The lure of the 'home of cricket' proved too great to ignore for legendary left-hander Neil Harvey, one of the greatest Australia has ever produced
Invincible Harvey salutes for final Lord's innings
Neil Harvey's eyes grow wistful as he gazes from his seat in the Tavern Stand upon the venerated playing arena he first visited as a callow 19-year-old, more than seven decades earlier, in the company of greatness.
Harvey, who turns 91 in October, is the last surviving member of arguably the most revered Australia men's cricket team to tour England – Don Bradman's 'Invincibles' who spent almost five months in the UK during 1948 and played 31 first-class matches, losing none of them.
There is much that stirs Harvey's heart as he walks through the heavy cast-iron Grace Gates and along the narrow bitumen roadway that leads directly to the rust-red pavilion.Image Id: 8EFF9ED2AF3140059D4ED693471C59F2 Image Caption: The 1948 'Invincibles' assemble outside the Grace Gates at Lord's. Harvey is fifth from the left // Getty
So much has changed since he first made that walk in the shadow of World War Two – the grandstands that flank the heritage-protected main building, the media centre that hovers above the Nursery End like a Bond villain's lair, the LED-lit advertising screens that obliterate the quaint white wooden perimeter fence.
But there are many less tangible elements of the Lord's experience that remain unchanged for the man regarded among the premier left-handers to have batted for Australia, and whose solitary match as Test skipper was at Lord's in 1961.
"This is the only ground I look forward to coming back to," Harvey told cricket.com.au early on day three of the second Ashes Test, before London's fickle late-summer weather curtailed another day's play.
"I love the history of the place.
"I'm an old bloke from way back who's studied history a bit, especially the history of this game, and I've been here so many times now.
"It always looks immaculate, the ground looks absolutely superb and there's nothing quite like it.
"When this ground is full and the sun's out, there's not much better sight anywhere in the world."Image Id: 187C7BD9532E46B8A9BC2BBCBA3110AF Image Caption: No cricket ground does pomp like Lord's // Getty
Lord's was largely full during a compelling first session on Friday, but the sun did not make an appearance and, eventually, rain won the day.
It had been an even bleaker scene on Wednesday, when wet weather prevented so much as a coin toss, but amid the damp Harvey found a corner of the ground – to which he's made so many pilgrimages – that had been previously unexplored.
As testament to his standing, even in a setting so steeped in pomp as Lord's, Harvey and his son, Robert, were invited to lunch within the sanctum of the Marylebone Cricket Club committee room.
It's the annexure to the famed Long Room, and the place where members of the Royal Family are entertained on the occasions they visit their local cricket ground.Image Id: 0D4B17DC64074BDB840BCE5344CA21C2 Image Caption: Neil Harvey at a 2005 Invincibles celebration // Getty
"That's something I hadn't done before," Harvey said, his eyes shifting from the centre wicket where Steve Smith and Travis Head were trying to buttress Australia against imminent collapse, to the large glass window immediately beneath the England dressing room.
"It was a lovely lunch in the Committee Room, so there's always something new I can do here."
Harvey undertook four Ashes tours to England – in 1948, 1953, 1956 and 1961 – but his most treasured memories derive from the first campaign, one that has served as the yardstick for every team to have departed Australia on an Ashes quest since Bradman retired at the series' end.
Partly, Harvey's fondness stems from his youthful inexperience and the eye-opening effect of leaving Melbourne's inner-city tenements, where he had been born at the height of the Great Depression, for 144 days in post-war Britain.Image Id: 557479A87F074FFAA32295ABF2EAE2B6 Image Caption: The 1948 Australians – Neil Harvey is back right // Getty
He also harbours strong recollections of his one and only tour with Bradman who turned 40 during that series and therefore became a father figure to the precociously talented but unworldly teenager who had arrived in Test cricket during the previous Australia summer.
Harvey didn't play the Test at Lord's in 1948.
Indeed, he had featured in 10 of the 14 first-class fixtures Bradman's team contested ahead of that second Test and struggled in his initial innings on England pitches, failing to reach 25 in his first six hits.
So the worried youngster sought feedback from his skipper and the pre-eminent player to have graced a cricket field, albeit observing the convoluted protocols of the time.Image Id: A9DE2BC806064E358CD9588043F168FD Image Caption: Shane Warne and Neil Harvey were both named in Australia's Test Team of the 20th century // Getty
"Due to the age difference, I never got any advice from him (Bradman) at all, at any stage," Harvey recalled.
