Eton pupils cheer on their team in the school's match against Harrow at Lord's

London (AFP) - Change is in the air in Britain. The country has a new king and a prime minister of Indian descent. Yet on cricket’s most hallowed ground, two elite schools on Friday played out the latest act in a 200-year-old drama.

The famous “hush” that descends on Lord’s during Test matches was replaced by raucous chanting from knots of pupils supporting Eton and Harrow, two centuries-old all-boys schools.

“No noise from the strawberry boys,” shouted Harrow pupils in the upper tier of the Tavern stand, a reference to the blazers worn by pupils of their rival school.

Eton and Harrow prepare to face each other at Lord's -- a fixture that dates back to 1805

Eton boys in the nearby Mound Stand replied: “Twenty Prime Ministers”, bragging about the number of leaders they have produced, including recent British PMs David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

The school also counts Prince William and Prince Harry among its former pupils.

The boisterous chanting made way for polite applause as Harrow’s Charlie Nelson completed a hundred under heavy skies at the “Home of Cricket”.

Harrow pose for a team photograph at Lord's

But a rain delay meant the most traditional of fixtures could not escape a modern innovation – a Duckworth-Lewis-Stern recalculation in the second innings of the match.

That a school game is taking place on the same outfield where, in just a few weeks’ time, England and Ireland will meet, might seem an oddity.

But tradition in English cricket dies hard.

Eton and Harrow have played each other since 1805, with the poet George Byron taking part in the inaugural game.

MCC members wait outside Lord's ahead of the Eton v Harrow cricket match

And yet had Marylebone Cricket Club officials had their way, Friday’s match might have been the last time Lord’s staged the fixture.

The MCC, which owns Lord’s, announced last year that matches between Eton and Harrow and between Oxford and Cambridge universities would no longer be played in leafy northwest London.

- ‘Snobbery and elitism’ -

Actor and author Stephen Fry, in his capacity as incoming MCC president, spoke in support of the changes and said they would help challenge a “turgid image of snobbery and elitism”.

But the decision prompted a furious outcry from some sections of the 23,000-strong MCC membership, who narrowly voted to give the match a stay of execution.

The MCC has agreed to a five-year extension of both fixtures starting in 2024, with a further review to take place in 2027.

Eton players take to the field at Lord's

For some among a crowd of several hundred at Lord’s on Friday, all the fuss was perplexing.

“I don’t really understand the reasoning – why do they want to cancel it? It’s a great occasion and part of the history of this ground,” Old Harrovian Robert Kawkabani, 26, told AFP.

Kawkabani’s younger brother is in his final year at Harrow and their mother, Tanis Kawkabani, added: “I’m so glad they (MCC) came to their senses. I really enjoy the occasion.”

Lord's stages the annual Eton v Harrow match

Officials, however, are desperate for the MCC to rid itself of an elitist image and showcase the work it does developing cricket at all levels in Britain and around the world.

One question thrown up by the recent controversy is whether it can do that credibly and still stage Eton v Harrow at Lord’s?

Archie Berens, representing the Historic Fixtures Group, which had protested against the initial decision, believes it can.

“There is room for old and new, at Lord’s more than anywhere else”, Berens said.

“If the priority for the club is to make it more inclusive and more modern, and that is absolutely right, getting rid of these fixtures as part of that process is probably misguided.”

Harrow schoolboys watch from the team balcony at Lord's

An Old Etonian and an Oxford graduate, Berens also said history had given the schools and the universities concerned the “right” to play at Lord’s.

“History does matter,” he said. “The Eton-Harrow match has been going on since before MCC moved to Lord’s.”

Berens, paying tribute to MCC chief executive Guy Lavender for agreeing a compromise, said the narrowness of the survey poll was “rather like Brexit”.

“Lord’s has got bigger things to worry about and cricket has got more important things to worry about.”

The debate about the relevance of the fixture is bound to rage on, but one cricket tradition that predates even Eton v Harrow will never die – spectators wrapping up warm on a cold and gloomy day.