Despite pushing 40 years of age, I still get very excited about a game of cricket, even when it is a flight away from Zurich, where I live, and a 5am wake up call to make sure I get to Kew Gardens on time for the start.
So, trying to explain the intricacies of cricket to a middle aged Swiss-German lady at a dinner the week before had its challenges, particularly when discussing the five-day format. Her reply was typical and totally understandable.
“Why do you wear white trousers and how can you possible play for five days? Wait, are you telling me that even after five whole days there still may not be a result?”
Thankfully, I had not even got to the LBW law yet. I digress, but that is part of the reason why I love cricket and have done so ever since I donned my father`s 1940`s pads in my first ever game against Bilton Grange School in 1985.
It is a wonderfully weird game and even for us ever-hopeful amateurs, cricket continues to evolve at a rate of knots. Many is the Sunday afternoon I have had playing somewhere in the middle of nowhere in England, complete with hangover, sidestepping cowpats when walking to the crease, taking guard in a puddle and wiping rain off my cap ready for the first ball.
The great thing about village cricket is that it is constantly entertaining. You have all kinds of characters who come out of the woodwork in readiness for the season. Take for example the rapid transformation of mild-mannered David (not his real name), who works in IT during the week, and then come 11.30 on a Saturday morning is a credible version of a snarling Glen McGrath.
So it was with great pleasure that I brought my reading companion for what should have been an easy hour`s flight over to Luton on a recent Sunday morning. The book in question was the legendary, `Penguins stopped play` by Harry Thompson. If you have not read it, do; you will not be disappointed, especially if you like sport, let alone cricket. It is all about the hilarities of English village cricket, from the makings of a team through to touring the world with a bunch of indomitable characters from all walks of life.
Quite simply, if you have played cricket in England over a number of years you will deeply relate to Thompson`s book. From tracking down drunken team members from a Geneva strip club in order to get them sober for the Swiss cricket team through to driving frantically up and down the A1 every weekend, horribly late, cursing the gathering storm clouds.
My sense of humour was not dented in the slightest as my cricket gear was still at Zurich airport when I touched down in Mother England late on the Sunday morning. A detour to Lilywhites, the only sports shop open in England on a Sunday, to buy some whites delayed me by an hour for the start of play at Kew Gardens.
My blessed skipper Hunchy said a cautious well done for getting there and then threw me the ball. Given that I hadn`t turned my arm over in two years; this was a concern, particularly in my bright blue trainers and very tight, hastily bought cricket whites.
You see this was my coming home game. My late father took me to the cricket pitch in Kew when I was six and I can remember it as if it were yesterday. Nestled cozily in front of Kew Gardens and protected by the church of St. Anne`s, this ground is one of the best in London. I grew up across the road and ever since dad took me there, I have been trying to replicate David Gower`s stroke play (nowhere near to the great man, sadly).
It may be strange to many that 11 blokes get together all in white, of all differing stages of fitness and age, but to us it is totally normal. Every game you get the banter and the supposed cricketing expertise.
“Yes lad, that swung a mile, cut back in, nipped back and clipped middle. “
To a normal person, this may sound like a traffic incident on the motorway, but to us cricketers… well, we live for it. Of course, the likely reason why the batsman was bowled was not through a huge in-swinging yorker like Waqar Younis, more because the ball hit a piece of mud and diverted from its original direction of being a wide.
There are of course many shrugs, angry mutters, hands on hips, yelps of frustration as a ball hurtles towards the boundary just like what we see on television. But at the end of the game, it is “well played, mate”, beers are cracked open and thankfully nothing as sophisticated as a warm down, instead it is to the bar (another reason why cricket is hugely underrated as a sport).
I am all for the game continuing to evolve; Twenty-20, one dayers, Test matches – I’ll take them all. We amateurs love the thought of stepping down the pitch in the first over of a game to try and hit some sixes like the Glen Maxwell`s and Chris Gayle’s of the world. Never did I think Adidas would become the prime cricket bat manufacturer but good on them, because holding their bat is like holding a featherweight tree trunk. Cricket needs to change to keep the punters interested and how good is it to see Test matches where 400 runs are scored in one day?
That game in Kew emphasized why village cricket is alive and well in England. Despite the expansion of girths and receding of hairlines, we still get excited by the prospect of bat versus ball and can still take the field even when we are a bit past our prime.
That said, the cricketing gods are not always going to be on your side, as I found out to my cost when I was out fourth ball for a resounding 0. Queue the complaints, the savage injustice of it all, but I hope I will be doing it again next year and for many years to come.
For now it’s over to you lot down under, as your new summer of cricket beckons.
TOP IMAGE: English village cricket (By David Pickersgill via WikiCommons)