"I delivered all those questions to my teammates – (Keith) Miller, and (Syd) Barnes, and (Arthur) Morris, those sorts of people.
"If I wanted to know something, I'd ask them first.
"The only thing that Bradman ever told me - because when I first came over here in my first four or five games I was averaging seven, and I couldn't work out the movement off the pitch too well.
"So I got my roommate Sammy Loxton, who was a good mate of Don's, I said to him 'Sammy, do me a favour and go to the boss and ask him what I'm doing wrong'.
"So he went to Bradman and said 'my little mate, he's not making too many runs at the moment, can you tell him what he's doing wrong'.
"And the message came back the same way, from Bradman who said to Sammy 'you tell your little mate, the only thing I can tell him is if he keeps the ball on the ground, he can't get out'."Image Id: 0D13746B655D47FB92C19C797BDB74B7 Image Caption: Neil Harvey after hitting a ton at Leeds in 1948 // Getty
It's not only the more open communication channels that have evolved since Harvey played his final Test, against England at the SCG in 1963, and retired with 6149 runs at an average of 48.41.
He laments the encroachment of boundary ropes at the Test venues where he once played, noting that one of the eccentricities of Lord's is the sharp slope in front of the pavilion which often prevented a well-hit stroke making it all the way to the fence.
And then there's the inversely exponential growth in the dimension of cricket bats which, in tandem with the preponderance of flat, lifeless pitches the world over, has tilted the game's balance too heavily against bowlers, in Harvey's opinion.
"You can average much more as a batsman now, because of the bats they use and on the flat wickets," he said.
"The bats they use seem to be jet-propelled to me.Image Id: 923292B1FD25442898F2836991EFEDA3 Image Caption: Neil Harvey was vice-captain to Richie Benaud on the 1961 Ashes tour // Getty
"We had to have a follow through to hit a cover drive, you had to finish with the bat above your shoulders.
"Now it's just a punch, and it races away.
"Plus we played on uncovered wickets – Bradman played all his career on uncovered wickets, I played half my career on uncovered wickets.
"But now they're all protected, and most of the wickets around the world are as flat as you can get.
"So when you come over here and there's a bit of grass on the wicket, and suddenly there's a bit of movement, that gives the bowler a chance as we're seeing today.
"But with all the changes, it's become a batsman's game, and if you can't average 45-plus nowadays I think you're a failure."Image Id: EE2C838F694849EFB1A8C4DE3C55960E Image Caption: Neil Harvey was inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame at Lord's during the 2009 Ashes Test// Getty
And then there's the comparison that rankles most of all.
While the comparisons between Don Bradman and Steve Smith are understandable, given they stand first and second on the list of averages for all Test batters to have played 20 matches or more, Harvey sees them as spurious.
So unrecognisable are elements of cricket from when he was sneaking glimpses of Bradman from the players' balcony or – as was the case when Australia successfully chased an unthinkable 404 in the fourth innings at Headingley in 1948 – in the middle with him, Harvey won't even entertain the suggestion of shared traits between the pair.Image Id: 8568935986CA40179FEE1FF7EAF2A471 Image Caption: Sir Donald Bradman in action on the 1948 tour // Getty
"There's not the slightest bit of similarity," he said, anticipating the question with the alacrity and timing that characterised so many of his 461 first-class innings.
"Smith's got more movements than a Swiss watch, to start with.
"Bradman's bat weighed two pounds, two ounces – what Smith's weighs I don't know, but it's got to be close to three pounds I'd suppose.
"It's just useless saying 'he's as good as Bradman'.
"In my opinion, nobody will be as good as that.
"But he (Smith) has done marvelously well, and I appreciate what he's done.
"He's good to watch, and he's going to go down in the annals as one of the game's greats by the time he's finished."
However, Harvey doubts he will be sat in the stands, or in the comfortable confines of the Committee Room, when Australia (most likely with Smith in their number) next return to Lord's for an Ashes Test four years from now.
"I've got a lot of beautiful memories here, and it's the history of the place that keeps bringing me back," Harvey said, making another wide-eyed sweep of the stadium to drink it all in.
"So I just had to come back one last time.
"I just hope I can get through it."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Moeen Ali, Jimmy Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Olly Stone, Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia beat England by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: August 14-18,Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval