It has been described as “the most evocative four walls in world cricket” and somewhere to watch the game in an atmosphere of almost monastic calm, far from the madding crowd.
Yet the usually tranquil Long Room at Lord’s became a seething cauldron of hate on Sunday as Marylebone Cricket Club members abused Australia players returning from the field during a lunch break on the last day of the second Ashes Test following the controversial dismissal of England’s Jonny Bairstow.
They, and spectators around the ground, were incensed by an incident where Australia wicketkeeper Alex Carey threw the ball at the stumps after Bairstow walked out of his crease after ducking under a Cameron Green bouncer.
Bairstow seemingly believed the ball was dead at the end of the over but, following a referral by his colleagues in the middle, TV umpire Marais Erasmus confirmed the batsman had been stumped.
The usually sedate crowd at the ‘Home of Cricket’ responded by chanting “Same old Aussies, always cheating” while boos rang around the famous old venue in northwest London for several minutes.
Australia, despite a stunning 155 from England captain Ben Stokes, eventually won the match by 43 runs to take a 2-0 lead in the five-match Ashes series.
Usman Khawaja was pulled back by security after speaking to one the members inside the long room 😳
🗣️ “I’ve NEVER seen scenes like that!” pic.twitter.com/2RnjiNssfw
— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) July 2, 2023
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) July 2, 2023
An embarrassed MCC later issued an “unreserved apology” to the touring side, with club secretary Guy Lavender adding three members “directly involved” in the lunchtime flare-up had been suspended immediately pending an investigation.
Lord’s had seen nothing quite like it since the 1980 Centenary Test between England and Australia, when umpire David Constant was manhandled on his way into the pavilion by members angry at a lack of play following several rain delays.
Few sports make such a fuss about the ‘spirit of the game’ as cricket.
The MCC remains deeply concerned as it still retains worldwide responsibility for cricket’s extensive rules, or laws as they are known, even though it is more than 50 years since it ceased running the English game.
The Bairstow row was a classic of the kind, with even England captain Ben Stokes accepting Erasmus had made the correct decision but questioning whether Australia ought to have proceeded with the appeal.
Built in 1889-90, the Lord’s pavilion remains one of the most famous buildings in world cricket. Portraits of the game’s greats from WG Grace to modern-day heroes adorn the walls of the Long Room, which spans almost the length of the ground floor – hence its name.
The biggest problem for cricketers unfamiliar with Lord’s has often been finding their way out of the dressing rooms near the top of the pavilion and through the Long Room before entering the field, with England batsman David Steele getting lost on his Test debut in 1975 and ending up in the basement toilets.
It wasn’t until 1998 that women were allowed in the pavilion after the MCC voted to admit female members thereby ending more than 200 years as a men-only club, although an exception had long been made for Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.
There is now roughly a 20-year wait to join MCC’s 18,000 strong membership and follow the likes of British prime ministers Alec Douglas-Home and John Major, as well as rock star Mick Jagger and actor and comedian Stephen Fry, the current MCC president, in watching cricket from the Long Room.
Former Australia batsman and coach Justin Langer once said walking through the Long Room was like “being bearhugged by an invisible spirit”.
There was little “invisible”, however, about Sunday’s fracas, with TV cameras capturing a heated exchange between MCC members and both Australia’s Usman Khawaja and David Warner.
“MCC apologised for the behaviour of some of the members,” said Australia captain Pat Cummins. “Some of them might lose their membership over the way they behaved. Other than that one time, they were fantastic all week.”
Cummins, in comments that will really sting MCC’s hierarchy, then referenced the notoriously raucous Birmingham venue for the series opener.
“I think just standards that are held by the members are maybe a bit different to what you expect from certain members of the crowd at Edgbaston,” he said.
© Agence France-Presse