x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The first-class delivery at Lord's

With their every need catered for, the workers at the famous ground tell Paul Radley, the players can just get on with the cricket.

The Lord’s cricket ground will host the 2,000th Test match and the 100th meeting between England and India starting tomorrow.
The Lord’s cricket ground will host the 2,000th Test match and the 100th meeting between England and India starting tomorrow.

"Most people running a venue have some idea how to get the big things right, but no other ground comes near to doing the little things that players and spectators really remember even remotely as well as Lord's." - Andrew Strauss, the England captain

Having been brought up regarding the place as his home ground, as well as scoring four Test centuries there to date, it is fair to suggest Strauss is a little biased.

But everyone says the same. MS Dhoni, the India captain, yesterday termed matches at Lord's as "very special", and Sachin Tendulkar says he "dreams of scoring a hundred" there. As yet, neither he, nor Brian Lara, nor Ricky Ponting have.

Graeme Swann, the England spinner, meanwhile, will be netting this morning next to a big picture of himself at the Nursery End of the ground, above the quote: "Every time I play at Lord's, I feel like a kid on Christmas Day."

It is little wonder the players adore playing at cricket's most famous ground. Apart from the history, the practice facilities are beyond comparison, the lunches and teas usually rate within the top one, and their every whim is catered for. As Strauss points out, the people at Lord's really do work on the small things.

"Once, a Test match finished midafternoon on a Sunday and I was charged to go off and get 21 pizzas at around midnight for the players," Pete Lowe, the away team dressing room attendant, says.

"They'd been celebrating and they were hungry again. It took a bit of persuading when I phoned the man in Dominos on the Edgware Road. After a bit of pleading and begging I persuaded him it wasn't a windup. I met him at the Grace Gate with wads of cash and he was quite happy."

The Welshman will be at the ground at 7am today, preparing a welcome fit for the world's No 1 Test side, and will stay long after they have left on each of the five days.

This is his 15th season in charge of the dressing rooms in the pavilion, a listed-building which was constructed in the Victorian era.

For much of their existence, these rooms seemed bright and airy, but the ever-growing number of support staff following international cricket teams has changed that. There will be 26 personnel - including the 11 players - with the Indian contingent for this Test match, and space in the dressing rooms will be scarce.

Apart from bodies, there is all the kit. "Everything is disposable now," Lowe says. "If there is a problem with a boot or a bat it is thrown away and they have another one.

"Years ago we used to repair the bats or clean and whiten the boots. We used to stitch up whites, but nowadays if anything is ripped or torn or a bit grubby they just get another one from their endless supply of kit."

While he is speaking in his office at the back of the Pavilion, Tim Hayes, an office worker who is one of the longest-serving staff members at Lord's, delivers a brown envelope to him. "Another one, Pete," he says.

Without veering off track from his story, the dressing room attendant tears open the parcel and around 15 Sachin Tendulkar postcards spill out, ready for signing.

"The biggest bane of our existence is autograph requests," Lowe says. "During this Test match I will probably be asked about 200 times to get Sachin Tendulkar's autograph. Obviously, I can't do that. Most of them just end up in the bin."

It is safe to assume Lowe will be kept busy with signature requests this week, given the profile of India's players, with Tendulkar and Dhoni chief among them. But whose has been the most sought after during his time in the job?

"Warney," he says, without needing to consider his options. "And, I have to say, he never refused to sign anything for me, Shane Warne. He is a true gentleman and a good man."

There have been divas among the players, but Lowe refuses to be drawn on names.

He guards the privacy of the players proudly, which is why he and his team remain separate from the ICC's anti-corruption unit.

"We cannot work with players with them knowing we are spying on them," he says.

Some things that should stay private have become public, though, but not through any fault of his.

His 15th season here will likely be forever memorable for the window-gate, when Matt Prior, the England wicketkeeper, put his bat through the home team window earlier this summer.

"To be perfectly honest, in my time, we have had 10 or 12 windows smashed - but never live on TV in a Test match," Lowe says.

"Accidents happen in the dressing room, like anywhere else. It is just part of the job. It is not an every day occurrence, but it is definitely not a one-off."

pradley@thenational.ae