During my time in Sydney, somehow I always lived within walking distance of the Sydney Cricket Ground. Complete coincidence of course.
Living so close to such an iconic sporting venue, it would have been churlish of me not to stroll along there from time to time to watch the odd bit of cricket. And since no-one has even called me churlish (to my face anyway), I guess my cricket-watching strategy must have worked.
I have been fortunate to witness first hand many classic SCG moments under the searing summer sun – Steve Waugh’s last-ball-of-the-day century, Michael Bevan’s match winning boundary off the last ball of an ODI v West Indies, Darren Gough ’s awesome late-in-the-day hat trick and of course the triumphant (for England, anyway) 5th test during the most recent Ashes tour. Fantastic memories one and all.
My SCG watching experiences have varied greatly over the years, ranging from seats in the members pavilion to corporate boxes to quiet days with friends to noisier, lost afternoons on ‘The Hill’ with larger groups of friends. But throughout it all, I have developed a real affection for the place.
The ground has a rather unique character to it, a mixture of the raucous and the refined, but when I think of the SCG now, my memories tend towards the former.
I picture beer snakes and Mexican waves, large groups of lads wearing fluoro ‘team T-shirts’, beach balls bouncing around the crowd, over-zealous security guards fishing out the more inebriated members of the audience, skin turning pinker as the hours go by, zinc coated faces, meat pies and sauce, eskies…oh and an almost gladiatorial atmosphere when batsmen walk out to face the music.
But of course, I’ve left all of that behind me now….but not the cricket, I hasten to add.
A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to spend a Sunday with one of my very best buddies at Lords, witnessing day four of the England v South Africa test match. And let’s just say that the experiences were a little different.
To start with, the walk from St Johns Wood tube to Lords gave me an early opportunity to size up the crowd – I noticed fewer eskies and more hampers, fewer thongs (aka flip-flops) and more brogues, fewer singlets and more blazers.
In fact, I saw a large number of old fogies in the full MCC regalia, but also some rather amusingly blazered young fogies too, men actually aged in their mid 20’s, but behaving in such an absurdly pompous manner, I could have sworn they aspired to be at least 60.
Both grounds have somehow managed to retain their traditional stands and pavilions, whilst also incorporating large new modern edifices to house the increasing number of people wanting to attend.
I’ve become used to the SCG mutating over the years and when I first saw the Lords Media Centre (aka ‘Tony Blair’s mouth’, I’m led to believe – wonder why?) it did feel a bit incongruous, but now it just seems a part of the scenery…and I bet there’s a great view from up there too. Signs of progress, I guess.
Arriving at the SCG just before play began, there was always a bit of a buzz. At Lords, it was similar, but this sub-noise was perhaps better described as an expectant hush, disturbed primarily by the rustle of premature sandwich unwrapping and champagne uncorking.
As with all sport nowadays, sponsorship plays a key role, but whereas the SCG environs seemed dominated by the likes of Carlton & United Breweries and Red Rooster, at Lords, it is more a case of JP Morgan and Veuve Clicquot.
On the day I attended, there was not a great deal to cheer as an England supporter, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how warm the standing ovation was for South African centurion Hashim Amla as he returned to the pavilion having basically batted England out of the match – no cries of “Amla is a w*nker” could be heard as the crowd’s sporting appreciation exceeded any local partisanship.
And maybe it is the traditional English trait of being able to laugh at themselves, but when a familiar late English batting collapse scuppered any real chances of victory, the general mood on the way out was one of faintly amused acceptance along “I’ve been here many times before” lines, rather than the somewhat blunter “sack the lot of them” variety (although skipper Andrew Strauss did subsequently fall on his sword).
All up, I had a wonderful day at Lords, the same as I have had many wonderful days at the SCG over the last 20 years.
But if I had to summarise the difference, I’d say that the SCG is for people who enjoy their cricket, whereas Lords is for people who take their cricket seriously.
As for me, since both definitions apply in equal measures, each venue will always retain a special place in my heart.