David Gower is the latest big name to speak out against the decision to cancel the annual matches Eton v Harrow and Oxford v Cambridge
David Gower today urged Lord’s not to throw away the age-old tradition of Eton v Harrow and Oxford v Cambridge every year – abolished from next summer in a diversity campaign.
The former England cricket captain, 65, who didn’t go to one of those schools or universities is the last big name to oppose the decision to replace the fixtures in 2023.
The traditional 197-year-old games are now likely to be played on school and college grounds.
But one A special AGM has been called next week – where disgruntled Lord’s members will try to reinstate the matches, alleging they have not been properly consulted.
It comes after pressure from ‘anti-sexism’ campaigners who protested the Oxbridge Varsity last summer and demanded that the women’s version take place alongside the men in the ‘Home of Cricket’.
Gower told The Times: ‘I recognize MCC’s plans for inclusivity, but history is one of the most important elements at Lord’s and the traditional matches, as well as new competitions, need to be included.
“It is perfectly possible to play both and that is the opinion of people, ground crew, who have looked after the ground. The Club Final and Village Final, which I attended last weekend, were played on the same field, which was almost in the Mound Stand. If you are a club or village cricketer the edge of the square will do.
‘Sixty years ago there were 92 days on the program and now there is more sod and the soil drains easily. I don’t know how the club got to this state – I don’t even know who’s on the committee.’
Eton v Harrow first started in 1805 – when Lord Byron played, despite his club foot – and is the longest running regular league in the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). (Pictured: Schoolboys arrive in July 1937 for the Eton v Harrow match)
The traditional matches are now likely to be played on school and college grounds in the future. (Spectators at a historic Eton v Harrow game enjoy a walk on the outfield during the lunch hour)
Eton pupils taunt rival supporters during the annual Eton v Harrow cricket match at Lord’s
Eton v Harrow first started in 1805 – when Lord Byron played, despite his club foot – and is the longest running regular league in the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), with the first Oxbridge Varsity taking place in 1827.
The University Match: 197-year-old Oxford-Cambridge cricket match that predates even the famous Boat Race
When most people think of Oxford versus Cambridge, the image comes to mind of two boats sailing side by side on the River Thames.
But the two universities clashed in cricket before facing each other on the water.
The first varsity cricket match between the two universities took place in 1827 – two years before the first Boat Race.
Like the Boat Race, it was organized by the scholar Charles Wordsworth – who was an enthusiast for both sports.
Students from both sides played a two-day match at Lord’s that year, with neither side able to take the win.
Held sporadically for the next 10 years, the event became an annual event after 1840 – a competition won by Cambridge.
Cambridge University’s Majid Khan gets the ball past the first slip during the 1970 Oxbridge Varsity match
It was traditionally a three-day program and until the Second World War it was one of the most important cricket matches of the season.
From 2001, the match has been replaced by two matches a year – a one-day match played at Lord’s and a four-day first-class match played every other year at Oxford or Cambridge.
Of the 176 games scheduled, Cambridge has won 61, Oxford won 58 and drawn 56.
A match in 1988 was abandoned without a ball being thrown.
In 2008, a T20 fixture was also played for the first time.
But after nearly 200 years, the MCC is looking to expand the number of people allowed to play on the sacred turf.
Bosses choose to host more finals of competitions at all levels and also find space for shortened versions of the game, such as the Twenty20 matches of The Hundred and Middlesex.
Old boys from Eton and the other affected institutions, along with former MCC committee members, labeled the move “disappointing” and “sad” when it was announced in February.
“These decisions have not been taken lightly,” an MCC spokesperson told the Times.
“We want to increase the playing opportunities and broaden the options for cricketers to fulfill their ambition to play at Lord’s.”
Members of the 18,500-strong MCC said they were upset by the news and claimed they had not been consulted about the change.
Cricket commentator Henry Blofeld, who has competed in both events, told the Times: “I suppose the ‘antis’ will cheer and old bastards like me will be sad.
“It’s inevitable with the way society has changed.”
Robert Griffiths, a graduate of Oxford, QC, who was a member of the MCC committee for nearly 20 years, said he was “surprised and saddened” by the development, adding that the two matches were always believed to be “emblematic and symbolic in reflecting the traditions of the game’ .’
He added: “Perhaps the committee should reconsider the historical roots of the game. Diversification doesn’t mean letting go of cricket traditions.’
Charles Fry, a former chairman of the MCC, added: “I would rather the club continue with history because that is what makes Lord’s so special.
“Nobody talked to me about it.”
Meanwhile, John Barclay, a former Eton captain and ex-MCC president, commented: “This is a disappointment, but no surprise and understandable.
“In fact, when I was captain of Eton in 1970, we played at Harrow because of problems during the planned tour of South Africa.”
A group called Stump Out Sexism then demanded that the Oxbridge Varsity match be banned until they both agreed to play a women’s match alongside the men.
They held a demonstration outside the Grace Gates before the game last year.
They said in a statement at the time: “The MCC has control over their own calendar and thus has the power to influence the parameters of match invites and raise the bar even higher.
“Therefore, we are asking the MCC to specify that the offer of next year’s Oxbridge Varsity match to be played on the main pitch is entirely dependent on the equal involvement of both the men’s and women’s teams.
“If the clubs continue to insist that a date should be exclusively for the men, the invitation should be withdrawn.”
This year in June, Oxford and Cambridge Twenty20 matches will be played on the same day for both men and women. Pictured: Cambridge team celebrating at Lord’s 2017 men’s match
The statement added: “This should not just be an arrangement for next year, but rather for all future Oxbridge Varsity matches at Lord’s.”
Male Oxbridge students have been competing on the famed grounds since 1827.
But the women’s game has never been played at Lord’s, but is played on the grounds at the two universities.
Lord’s is arguably the world’s most famous cricket ground and is commonly referred to as the ‘Home of Cricket’.
Named after its founder, professional cricketer Thomas Lord, it was first established in 1817 – although it has moved twice.
It is owned by Marylebone Cricket who are: famous for setting the rules of cricket.
But is also known for being somewhat old-fashioned and slow with the times.
Members are still required to wear suits or tailored jackets with ties in the famous pavilion and there is a ban on spectator dressing up – which is unusual compared to other grounds.