The Squire wished to go to Lord’s on Saturday to watch Nottinghamshire play Surrey in the old B & H mid-summer Final, now thankfully re–insured by Royal London – Life Insurance + Pensions + Investments neatly inscribed on the boundary markers. Players used to find a twenty pack carton under their peg awaiting them on B & H match days. Now there’s a financial adviser sitting there ready to offer independent advice. The game has changed.
Third Man left the Squire with the McCartney’s swapping tales of Desert Island Disk selections. Went down to Macca’s shed and took the trusty old aluminium ladder to the bottom of the road and shimmied over the wall into the ground before a Steward could shout ‘What?!’
He made his way to Dressing Room 6 to see whether any of the old Pros were there. Many of the dressing rooms that once adorned the Pavilion’s higher echelons have been turned into video analysis rooms and places that offer comfort to fourth umpires and referees. But Dressing Room 6 remains well disguised as a Lift marked ‘Out of Order’. Three or four of the old boys were there and cards were spread on an old coffin (from the relatively modern age of the game).
Lord’s is famed for its catering. Less well known is its reputation for fine cigars, a supply of which are kept in a jury rigged humidor – an adaption of the climatic control machine purchased for the Indoor Nets and transported to Dressing Room 6 by Pip Edmonds in what are called the Botham Days.
At 10.50 in walked young Hales. “Hail Hales”, we all said. “Any of those Cohiba Behikes left, TM?” asked the six-foot-five Hillingdonian. “The Squire instructed me to issue you with two, Titch. One for your innings and one for afters.”
Surrey’s innings took off at a rate of knots. Notts seemed generally languid and unperturbed, dropping a catch or two to demonstrate their confidence – a lot of psychology in the game now. The Lord’s outfield was like glass – emerald green glass. The fielders sauntered. The batsmen drove. But the truth was that Surrey batsmen kept losing their wickets at the most inopportune moments.
The last time TM had seen Surrey play in a Lord’s Cup Final was in 1965 when Brian Close dropped Boycott a couple of Dextros in his morning Horlicks. Surrey wilted that day. “Seeing you here again does not bode well, TM,” said dear old Horse (184.108.40.206) from a corner of Dressing Room 6.
Notts and Pattinson in particular (34 dots in his 10 overs) got a little reverse going as Surrey entered the last 10 overs and ground to a halt. Their final score of 297 was disappointing. “If only it had been 347,” the Notts supporters on top of the Compton were later to moan. Fletcher did his impression of a lad up from pit for day, but rumour has it he was rescued from a life as a chef at Hooters of Nottingham. He’ll be OK in Dressing Room 6 in the years to come will that Fletch.
As Hales skipped down the stairs to the Long Room on his way to the wicket, TM stretched out a hand containing a lighter. “There you are Titch.”
The stewards have strangely become a friendly lot in recent years and not a word was said as the scent of fine Habana filled the Long Room, members’ noses turning towards the sweet smell. Such a forgiving scent.
At the wicket, Hales handed the smouldering cigar to the square leg umpire and took guard.
Few who were there will ever forget the following 200 minutes. Lord’s bathed in divine light. The scent of cigar drifting across the ground, reaching all parts of the field like the ball off Hales’ Grey Nick’s bat. Sublime drives. Powerful pulls to balls shortened by the anxiety of bowlers fearing to give him any length. Width punished, not with an admonishment, but with a neatly inscribed note of thanks, that the time which this master of the drive has at his disposal allowed him to pen. The ash flicked nonchalantly towards the Media Centre at 50, 100 and 150.
At one point, a bewitched opponent, yet England team mate, Jason Roy, ran fully twenty yards to offer the palm of his hand, rather than to allow that foul ash to sully the batsman’s gloved hand; the burning glow at each leisured inhalation never once threatening to outshine the batsman’s brilliance.
Look at the book, if you want the details, oh foolish prizer of data. For all your counting and calculating you will have missed the essence of a cigar appropriately humidified, of batting as leisure, in a match that mattered.
(Special thanks to Michael Vaughan who smelt it first.)