1997 London: Legendary, for a lot of reasons

July 30 to August 24 1997

We arrived in London to bleak overcast skies. Everyone told me the weather was always miserable. We’d pre arranged accomodation with a couple of fellow blind cricketers. I was staying with a chap named Phil. Duck was staying with a chap called Geoff.

I arrived at his house, quite late and was ready for bed, so he settles me in and we agree to get to know each other in the morning.

I wake early, bloody jet lag. I was greeted by Phil’s two young daughters. They were up watching cartoons. I also meet Phil’s wife, Jane. We chat for a while before Phil emerges. Its a lovelocks family in a quaint little house in Surry. Phil calls Geoff and we arrange to meet up for a BBQ later in the day. During the day though Phil and Jane show me the sights of the local area. Where they were married (a 1,000 year old church, yes 1,000 years old). A cemetery with headstones in three digits, oh my God this place has some history.

Me in front of a 1,000 year old church in Surrey

After a full day out we visit Geoff at his house, with Duck and catch up with a few other blind cricketers. Our stay is mapped out. We have a tour to Stonehenge and Bath planned, a day at the Ashes Test at the Oval, and some blind cricket meetings at Lords with the MCC.

After dinner we head back to Phil’s

The next morning we wake in horror with the news of the Princes of Wales’ death. Duck and I meet up and head to Buckingham Palace. The place is beginning to resemble a flower store and more and more people drop bunches of flowers off mourning the death of the Princess.

Flowers in from to Buckingham Palace.

You can sense a malaise setting in over London. She was a much loved Princess and to have her die in such a tragic way, a car crash, was obviously hitting everyone very hard. Being here at the same time is weird. You visit London in summer expecting fine weather and cheery poms, and instead the nation is in a pall with dark clouds over head. It’s understandable, but weird. The news broadcasts are filled with stories, few probably with the real truth, it’ll be years before we really know what happened, if ever.

Notwithstanding the horror, our trip continues.

We spend time at the Victoria and Albert museum, Henry the Eight’s Castle, Hampton Court, Madam Tussaud’s and Central London.

had previously scored tickets to see Les Miserables on London’s Broadway. So one night on my own I head out and see the show, which is just spectacular. I’m a big fan of the music and enjoy the epic nature of the story.

After a few days of sight seeing, we get down to business. Duck and I meet up with a couple of other delegates and we he’d to St John’s Wood. Lords is our destination.

We arrive and see the gate staff, who let us in for our meeting. We are ushered to the top of the members stand, where we are greeted and welcomed by delegates of the MCC. We talk cricket for a while, before getting down to the real business of the meeting, staging a World Cup of Blind Cricket.

The MCC is very conducive to our idea and offer their full support for an English team as well as tournament support to India. We are over the moon.

We are left in his office for a few minutes and we chat about walking out to the centre of Lords. Everyone is too scared to ask, and when he returns I pipe up and say. “So, Roger, would it be possible to wander out to the centre and see where Glenn McGrath demolished the poms?”

To our surprise, he says, sure, and I’ll show you the change rooms and Long Room as well.

As cricket fanatics we are over the moon. This is our holy grail, our ground zero.

Me and duck at Lords, touching the hallowed turf

We depart his office and walk down a corridor and then down a set of stairs, he open s a door and we are in the Long Room. Essentially, where it all began. The great traditions of the game we love, so lovingly remembered in this room.

From the pioneers of our game: Trumble, WG Grace, to legends, Bradman, Larwood, Lillee, Boycott and so many more, all immortalised here in this room.

After a long and slow look around we enter the players race and venture out onto the ground. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up as we walk the few steps before we hit the grass surface, carpet like in its preparation. The new space ship shaped media centre is under construction, it will feature in an Ashes series or World Cup in a few years time.

We reach the centre wicket, we are standing at the Members end where Glenn McGrath took 8 for 38 a week or so earlier. See a review of that effort below:

https://www.espn.com.au/cricket/story/_/id/20618456/no-11-glenn-mcgrath

We wander the length of the wicket and take in the enormity of the occasion. I can see in my mind’s eye the crowd cheering, the players at the crease, the umpires in their pristine black and white. Old Father Time is in the distance on top of the Mound Stand, lifting the bails symbolising end of play.

Sadly for us, it is also the end of play for our visit. Roger politely escorts us away. The business of the MCC awaits him.

We spend another couple of hours in the museum seeing things such as the real ashes urn, scorecards and bats and balls from series from a time eons ago, but the memories of those games so indelibly marked in the history of the game.

It’s a wonderful visit and a fitting way to end a day.

The next day Duck and do some sightseeing, before we head off to the Oval in a few days time for a blind cricket demonstration during the lunch break.

Phil and Jane are fantastic hosts as they show us around London and its rich history. We visit Parliament, Big Ben, walk across the London Bridge, visit the Tower of London, Traitor’s Gate, Madam Tussaud’s, Trafalgar Square and re-visit Buckingham Palace. The floral tribute to Princess Diana has grown immeasurably. Flowers basically line the full length of the palace. It’s a once in a lifetime image, indelible marked in my memory for a life time.

August 23 comes around and we are off to the cricket, the third day of the sixth Test. Australia were in a strong position, with seven English wickets to capture and England with a narrow lead following the fall of 23 wickets in the first two days.

We watch as more English wickets fall and Duck and I are in a buoyant mood as our English colleagues are in the dumps.

Lunch comes around and we enter the field for a demonstration of English Blind Cricket – using a soccer ball. To Duck and I the game is easy, we are used to the Aussie game with a more traditionally sized ball. So we have some fun lifting the English ball for sixes and fours over the fence to the delight of the crowd.

After lunch we witness a session of cricket that is rare in the modern game. Australia are set a mere 124 runs to win, with more than two day left in the game. We have Mark Taylor, the Waugh brothers and a young gun Ricky Pointing. Surely we will win this game.

Sadly we don’t, Andy Caddick proceeds to demolish the Australian top and middle order and we limp to a measly 104, losing our last five wickets for a paltry 16 runs.

England win the day, but Australia had won the Ashes, 3 games to 2.

As the Ashes conclude, so does our tour and Duck and I head off the next day after a pretty big celebration following the cricket. We have made some strong contacts, built friendships, but most importantly, put Blind Cricket on the map internationally. All is in readiness now for the World Cup in India next year.

See also blog entires for Stonehenge, Cape Town and India that make up part of this trip.

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