KEEPING LORD'S WORLD CLASS
Founded in 1787, Marylebone Cricket Club is the most active and famous cricket club in the world and owner of Lord's Cricket Ground - the Home of Cricket.
© Copyright 2014
As Lord's two most iconic features, the Father Time weathervane and the famous Lord's slope always receive plenty of attention from commentators and cameras during international matches.
This is perhaps why two of the most frequently asked questions on my tours are 'who is Father Time?' and 'why hasn't the slope ever been levelled?'
The first thing to say about Father Time, is that he is not, despite often being referred to as, called 'Old Father Time'.
So where does this confusion come from?
'Old Father Thames Keeps Rolling Along' was a popular song, dating back to the Music Hall era. It's been recorded by the Australian Bass-Baritone Peter Dawson, and Gracie Fields did a version of it in the 1930s.
I imagine over the years MCC's weathervane and the song became muddled in people's minds to the extent that Father Time became 'Old Father Time'. Afterall he is quite old!
Father Time was the Ground's only casualty during the Blitz
At Lord's, Father Time appears as the Grim Reaper, or Death personified perched next to the Mound Stand. Holding his scythe over his shoulder and one bail over the stumps in a skeletal hand, he enacts Law 16 (3) of cricket: 'After the call of Time, the bails shall be removed from both wickets.'
He was given to the MCC by architect Sir Herbert Baker, to apologise when building work on Baker's 1926 Grand Stand was delayed by the General Strike. He was displayed on top of that stand until the current Grand Stand was built in 1996, when he was moved to his current location above the clock and the scorers' box.
He was the Ground's only casualty during the Blitz – after becoming entangled with a barrage balloon cable, he spent the rest of the War in a cellar.
The Lord's Slope
Beneath Father Time, the slope runs across the playing area from north to south down a drop of two and a half metres.
The size of the slope means that even when Middlesex CCC and England's tallest player, Steven Finn (who measures 6’8’’) is fielding on the lowest boundary, his teammates fielding opposite him on the highest boundary are standing above the top of his head.
Some visitors believe that the slope was dug to assist drainage, but since Lord’s is built on the side of a hill it is natural - following the shape of the landscape.
It's the only feature of the Ground to have survived from when it opened in 1814, close to St John's Wood on the edge of Regent's Park. Back then there were two duck-ponds on its outfield and sheep grazed on its grass. Which is one way to save on the cost of a lawnmower! Today, the slope is a reminder of these rustic origins.
Using the slope
The slope presents cricketers with challenges unique to Lord's. When setting fields, captains must bear in mind that the ball will race to the south boundary more quickly than to the north, and batsmen can find their balance at the crease is affected.
Some bowlers use the slope to their advantage. Australia's Glenn McGrath, who preferred to bowl from the Pavilion End, has a fine record at Lord's, appearing on the Visitor's Bowling Honours Board three times.
The slope has never been levelled because this would involve rebuilding some of the stands' foundations and relaying the wicket table. Since county and international wickets take three and five years respectively to mature, Lord’s would be unable to host first class cricket for three seasons and test cricket for five.
Besides, the slope, like Father Time, belongs to the Ground's character. Despite the challenges it presents them, many cricketers would, I think, be sorry if it were lost.
Lord's Cricket Groud: 200 years