As the wickets clattered across a wild, error‑strewn opening day of England’s international summer, the cricket offered more than enough entertainment to engross a near-capacity crowd at Lord’s. Which was perhaps just as well, given that the promised sideshows proved underwhelming.
Attendees had been asked to wear the colours of the British flag, and perhaps there were a few more union jack jackets and ties than on a typical day at the Test, a scattering of patriotic formalwear to clash with MCC’s traditional bacon and eggs, but of the expected off-field themes jubilee-weekend enthusiasm was as hard to spot as the heavily trailed expanses of empty seats.
With New Zealand reduced to 39 for six at lunch after winning the toss, few here would have been disappointed with the way the morning unfolded, with the possible exception of Guy Lavender, chief executive and secretary of MCC. Lavender had said he was “really looking forward to seeing Lord’s, and everyone in the ground, decked out in red, white and blue” but Lord’s was a surprisingly jubilee-light zone.
At this stage the only red arrows here were being flung towards New Zealand batters by Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Matt Potts and, briefly, Ben Stokes. It is true that the simultaneous celebrations at Buckingham Palace were being shown on a handful of screens around the ground, the only issue being that they were all located in toilets. Most notably, this brought an unexpected new meaning to the phrase royal flush.
Though some flags hung behind the Compton and Edrich stands, the entire eastern half of the ground boasted bunting in only one location: at the foot of the media centre, in a heap on the flat bed of a hydraulic platform, where it waited forlornly for someone to let it make good on its patriotic purpose.
Like the bunting, the promise to drape the structure in a giant union jack lay unfulfilled. Apparently a flag had been placed on its roof, but it was visible to no one except the pigeons. A trailed “range of jubilee-themed food and drink” amounted to a single bespoke cocktail – gin, tonic, Champagne, lemon, cucumber, raspberries, £11. Beyond that, a “this isn’t coronation chicken” vegetarian sandwich was widely available, while one bar behind the pavilion was offering a coronation chickpea salad with spiced chutney cream – both part of the ground’s standard repertoire – and there were rumours of a platinum jubilee pudding being offered in premium seating areas.
The one place that was flamboyantly flagged was the Coronation Garden, a verdant oasis behind the Warner Stand, where a tree had been planted a couple of hours before play – pleasingly within a couple of yards of a bench dedicated to the memory of a Mr Plant, MCC member between 1966 and 2010. Early arrivals were also treated to a performance of We Thank You From Our Hearts, a new anthem commissioned by the British Monarchists’ Society and sung by “national treasure” Lesley Garrett and Rodney Earl Clarke, a star of stage musicals.
Clarke will know a few things about aggressively priced, not-exactly-on-message jubilee-weekend ticketed events, given he is playing the Bishop of Digne in popular anti-monarchist insurrection-themed West End classic Les Misérables. Perhaps unsurprisingly there seem to be plenty of seats available this weekend for that as well.
As that musical memorably asks: “Do you hear the people sing, singing a song of angry men?” MCC certainly had and moved on Thursday morning to quieten the swelling chorus of criticism over its ticket pricing by promising to review its policies before the 2023 season and releasing a further tranche of discounted tickets for this game. These seats are available for Sunday only, so there is a good chance nobody will ever sit on them, and to under-16s – accompanying adults still have to pay full price. As such the move may not completely defuse the revolutionary zeal some priced-out punters are feeling, the Cricket Supporters’ Association having described the cost of tickets for this game as “astronomically high”.
For all that, sales for the opening day of the international summer had been as brisk as ever, and the only significant vacant areas were hidden in the Grand Stand upper tier, where tickets cost £130.
However much they paid, nobody will be requesting a refund. Whatever their view of the action, there was plenty of it on a day that will thankfully be remembered only for the quality of the sport and the drama. At the start it looked a day for the batter, as both captains suggested at the toss, but if it did not turn out that way at least the players’ efforts, like the venue hosting them, were unflagging.