Sport at its best, at its most thrilling, is all about how you experience it. Memories entrenched by the manner in which you feel victory or defeat. I can still remember clearly the last time I went through all this. I was 8 and in my first year at Bidbury Middle School and I was sitting cross legged in assembly unusually facing the windows at the entrance (where we used to face the curtains blocking off the corridor). As we listened to whichever teacher was taking the assembly, the aging 3rd year teacher Mr Harrison rushed in behind us clearly, now I think of it, from having sneaked off from assembly to tune into TMS in the staff room.
We all turned round, and he asked us all if we liked cricket. Everyone, as kids do, replied ‘yeahhh’, trailing off in that manner which suggests you wish to impress but are not entirely confident of what indeed you do think on the subject. I’ll be honest, and at that point of my life, I don’t think I had given cricket that much thought. Nevertheless, when Mr Harrison, a gracious but strict man probably in his early 60’s, told us that England has won the Ashes, I was not alone in cheering with confused delight.
Something must have clicked that day, or set some kind of train in motion as I was certainly more aware of players like Ian Botham and Mike Gatting from then on. Interest turned to love though during the 1988 West Indies blackwash, so you can’t say my full baptism was a result of quasi-nationalistic fervour or media hype, as that and the following year’s Ashes were largely a shambles, a myriad of captains and largely unsuitable players got through in a period of chaotic indecision. Nonetheless I was inspired to take up the game starting with Havant Colts, through to the Warblington Secondary School team finishing, far too prematurely I now regret, at the age of 16 with a 1994 club cricket season with Bedhampton Mariners.
I began as a medium pacer, switched to orthodox finger spin (just to be different, as always) and ended up a pretty reasonable fast bowler (best school figures 3.5o-2m-2r-6w, best club figures are lost in the scorebooks of time but it was, I think, a 4-fer v Hambledon 4ths) once I’d passed 6 feet in height. I opened the batting in Boycott/Hoggard style for the school XI, but was found out on Saturday afternoons, propping up my ten team-mates as a pretty useless jack, cross batting the odd four back past the bowler before usually getting skittled through a wide, flapping gate.
I couldn’t have been somebody. Not a chance.
That’s why I savour these memories and wish I hadn’t done the all-too-teenage thing of losing interest once beer and women were discovered. Music can also shoulder some of the blame.
I will admit that during the late 90’s my love for the game dipped significantly, possibly because I was no longer involved, possibly as a result of a feeling of ennui surrounding the game in England at that point. I think it was reborn in the middle of 2003, despite regular annual trips to watch Hampshire at Northlands Road, the United Services Ground in Portsmouth and the Rose Bowl and regular reading of scorecards in the paper. It was the first test of Michael Vaughan’s captaincy after Nasser Hussain’s sudden departure. England were getting hammered at Lords and clearly about to lose by an innings to South Africa, but yet Andrew Flintoff was bashing them around and out of the park in Custer-like fashion for 142. I found the whole thing quite emotional and it kick-started a realisation that I had missed the game.
More than it has missed me, no doubt.
Bookending: Part 2, Part 3