HT Image
HT Image

A day in the life of the lords of the ring

The MCC museum, set up in 1953, is home to some of the most famous exhibits, writes Rohit Mahajan.
Hindustan Times | By Rohit Mahajan, London
UPDATED ON JUL 18, 2007 12:50 PM IST

At the home of cricket, they are perhaps a bit straitlaced, but they do know how to preserve their history — a lesson India would do well to learn.

Right behind the famous pavilion, in a large hall swept in sepia tone, lie some of the most famous exhibits of cricket in the Cricket Museum, prized and guarded jealously by the MCC.

The MCC Cricket Museum was set up in 1953 by a gallery of cricketing photographs, and over the years, with regular donations and acquisitions, it has become the place to go to if you are a student of the game’s history — or even just a regular fan. We take you on a brief tour of the museum, pointing out a few of the most prominent objects on display, or objects of interest to an Indian audience. Photography is disallowed, but the museum authorities made a special exemption for HT.

Right at the entrance, on the left, is the large Grace corner, crammed with the good batting doctor’s personal belongings, including his travel bag, cap, bats and numerous photographs, including one with Ranji. Clearly, the original superstar and brat of the game continues to occupy a very big place in cricket’s folklore here.

On the right, we would like to point out a nondescript looking ball, a white ball with very fine seams still intact, despite William Ward’s best efforts to knock the stuffing out of it. A hundred and eighty-seven years ago, in 1820, Ward smashed this orb for 278 runs, playing for the MCC vs. Norfolk.

Incidentally, Ward, a director of the Bank of England, purchased the Lord’s ground from Thomas Lord five years after that innings and immortalised this ball, which is believed to be the oldest cricket ball in existence. A little further up, again on the right, is the famous stuffed sparrow, killed as it flew across the pitch, struck mid-flight by a delivery from Jehengir Khan in 1936.

On your left you’d see many cricket bats, one dating back to 1774, and some in the shape of wide hockey sticks. There are photographs all around, some of known men and some unknown, most fiercely bearded and sporting bowler hats. When women are present, in garden parties, they are demure in their fine frippery.

Then there is the bat with which the Lord’s pavilion was cleared the only time ever — by Albert Trott in 1899. In the 108 years since, the feat has not been replicated, even though we have another Trott with us. Jonathan Trott, who has played a couple of Twenty20 games for England, is a relative of the celebrated one, though he’s not sure how. A tour guide at Lord’s, though, is not so uncertain — he will inform you that Jonathan is the grandson.

In 1868, the first cricket team from Australia visited England — made up of aboriginal cricketers, and there are photographs and bats to mark that event. The great Victor Trumper’s jacket and pads are up ahead.

As you turn the corner, on your left lies the Brian Johnston Film Theatre — where the best performers of a day’s play, or the captains, discuss the game with the media. It also serves as a small auditorium.

Back to the museum, among plates commemorating the feats of Compton and Hobbes and others, you will find a picture of interest — the 1932 Indian team, which went on to play India’s first Test that year against England.

Going to the first floor, you would be struck by the sudden change in tenor — sepia changes to gentle pastel, we’re going up to modernity.

The world of Lara

And there is Brian Lara everywhere — the retired genius has a sort of retrospective devoted to him on most of the first floor. ‘Brian Lara: His Story’ traces the rise of the living legend, replete with photographs and memorabilia brought from Lara’s home in Trinidad. It was Lara’s wish that this post-retirement exhibition be housed at the Lord’s. It has been on for about six weeks and will continue until early next year.

There are lots of poignant photographs, the bats with which he scored his biggest multi-hundreds, including the first 400 in Tests, there is the blazer gifted by Nelson Mandela, there are balls signed by Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan. Murali, grammatically inaccurate but factually correct, declares: ‘To Brian, You are the best player I bowl to’.

Overhead, suspended by threads, is a maze of red cricket balls — it’s Lara’s wagon wheel of his innings of 400 against England. There must be hundreds of balls there, and there hangs an interesting tale. “When Lara saw this maze, he looked at them very carefully,” says Antony Amos, the museum manager. “Then he saw a ball declaring a six, and he said he was sure he did not hit that six — that he would never hit a six at that point. When it was checked, it was found he was right!”

Moving on, you reach the corner where Australians are strongly advised to keep their hands in pocket — rather unpretentiously, on a white pedestal and in a glass case, lies the most famous trophy in cricket, the Ashes.

Fittingly, opposite it is a large portrait of Sir Don Bradman — even if the Australians cannot take the urn away, it’s guarded by the greatest of them all!

Story Saved