Understanding about the importance of the cricket pavilion
Irrefutably, they come in all shapes and sizes. Without exception, their interiors have been the backcloth for agony and ecstasy and everything between, individual and collective. Here, coach and captain will issue their briefings before play, or exhortations to do better after lunch or tea. Here, inquests will be held after defeat, or champagne corks may pop in celebration of victory.
Here, too, bats might be flung down in fury by batsmen who believe that they have been unfairly triggered by an incompetent umpire. And it can be a lot worse than that. More than one fortuitously situated plate of glass in a door or a window has been shattered over the years as returning players have given still fuller vent to their disgust.
When a batsman has been controversially dismissed, the dressing room can be an inner sanctum. It is wise to leave him there on his own for a little while, to vent his spleen and re-emerge in his own time. Conversely, if he has returned in triumph after completing a century, the same room will, in a trice, be in a ferment of back-slapping and celebration. The spirit of cricket embraces a certain degree of decorum on the field; in the pavilion there is the chance to unwind, to let off steam.
Other functions vary enormously. On a first visit to a ground, word may get around that the showers are indifferent, or worse. Suspiciously, pessimistically, the first player bold enough to experiment will take tentative steps to establish the truth. By the time he gets to grapple gingerly with the tap and heat adjuster, he may already have discovered that the use of the plural was an exaggeration, that there is only one shower for eleven people, and that it is cold, or lukewarm, or produces little more than a dribble. Then again, it might only be when he is covered from head to toe in soap and shampoo that the heat adjuster does not work and by the time he wants to rinse off the lather that the water is, by now, some way beyond boiling point.
And then of course there is the food upon which so much of a club’s reputation may depend. What will appear for tea? Will there be smoked salmon in the sandwiches, or boring old fishpaste? Is the bread fresh? Will there be scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream, and if so, what are the chances of getting back on to the field? And what next? With a following wind, a sumptuous chocolate cake, made that day by the home captain’s mother. And crucially, will the tea itself be of the right strength?
As the grade of pavilion rises, so the facilities improve. A bar perhaps, with glory be – draught beer, or at least some bottles and cans to open and unwind with at close of play. Possibly even an integrated score box and board, enabling the inevitable scoring shift to be worked in some degree of comfort. And then the trimmings, serried ranks of framed photographs of bygone elevens, badges and mottos, honours boards, a flagstaff, perhaps even two. And maybe there will even be the luxury of a television, for monitoring England’s progress in the Test.
Of course, if you get to play in a Test, or even at first-class level, you can expect all this and more. Pavilions at county grounds are far more substantial, and include large public areas where members can take their ease. Aesthetically they vary, and at some grounds the areas reserved for the players are no longer in a pavilion at all, as at Headingley where they are hidden within the huge complex of the football stand. The former pavilion there, a prosaic brick-built affair, is now used as the Yorkshire County Cricket Club offices.
For more than a century the last word in pavilions, in England and probably the world, has adorned Lord’s Cricket Ground in its Victorian splendour. Designed in 1889 by the architect FT Verity, who also had a hand in the design of the Royal Albert Hall 18 years earlier, it is the third to be built at cricket’s headquarters. The first burned down in 1825, and its replacement was dismantled to make room for the present building, rebuilt on a Sussex estate and eventually demolished to make way for property development nearly a century later.
No such upheaval could possibly be envisaged for the existing structure, which was built to symbolise the Marylebone Cricket Club’s then preeminent status in the game. It has only once been closed, in the winter of 2004/5 for a multi-million pound refurbishment. It boasts two large towers at either end, each sporting the MCC monogram and flagpoles, up which are run the representative dusters of the two participating teams. There is a changing room in each tower, from which progress to the middle of the pitch is a comparatively lengthy process.
After descending almost to ground level, the incoming batsman passes through cricket’s hallowed hall, the Long Room, where he will cross with his outgoing team mate before going out through the door, down a gentle stone stairway between the benches populated by MCC members, before he finally sets foot on the sacred turf. Provided, that is, he has not taken a wrong turning, as Northamptonshire’s David Steele did as he was going out to play his maiden Test innings, inadvertently going down an extra staircase and emerging, not in the open air, but in the club conveniences. In a building not associated with the lighter side of cricket, he would have encountered a delightfully whimsical piece of humour. The doors are not. labelled ‘In’ and ‘Out’, but ‘Out’ and ‘Not Out’.
Since the pavilion was built, the MCC’s administrative powers have diminished, passing in the main to the body now known as the England and Wales Cricket Board, whose offices are at the other end of the ground. But the MCC continues to be the guardian of the Laws of Cricket, and its officers still meet in the Committee Room in the pavilion. The Long Room itself is festooned with magnificent pictures and other cricket memorabilia. The building may no longer be the game’s power base, but its serene opulence still carries a certain aura, reflecting the game’s time-honoured traditions like nowhere else on earth.