“Can you hear it?”
Our wicket-keeper, Bob Stephenson, had button-holed me as our paths crossed between overs at a Sunday League game for Hampshire against Middlesex at Lord’s sometime in the 1970s.
What on earth did he mean? I heard no distant rumble of thunder. No crack of gunfire. No clamour of rioting crowds.There was no bang overhead as the Concorde broke the speed of sound. For the next over – without, of course, taking my eye off the ball – I pondered his question. At the completion of the over, I raised a quizzical eye in his direction as we crossed again.
“The hum. The Lord’s Hum.” That’s what he said. Not the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Hum.
I cocked an ear. He was right. There was an unmistakeable hum, the sound of thousands of spectators conversing with their neighbours, only slightly ebbing as the ball was delivered, to resume when nothing of particular notehappened.
Later I puzzled whether the background murmur was only audible to us players out there in the middle but no, you can hear it clearly, if you bend your ear, anywhere in the stands when a big crowd is present. At the recent first day of the Test against South Africa, I posed the same question as Stephenson had asked me to my companion and he too looked puzzled. When I told him, he listened for a second or two and nodded in agreement. “I’d never thought about it,” he said, “But you’re absolutely right. The Lord’s Hum.”
The fact is, Lord’s is like no other cricket ground in the world. If you were to ask cricketers where they would like to play the final game of their career, I’d bet my house that 99% of them would say Lord’s. Many reasons are advanced: the history, the architecture, the facilities, the character, the polish, the atmosphere, the aura. It is HQ, the home of cricket. Its sheer class sets it apart from other Test venues. I recently attended the Test against India earlier in the season at Edgbaston and the contrast was marked. If Lord’s is up-market, Edgbaston is unashamedly blue-collar. There is no hum in Birmingham. The Barmy Army is in full throat, the trumpeter sounds out his clarion call to arms, the crowd is loud and boisterous and even mundane pieces of fielding are greeted with roars of approval….or sometimes howls of derision. England love playing there. The support is raucous and partisan. The Brummies know how to have a good time. And they love their fancy dress. I remember staring straight ahead with fierce determination at my place in the urinals as a woman next to me laboriously hauled up her skirt, only to realise she was no woman at all. There is no fancy dress at Lord’s. Or there was once. Ireland were in town, on that famous occasion of their first Test in England when my nephew (5-13) bowled them out for 85. An Irishman dressed as a leprechaun berated an MCC member decked out in the full bacon-and egg regalia of blazer, tie, socks and Panama, “Oi tort you weren’t allowed fancy dress here!”
The Irish can get away with anything, but it is true, Lord’s does not approve of fancy dress and boisterous behaviour is largely noticeable by its absence. This air of elegant restraintis what lends it a particularly English tone, special, unique even. Refinement and polish exude from every pore. I refer not to the largely public-school clientele but to every little detail of the whole experience as you walk through the Grace Gates until you totter off down St John’s Wood Road after a post-stumps, one-too-many Pimms at the Tavern. That is not to say that it is better than Edgbaston or Headingley or Old Trafford – just different.
I must say the Old Lady looked a picture in the morning sunshine. The new Compton and Edrich stands, either side of the Spaceship, looked very fine and fully in keeping with the Lord’s avowed ambition for innovative and stylish design. Next up for renovation are the Tavern and Allen Stands and then Lord’s will be finished. But of course, it won’t. Like Wimbledon, it has the aptitude for continual change and development. There is now talk of building a luxury hotel on site, which will obviate the necessity for visiting and touring teams billeting elsewhere in north London. At least that will prevent stroppy gatemen barring entrance to opposing players because they do not have the proper accreditation (as happened to us once). Lord’s gatemen are, or were, notorious for their obstreperousness, as much as their lunch ladies were famed for their culinary expertise and generosity.
It is axiomatic that as soon as the Met Office or the Environment Agency or the Government mention the word ‘drought’, the heavens will open. Remember the ill-fated Minister for Drought, Denis Howell, appointed in 1976, who swiftly had to have his title changed to Minister for Floods? I knew it would happen. After three months without a drop of rain, it teemed down over St John’s Wood after lunch. But were the Lord’s hedonists dismayed? Not a bit of it. Soaked to the skin and proof enough those red and yellow blazers do not run (of course they don’t – superior cloth don’t you know), the disciples sought shelter and simply ordered another bottle of Champagne. To the hum was added the strum of heavy rainfall on increasingly flooded walkways. Never mind, old boy, let’s talk a bit louder. Jimmy’ll bowl ‘em out tomorrow.