Today we debate one of the ultimate ‘down the pub’ topics. Is watching cricket at The Oval, England’s traditional stronghold in South London, better than watching it at Lord’s, the home of cricket itself?
There’s no right or wrong answer, of course. It’s like deciding whether Renior or Rembrandt was the better painter. It all comes down to personal taste – unless you support Middlesex or Surrey and partisan biases come into the equation.
First let’s look at Lord’s – the cricketing Mecca that visitors to the UK will always prioritise. Visiting HQ has become a sort of pilgrimage for many foreign cricket supporters. And it’s easy to see why. The ground is steeped in history, totally unique in many respects (where else has a sloping pitch?!), and those lucky enough to have ventured inside the pavilion will know how special it is inside.
I’m lucky enough to have visited the pavilion twice – once to interview Sky’s commentary team and once to attend an MCC bicentennial dinner in the Long Room. The latter included a visit to the home dressing room, which, to my surprise, is pretty small and basic compared to its salubrious surroundings. The rest of the pavilion is polished to the highest sheen imaginable with beautiful portraits of famous cricketers seemingly adorning every wall.
The rest of Lord’s is also magnificent. The architecture is wonderful (if you like that sort of thing) and the stands are modern yet elegant. Although I never liked the look of the new media centre myself, it doesn’t seem incongruous now that the Compton and Edrich stands have been developed. In fact, it now finally looks like it belongs.
There’s also a special buzz around Lord’s on match days. This isn’t unique to HQ, of course, but the famous ‘Lord’s hum’ is definitely distinctive and somehow different to other Test match venues. Maybe it’s the clientele, the chatter and music on the lawn behind the pavilion, or maybe it’s just the ghosts of cricketing greats chatting as they observe the action. It truly is somewhere special.
The one problem I have with Lord’s, however, is the decorum. It’s not particularly onerous but there is a certain, well, stuffiness about the venue. Let’s just say that it’s not exactly the place to let one’s hair down, bellow Barmy Army classics, and perhaps have one too many. Consequently, one might argue that Lord’s lacks a little, you know, passion.
This is where The Oval comes into its own. It’s a real supporters’ venue. There’s nothing quite like The Oval atmosphere during a Test match, especially when it’s the deciding rubber of a series. In fact, I’m surprised and a little disappointed that it hosted the 4th rather than the 5th Test against India this summer.
One person who knows a thing or two about the The Oval’s special atmosphere, having played there many times for England and Surrey, is Kevin Pietersen. He made one of the most memorable centuries in England’s recent history with his series securing 158 against Australia back in 2005 – an innings that just about compensates for his vocal advocacy of The Hundred (wink, wink).
The atmosphere at The Oval on that glorious September day was something that I’ll never forget. Remember that guy who was dressed up as The Ashes urn singing away in the stands? You simply wouldn’t get that at Lord’s. No fancy dress is allowed.
KP recently spoke about his love for The Oval on the Betway Blog. I’ve embedded the two minute video below. He actually mentions that very innings, as well as the time that he dismissed MS Dhoni in the 2007 Test series against India (which England won 4-0). I’d completely forgotten about that!
Pietersen, like many other cricketers, describes the atmosphere at The Oval as “a place you want to perform” and “second to none”. He’s not wrong in my opinion. Edgbaston can also get very loud but I’ve always thought that there’s a unique connection between the players and spectators at Kennington.
This special connection is partly because the players are so close to the supporters when they emerge from the dressing room. They’re right amongst the fans when they skip down those famous steps and onto the playing surface. Indeed, KP talks about being “swamped by supporters” as he made his way back after his scintillating 158.
This is a complete contrast to Lord’s, where players make their way through the hallowed Long Room and through MCC members before arriving on the field. The spectators don’t get anywhere near as close, although the views from the stands at Lord’s are just as good.
We shouldn’t forget that The Oval has its fair share of history, too. Test cricket was first played at the ground in 1880, which was four years before the first Test held at Lord’s. Now there’s a bit of trivia for you. What’s more, England’s highest ever innings score was made at Surrey’s home ground – a whopping 903-7 declared against the Aussies in 1938.
But what about the statistic that probably matters more than most? I’m referring, of course, to England’s record at the two grounds in question …
The bottom line is that our Test side tends to perform better at The Oval. We’ve won 43 times and lost on just 22 occasions. That’s obviously almost twice as many wins as losses. Our record at Lord’s, however, isn’t quite so impressive with 54 wins and 35 defeats. It’s often said that there’s something about the Home of Cricket that seems to inspire our opponents.
I’d love to know which ground you prefer in the comments below. Feel free to tell us why. I haven’t even talked about the pitch yet. Lord’s possibly has the better drainage system but the surface at The Oval has produced more exciting cricket over the last two decades.