Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 18, 2013

On arriving early at Lord’s

Lord'searly2The buzz of lawn mowers floats over the ground. Men, almost exclusively men, in hi-viz jackets walk purposefully around Lord’s environs. More men, blazers this time, eye me suspiciously as I approach the entrance to the Warner Stand (Members and Guests you see). A clutch of hi-viz jackets gather in the stand that Getty built for a briefing from yet more men in hi-viz jackets – though theirs are of a different colour. Food is ferried on multi-shelved trolleys and bars advertise their beers (£4.60 a pint) on plasma screens. Plastic, inflatable or even old-fashioned wooden advertising materials jostle for my attention, with lead sponsor Investec’s life-size plastic zebra striking a nice balance between the eye-catching and the intrusive.

There is no sense of expectation yet – for Lord’s at 7.30am on the Saturday of the New Zealand Test is a place of work, not pleasure. Outside though, things are (literally) warming up. Lines of men in egg and tomato ties snake round the ground awaiting the swinging open of the gates and the dash to secure favoured pavilion seats. Friendships are renewed, coffees drunk, some – even these days – from thermos flasks and Daily Telegraphs are folded to counter the chill breeze tugging at good old newsprint.

Back inside, lanyards swing from necks, coded by letter and colour to identify who goes where. Head Groundsman, Mick Hunt – who surely does not sleep during a Test – is in the middle looking at his strip of biscuity turf, a desert island in the green sea that has had gathered few admirers over the last couple of days. A pocket of hi-vizes at Third Man finish their briefing with a huddle and high-fives all round – there are more than just the two teams at Lord’s today.

A couple of hours on and 90 minutes before they will take guard again, Kane Williamson and Brendon McCullum stride down the ground towards the Nursery End for a net. Nick Compton – gloves, bat but no pads – follows, in blue rather than signature Kiwi black. Players are all athletes these days, conditioned by personal training regimes and a will that accepts ice-baths and other tortures without question. They don’t look like us – some never did – but every team is as separated from the spectators by physique and carriage as much as talent and money these days. The adjective that comes to mind is “businesslike” – I ponder whether that’s a good or bad thing.

Under the most feeble sun May can conjure, Jonny Bairstow, en route to the nets, pauses to sign an autograph or two and be photographed with kids. He takes two steps on to the Nursery turf and is called back and – to his credit – returns for more photos and scrawls. It’s a day at the office for England’s Number Six, but he recognised that it was the thrill of a lifetime for those kids.

The outfield is populated by the plastic accoutrements of warm-ups – how did they get by in the past without half-size plastic stumps, fielding nets, bounce mats? An hour before the start there are as many people on the field as there are below the MCC flag atop the grandstand and they all look cold. Nick Compton is doing the Matthew Hayden visualisation thing on the wicket, but soon tires of such pretentious pretend play and seeks the warmth of the dressing room.

The crowd are filtering in and the expectation is rising despite the cold and the cloud. Nobody wants to be anywhere else. We wait for the umpire to call “Play”.

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