Lord’s help us and save us – we need a break after 160 years
Ireland take on England for the first ever time at the ‘Home of Cricket’ on Sunday
The new £25 million Warner Stand at Lord’s was opened this week. Photograph: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images
Prince Philip borrowed the royal scissors for one of the last times on Wednesday for the opening of the new £25 million Warner Stand at Lord’s, the first phase in the regeneration master plan for the ‘Home of Cricket’.
Considering the Duke was 36 when the original stand opened in honour of the former England captain Pelham ‘Plum’ Warner in 1958 – a sprightly 84-year-old at the time himself – Philip’s remark that ‘you’re about to see the world’s most experienced plaque-unveiler’ certainly held some weight as he cut the ribbon.
Cut to ribbons was sadly the fate for Ireland’s cricketers on a windy day at the County Ground in Bristol on Friday, the hugely dispiriting seven-wicket defeat to England far from the ideal hors d’oeuvres for the main course at headquarters on Sunday.
The crowds will descend on NW8 nonetheless, with 21,500 public tickets sold as of Friday afternoon. Add in the MCC members in their bacon and eggs jackets and ties and it’s expected that there could be 25,000 in attendance.
At least 1,000 of those are expected to travel from Ireland, many of whom were likely to have added to the Bristol economy after Friday’s early finish. Add in a London Irish audience, many who will experiencing a big cricket match for the first time, and it has the makings of a grand occasion.
There’s a little bit of the Warner Stand that’s already got a green tinge, with the press release announcing that “to speed up the build, 1,000 tonnes of Irish pre-cast concrete was used for the tier construction” – a pretty solid link to a ground that celebrated its bicentenary in 2014.
However, Ireland’s cricket teams and cricketers have long foundations with Thomas Lord’s old ground in St John’s Wood, as well as with both the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and Middlesex Cricket Club, the ground’s owners and their tenants.
An Irish team first played at Lord’s in May 1858 in a two-day match, beating the MCC by an innings and 10 runs in a low-scoring affair played “in a sea of mud”. Charles Lawrence, the influential English-born cricket professional with the Phoenix club in Dublin, made the most of the bowler-friendly conditions to take 12 wickets in the game and would later be also credited with popularising the game in Australia through his coaching.
Ireland fairly lorded it over the MCC at Lord’s over the next century, losing just once in 19 games up until the early 1950s. The record swung the other way in the latter half of the 20th century and Ireland go into Sunday’s game having won 14 and lost 14 matches at the ground.
The highlight of the 20 draws was more than likely the lunch, with the quality of catering part of what makes it such a joy for those lucky enough to play at the world’s most famous cricket ground.
And that holds true for off the pitch too, from the legendary cook Nancy Doyle, who made sure former England captain Mike Gatting’s plate was always full, to former England Cricket Board media manager Maria O’Donoghue, who partly credited her ability to deal with the demands of the world’s media to attending Roscommon County Board meetings with her father as a youngster.
There’s even a little corner of Co Tyrone with a Lord’s touch. In 2014, the MCC’s genial head groundsman , Mick Hunt, or “head of grass” as he calls himself, advised St Joseph’s Grammar School in Donaghmore on how to improve its pitches while on a visit there to see his good friend and then school principal Enda Cullen.
It was Bray man Ed Joyce who made the all-important breakthrough in county cricket at Middlesex in the late 1990s. His success opened the way for a generation of Irish cricketers to make a career in the county game, with Morgan, Boyd Rankin, Paul Stirling and Andrew Balbirnie all making Lord’s their home at some stage or other. Joyce even helped his good friend Tim Murtagh make his decision to declare for Ireland.
Joyce, still going strong at 38, will be back at Lord’s on Sunday and will be keen to pass on his experience of what it is like to walk through all the famous paintings in the Long Room on the way out to bat.
“It’s pretty special, I guess some of them might have done it even once. I was very, very lucky to do it lots and lots of times for Middlesex but very few times with a full house.
“It’s going to be very different, it’s going to be pretty daunting, even for us experienced heads. But it’s also pretty special and I think we’ve got to remember that and try and enjoy the experience and take the pressure off, especially the younger guys, take the pressure off them and just tell them to go out and enjoy it.”
So a special day awaits for the players and supporters alike.
If you are going along raise a glass – Lord’s even treats you as a grown-up and allows you bring in a bottle of wine – and toast a historic day at one of sport’s finest cathedrals.