point of view? Go figure.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters. He will write weekly during the course of the series from England
Write to Ayaz at email@example.com