Batman Begins (Again) at Lord’s Cricket Academy
Alex Preston goes back to school and gets wood. Or something.
From St John’s Wood Tube, I fancied I could hear – above the din of the taxis barreling down Wellington Road – the sound of willow on leather. It was March and bitterly cold and I was dressed in a pair of white trousers that had last seen the outside of a closet some time in the late 90’s, at a cocktail party in the hills above Nice. Now I was off to play cricket; or rather, to play cricket again.
A keen wicket keeper in my youth, I had allowed the grubby temptations of the city to tempt me from the crease and, like many, I thought my days of standing in slanting English sunshine as the game unfurled around me were long gone. But then a writer friend revived a team initially set up by PG Wodehouse and Arthur Conan Doyle, The Author’s XI, and I suddenly had a summer of sport ahead.
I was filled with horror. All sports are merciless to the nervous and unpractised, but cricket is a particularly lonely pursuit, where all one’s flaws are subjected to microscopic analysis by spectators and team-mates alike. I needed coaching and I needed it fast. Where better to go than the ancient home of the game, Lord’s, with its red-brick pavilion like a mirror of the genteel mansion blocks inhabited by its yellow and orange-tied habitués.
The Lord’s Cricket Academy had a major makeover in 2011 and is now one of the world’s leading centres for teaching the sport. It has bowling machines that look like something from I, Robot, hi-tech Hawkeye monitoring systems, simulated surfaces that mirror the conditions of wickets from all over the cricketing world – such as India, the West Indies and Australia. It is, though, the quality of the coaching staff that puts Lord’s in a league of its own.
I was put through my paces over the course of an hour by a genial Australian who, by the end of the session, had me playing with a straighter bat than I had even when, with far more hair, I had as a gangly teenager. I felt confident enough after the lesson to indulge myself in the true joy of cricket: the kit. The Academy has its own shop which sells everything from high-visibility fielding glasses to hand-crafted bats. I left considerably poorer, but richer in spirit, and will stride onto the pitches this summer with a positive spring.