I suppose it’s acceptable to reminisce a little when you’re retired. We can build that in, right? I’m just going to mention cricket. I’ve been meaning to mention it before in this, what we call, Ashes year. For the rest of the long history of England v Australia cricket it would have been called either the Ashes summer or the Ashes series. This year, because of interference from that usurper, one day cricket in the form of the cricket World Cup (pains me to give it capitals), the two Test match series are being played back to back. This is the halfway point. We beat them in the home series but the away leg could be very different. It’s just about to start. It surprises me just how much this contest means to me. To continue to care when retired is a good thing, right? That’s why this blog is in the ‘how to have a happy retirement’ section. It’s important to continue caring
Maybe I care about cricket because cricket means more to me than any other sport with the possible exception of football, and maybe rugby. I played cricket far longer than the other two. I played at a number of levels – poor, very poor, shite – for nearly 40 years. Even now, about 10 years after I retired from the game, I find it difficult to pass a game of village or league cricket without stopping to watch.
I realised the other day that what I loved about the game when I played, and it wasn’t my skill levels, was the language of the game. At elite level listening to the commentators on Sky it could be a different game from ‘my day’. Now the words used are –gun player, cow, death overs, a great set. In the old days these would have been – best player/star, long on or possibly cow corner, the final overs of the game and a good over with variations. That’s progress, the game moves on and so does the language.
I have written elsewhere that I never belonged to any human group but I have to admit that this is not strictly true. In the case of cricket, it’s not true at all. In the case of the team I played for I was involved at many different levels. I was all things – cricketer (not very good wicketkeeper); Sunday captain, assistant groundsman, grass cutter and general dogsbody, fund raiser, after-dinner speaker at annual dinners, committee member and all roles in between. But my proudest moments came as editor of the club magazine ‘Broomsticks’ named after the club St Chads Broomfield.
We were lucky, or I was as the editor, to have a genuinely talented set of writers all of whom could be relied upon to provide regular and funny articles. Playing regularly for the Sunday side, where wit and piss taking were at least as equally valued as actual cricketing performance, provided many opportunities for later story-telling. I’ll fondly remember just one such story were language figured. We were playing on tour, Morecambe if I remember, and one rarely did so great was the alcoholic intake on these weekend tours. One of our fielders was having, as they say, a torrid time in the field, fielding errors, dropped catches, the usual catalogue of cock ups. My mates and I were watching from the score box. Our unfortunate teammate dropped yet another catch and our captain, in an effort to be encouraging shouted, “Pick your head up, Paul.” My friend shouted, “fucking hell, he’s not dropped that as well.” Well maybe you had to be there.
There was language of a different sort at a game I watched this summer up in Nidderdale and it’s not what you think. Normally the exhortations to greater deeds can be dull. ‘Come on lads,’ sort of thing. This game was somewhat different. What struck me during this game was he sheer creativity of naming team mates thus – Danny / lad; Davey / boy; Si / son; Si / lad; Craigy / pal; Billy / buddy; Jack / fella and Phil /mate – wow, the richness, we sat in tantalised anticipation waiting for the next bit of nomenclature. We, of course, had the ubiquitous ‘well bowled, big man’ and one I just had to write down so surreal was it. “take your diving suit off, big man.” This as ‘big man’ was coming on to bowl. I swear that was what was said but of course I hardly liked to ask them to repeat it.
Let me finish this modest offering by quoting a lovely piece of writing (and there are many excellent cricket writers, past and present) this from The Guardian (20.7.13) Barney Rowan wrote of Tim Bresnan ‘It was Bresnan who made the early breakthrough on his return to the team running in as ever with that sense of weaving, lop-sided determination, resembling in his run up a man very determinedly sheltering his kebab while sprinting full pelt for the last (night) bus.’
Marvelous, you don’t get much of that in writing about other sports. That’s one reason why I continue to care about cricket in my retirement. The other is, of course, an overwhelming need to beat the Aussies.