Lord's, a drying oasis
Ah, Lord’s, that oasis of tradition in a world given over to instant, facile gratification of every which flavour and a few more besides.
Yes, dear Lord’s, where time doesn’t dare move forward one tick unless the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) decrees it might; where the ungodly clatter of a woman’s heels marching to the beat of progress on the pavilion’s creaking floorboards causes collars and sphincters to tighten in unison.
Lovely, leafy Lord’s, a splodge of hallowed earth where nothing so obscene as the Indian Premier League (IPL) would dare to show its hideously shining, happy face ...
Tosh, and we don’t mean Peter. The revolution is on its way, comrades. Best you lot in the Lord’s pavilion re-imagine those puke-worthy egg-and-bacon ties as bandannas of sorts.
Cricket, more than most sports, fears change with the horror of a cow whose nostrils are suddenly stung by the stink of an abattoir.
To wit, to watch a paunch of umpires brood solemnly over as perfunctory an act as changing a misshapen ball is to watch a game that has lost its grip on what matters.
First they call for His Eminence, the Custodian of the Briefcase of Used Balls, and on to the field he regally trots.
Then the lot of them peer into the briefcase, no doubt muttering ancient spells as they do so.
Mere minutes later the sacred second-hand orb is selected and, seemingly, blessed. Then heads are nodded as sagely as a college of cardinals might do before sending up the white smoke.
The head druid, cradling the replacement ball as if it holds his own heartbeat within its scuffed leather cover, delivers the special sphere to the players in utter reverence. Then someone smacks it clear into the street and we have to go through the whole charade again.
In baseball, a game that isn’t constipated by its own past, the umpire fishes a new ball out of a bulging bag attached to his belt, hands it to the catcher, who tosses it to the pitcher, and we get on with the game in 2,5 seconds flat.
That is not a random analogy: verily, the baseball-ification of cricket is imminent. Can it happen faster, please?
The IPL is the most important step in that process so far. The services of most of the world’s top players have been snapped up at auction and they will turn out for teams that at this stage are just logos on sets of garishly coloured playing gear to be flaunted in what promises to be a riveting slew of 20-over matches in India.
The Bangalore Royal Challengers are at home to the Kolkata Knight Riders in the opening match of the tournament next Friday. If the cricket those teams play is anywhere near as spectacular as their names we might forget forever, the sad fact’s that 50-over games still exist and that drawing isn’t just something you do with a pencil.
Tradition? History? What for? This is sport, it’s about entertainment and money and not a lot else.
Of course, those fine folk at the International Cricket Council (ICC) are having none of this. These guardians at the gate of tradition, who have moved their headquarters from Lord’s to Dubai to be able to continue giving their all to the grand old game and not at all as a tax dodge, are aghast that the IPL has been established without their wise counsel.
Players who have signed up with IPL franchises have found themselves banned from returning to the teams they previously represented. The various national boards that make up the membership of the ICC have not been shy about keeping the heel of the jackboot on the affected players’ throats. Expect many court cases in this regard.
So disturbed is the ICC by the creation of this bastard enfant terrible that it has spawned an unevil twin, the Indian Cricket League, to fight the IPL to the death. Money? Nah, money has nothing to do with this.
Cricket is surely above such baseness. At Lord’s no one has had a use for filthy lucre since the ground was established in 1814. Except, of course, to hike the MCC membership fees enough to ensure the riff-raff stays out.
The Lord of which manor do we have to thank for this everglade of sanity in a mad, mad world? Alas, none.
That honour goes to one Thomas Lord, the son of a landowner who was reduced to a labourer as punishment for supporting the Jacobite uprising of 1745.
Lord tried his luck in London as a young professional for the White Conduit Club. In time he figured the real money was to be made out of becoming a cricket impresario, a Kerry Packer of his time.
Were he alive today, there can be little doubt that the Lord’s Laserlights would be gracing the IPL stage. Red shirts emblazoned with yellow lightning bolts? Why not: just like those MCC bandannas.