In the rarefied circles of the sporting establishment a decision will soon be made affecting not just the future of 17 of the most hallowed acres in the land, but the very game of cricket itself. The MCC has been conducting a debate about Lord’s, primarily its redevelopment, with a nod to future expansion of the limited-overs game. This has boiled down to a binary choice for members: the MCC committee’s overwhelming recommendation, unsurprisingly, is for its own ‘Masterplan’, against the outsider, known as the Morley-Rifkind plan.
It’s a rum sort of club, the MCC. Primarily devoted, it seems, to keeping people out, it has people on the inside who don’t want much to change. Its committee structure is opaque and this acrimonious long-running debate has led to high-profile resignations, including that of Sir John Major in 2011. Lord’s is a wonderful ground, of course — a sunny day on the top of the Compton or Edrich stands is life-enhancing. Watching from the dank lower levels of those stands, however, feels like part of your life that you will never get back. The Masterplan includes redevelopment of those stands, and some tinkering at the Nursery End. Morley-Rifkind is more far-sighted, guaranteeing £150 million of income with elegant expansion of the Nursery End, including two compact blocks of flats, and the welcome transformation of the prison-wall look on Wellington Road.
The MCC is, of course, a club and can do what it wants. But if they go with their Masterplan, they must try to make the ground as friendly to non-members as possible — not something they have been particularly good at. It seems that the Morley-Rifkind plan has as much chance as a snowball in a microwave, and I feel that the hostility it has generated is because the MCC doesn’t want an outsider, especially one perceived as an upstart property developer, messing around with their sacred turf.
Before the deal is done, I hope the committee reads carefully an impassioned letter it has received from three very influential members. It is a devastating critique of the main points of the Masterplan which asks the committee to look again at aspects of Morley-Rifkind. It is a passionate appeal for compromise. Lords could be in danger of missing out on the promised riches of the expansion of the limited-overs game. Of course, as far as many members are concerned the limited-overs game should go and copulate with itself.
Meanwhile, a massive expansion of the Oval, usually a more pleasant ground, is being planned. This £50 million project will bring its capacity to 40,000 and make it the biggest cricket ground in the country, and the biggest in the world outside India and Australia, all in time for the 2023 Ashes. So, as Matthew Engel has said, there is a great danger Lords will be relegated to the status of a cherished antique, rather like Arundel. I hope the MCC will not just railroad its Masterplan through, but will open up the debate.
The West Indies: an apology. Following their dismal performance in the day-nighter at Edgbaston, this column had considered arguing for the creation of a two-tier Test structure, relegating the Windies to the second division, along with, say, Ireland and Afghanistan. But at Headingley they gave us one of the most enthralling Test matches of modern times. Had they only been able to catch, they would have smashed England out of sight. They should heed the wise words of Australia’s Bobby Simpson, who would tell his players: ‘What are these? No, not hands you idiot. Machines for catching cricket balls.’