Is The Oval Better Than Lord’s?

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.

James Morgan

12 comments

  • Cricket commentators and players all talk about how special Lord’s is – particularly the food – but of course most spectators are not in hospitality and have a very different experience.

    In many ways the ground has slowly improved – there are now decent water refill stations around the ground, when for many years there was a pathetic dribble of a water fountain at the Nursery End, causing long queues. The Victorian toilets at the same end have also gone, which is a good thing because of the bottlenecks they caused but also a shame that a little bit of character has gone.

    I am not impressed with the new Edrich and Compton stands. While it has improved the view tremendously for those in the lower tier, the upper tier is now so high and so far back that it is not worth sitting beyond the front five rows. The media centre obstructs the view for many seats, which in theory, would be prime spots as they are almost straight on.

    The slope means that if you are sat in the Tavern Stand say, you feel much further away than in the Grand Stand.

    And don’t get me started on champagne corks being fired on to the outfield…

    The Oval meanwhile, has easier access to the ground – public transport, entrance, security, ticket office – and there are fewer restricted view seats. While the pavilion is not quite as opulent as Lord’s, it’s still nice to look at and the atmosphere around the Oval feels more inclusive.

    But a visit to the Oval is usually tinged with sadness because it is the last Test match of the summer.
    (The fact that it isn’t this year makes we wonder if it might be to do with a spat about a limited balls tournament. However, this is pure speculation on my part and I am not stating it as fact, your honour).

    • I think it is more likely that they thought Anderson might retire at his home ground. Looks unlikely but a daft choice of venue for mid September.

  • I’ve watched a lot of CC and a little Test cricket at both although not for about a decade since I moved out of London (very much not regretting that).

    My three main decidedly non-romantic criteria for judging a ground are: quality of view for non-members; transport links; pitch. There’s little to choose between the two grounds on the first two (although the Oval doesn’t have anything as bad for viewing as the lower Compton/Edrich tiers). Both pitches suffer from the English curse of a lack of pace (how long ago Harry Brind seems!) and neither ground seems able to produce some help for the spinners without going too far the other way as happens at the Oval occasionally.

    Ground atmosphere for me always depends on who you happen to be sitting next to. I had a great day at Lord’s near a group of enthusiastic Sri Lankans who managed that thing the English seem to find very difficult – to be boisterous without being boorish or threatening (probably because four generations were together. Who can be a drunken prick in front of their grand-parents or grand-children?).

  • A few years ago I went to do some research in the MCC library at Lord’s. The MCC librarians were very helpfull and I was able to read MCC minutes from the 1930s whilst keeping an eye on Sky TV showing an odi from Australia. I went for a coffee with a mate of mine in the cafe on the practice ground and the whole place was full of kids coming from and going to nets and competent men walking around with tools and bits of wood. There was a really nice vibe of cricket hunkered down fot the winter. But in general I agree – at Lord’s you’re at a private members’ club and they make sure you don’t forget it. I haven’t been in the new Compton or Edrich stands but the old ones were poor especially downstairs. Oval is better but having been there for the last test the victim of its own success. They’ve crammed in more people than fit in the site and the new stand is aimed at the corporate £ so atmosphere is changing.
    Favourite UK test grounds Edgbaston and Trent Bridge. Rose Bowl functional but lacks atmosphere and spectators, Cardiff awful, haven’t been to Headingley or Old Trafford post refurbishment, both were poor before. Never been to Durham.

  • The thing about Lords from a players point of view is it’s the Mecca of cricket and the Oval is just another cricket ground. As often happens with this in other sports, take Wembley, it leads to a taking for granted by the administrators and the welfare of the fans becomes watered down, the assumption being they’ll always come to watch their country play at its spiritual home, but they’ve built a new and better stadium close by. In Rugby the old Arms Park in Cardiff has been replaced by the more hi-tec Millenium stadium, so it’s not impossible to move locations, albeit a short distance and make it work, but Lords has more tradition than most and it’s slope makes it a unique challenge, especially for bowlers. Though it has to be said the present location is not its original one, but if it did move the MCC based decorum would undoibtedly move with it.
    Institutions will always be slow to react to public demands but the revamped stands there show there is a willingness to move with the times.
    The main problem I’ve always had with the Oval is it’s a great cavern of a place when it’s only got a few thousand in and all the Test grounds have great atmosphere when they’re full. It’s main plus is for the most part it produces better cricket wickets than Lords, especially for test matches. Being a Warwickshire man I’ve always been disappointed with how far you seem to be from the action at both London venues compared to Edgbaston where the stands seem a lot closer to that action.

  • I’ve been to both grounds for internationals this year, they are both lovely and well serviced by public transport. The new stands at Lord’s are a tremendous improvement on the old ones and make a considerable difference. A couple of things I noticed about the two grounds. Firstly Lords has so much more space, not just the nursery ground for the players’ practice but also the much wider concourses for spectators to move some the ground and find places to eat and drink. The second difference is only a minor one but was important to me, Lords has installed lots of drinking fountains to full up water bottles, very welcome, I couldn’t find more than one at the Oval, hopefully this will be solved next year.

  • First of all a bias warning. I have supported Surrey since 1946 and first visited the Oval to watch England v India. The following year, my brother and I went to watch Surrey’s net practice. The players were so intrigued, that they let us bowl to them and I clean bowled Laurrie Fishlock, just before my 10th birthday! Even at the time I din’t think he tried too hard to defend his wicket! My first visit to Lords followed later that year when I had the privilege of watching Dennis Compton score a 100 between Lunch and tea against South Africa. Happy memories!

    Naturally I prefer the Oval for ease of transport. Also, 2 companies I worked for had seats in the Directors box adjacent to the Pavilion with lovely facilities. Therefore my bias. The reason we tend to win more tests at the Oval is obvious. to play a test Lord’s means far much to the visitors than the home side.

    Ron

  • In brief: yes, undoubtedly the Oval is better, and I say that as a die-hard Middlesex supporter. At Lord’s, the ground I have obviously visited most often, non-MCC members are tolerated as a necessary evil. It is not that we are exactly made unwelcome as such, rather that they appear to welcome our money but would prefer if we physically spent as little time as possible on the premises. The famously officious Lords staff are not rude, merely a bit offhand and rather dismissive. I sure they have gone to customer training seminars, but they just can’t seem to help themselves. Above all, in this day and age, I really do object to being told, however politely, how I should dress during my personal leisure time. The elite stuffiness of the MCC’s Lords that the article alludes to is, of course, a social relic that many are, apparently, very keen to be a part of, hence the lengthy waiting list for membership, but I find it quite repellant. It’s nice that my county gets to play at ‘HQ’, but we are no more than tolerated tennants and are constantly reminded as such. In comparison, my visits to the Oval have never been anything other than very pleasant; the ground has a pleasingly straightforward, utilitarian atmosphere and it’s spectator facilities are at least equal to those at Lords. I have found nothing other than a friendly welcome and cheery banter from all at the Oval, even to this evil north Londoner!

  • A nice read for sure. For me, Lord’s has a slight edge because of it’s historical significance but Oval isn’t very far behind either. Speaking of the historical significance of Lord’s, here’s an article about History of Lord’s that you might like.

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