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World Cup Cricket: First-day win lifts spirits of Lord's; Ged Scott enjoys a day of mod cons and old traditions at headquarters.

It was 16 years since World Cup cricket had last been staged at Lord's, the home of cricket - and a lot had changed.

Electronic scoreboards, gleaming new stands, white balls, performers in pyjamas and huge colourful 3-D advertising logos matted on the pitch where, from what I remember from my schooldays bowling to one of the dodgiest wicketkeepers ever to be allowed out in the middle, the backstops used to stand.

Even Old Father Time hadn't stood still, the great square-leg umpire in the sky having switched sides and now perched high above what used to be the home of the Lord's Taverners.

As for refreshments, where once a sartorially elegant blazered 12th man carefully picked his way down the pavilion steps with a silver salver bearing generous beakers full of lemon barley water, a motorised trolley glides into action carrying all manner of modern-day popsy fizzy stuff.

Then there's the new space-age inflatable sausage of a press box at the Nursery End - fitted with all mod cons, air-conditioned, each desk equipped with cool shades and plentifully supplied with as many smoked salmon and caviar hors d'oeuvres, pints of Tetley's and posh biccies as one can politely polish off.

But, alas, soundproofed too. Personally, I'd cheerfully pass up all the cakes and ale just to be able to hear the crowd ooh, aah, groan and gasp again, offering some indication of what - as Fred Trueman used to put it - is going off out there.

More disconcertingly, with our own private giant aerial gherkin reachable by electronic means alone, it was cause for a few groans and gasps from the mass pack of assembled pressmen when a worrying mid-afternoon tannoy announcement seemed to amuse the crowd.

The deflating moment of gloom which followed Nasser Hussain's complete misreading of Muralitharan was punctuated with the inquiry: "Would a lift engineer please report to the Media Centre?"

At least, with the likes of Botham, Chappell, Gower, Proctor and a couple of Richards to brush shoulders with, there was compensation from the glorious pages of cricket history in this quarantined cucumber of a construction.

If most of what was going on out in the middle had more in common with the next millennium than the one we're about to depart, though, a few traditions remain the same.

The uncertain weather guaranteed that the swish new covers were rolled off five minutes late, following a no-expense-spared opening ceremony which seemed to consist simply of Tony Blair vanishing in a puff of smoke. Or was that all just a dream?

The dark, brooding clouds weren't finished for the day, either. A first halt for rain followed just 20 minutes later, while another hour or so's break when it really started coming down, a few overs from the end of the Sri Lankan innings, ensured another Lord's tradition; standing in the rain in a stationary queue as everyone decides to stretch their legs at the same time. All attempts at a quick perambulation round the ground were, thus, rendered impossible.

It was in one other important area where the years had really been rolled back, though. That was the ease with which England captain Alec Stewart, although quite clearly gutted at being denied his century by umpire Koertzen's unwelcome finger, led from the front.

Back in 1983, in the annals of great sporting upsets, England beating Sri Lanka would have ranked somewhere on the ripple-ometer alongside Liverpool winning the league title.

Against the defending champions, though, this victory was no mean scalp to start the tournament with.

Even if the critics are suggesting that Ranatunga's wrinklies have been together too long, it shouldn't be forgotten that Stewart's side - their chances already rubbished by Pakistani coach Mushtaq Mohammed - are officially the senior citizens of this tournament.

It was a pair of thirty-somethings in Graeme Hick and the skipper himself, along with bowling heroes Alan Mullally and Mark Ealham (who both hit 30 later this summer), not to mention old Haslingden warhorse Ian Austin, who performed the main heroics.

By the time Hick handsomely launched the winning six straight into the pavilion at 7.35pm, the late evening Lord's sunshine was smiling down.

If it's still to be smiling so warmly on the hosts in six weeks' time, though, it's a fair bet that Stewart's soldiers will have had to survive a few more searching tests than this.

Not that such daunting prospects troubled the contented throng who ambled joyfully back to St John's Wood Tube station to stand in yet another queue and muse on a far more weighty matter.

Why did London Underground choose yesterday, of all days, to carry out maintenance work on their escalators?
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Author:Scott, Ged
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 15, 1999
Words:778
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