No 3: A perfect match

Most relationships can be mapped out in significant moments. First date, first kiss, first argument, first time you split the cost of a bus ticket.

We have all of that, and more. But we also have cricket.

We met that glorious summer when Vaughan and Flintoff’s fearless England banished the ghosts of 18 years.

Those were the days. Nervous energy, crazy haircuts, prima donnas taking on the world – plus a constant supply of beers, a never-ending binge.

And that was just the drama students we were prancing around with at the Edinburgh Fringe.

She knew nothing about cricket at first. We went to the pub where I ran through the rules, perched on too high stools, battling the background noise and football fools.

We spent all night in that dirty old joint. She didn’t understand why it was called silly point.

As the famous Edgbaston Test reached its thrilling finale, I was involved in a different kind of theatre. I had let hope go, switched off my radio and headed in as the Aussie tail-enders edged them closer to the win.

For Old Trafford, we were nestled in a corner booth in one of those awful sports bars, all neon lights, stodgy burgers and mounted fake guitars.

We craned our necks up at the plasma TVs as an exhausted Steve Harmison fell to his knees. He couldn’t break through the defensive wall, and it remained one all.

We took the lead on a Cornish clifftop, not far from where, eight years on, we would eventually settle. If not yet with 2.4 children, then certainly with Sky Sports HD and a broken kettle.

This time she waited for Brisbane as I paced the house, listening to Hussain, Gower and Strauss on what could be, what might have been. She endured the sleep-deprived mood swings, made soothing noises, as Clarke won the tosses and Johnson destroyed us.

The last time England surrendered the Ashes, we lived up north. The Humber rolled by and we struggled to find who we wanted to be. Now we run down to a different kind of sea; a different kind of her, and a different kind of me.

We tie each other in knots debating edges and hot-spots. What next for Flower? What now for Swann? And Jimmy, and Matty, and so on, and so on. And one other problem – where do I begin? “Honey, I’m home! We need to talk about Kevin…”

Such talent, such grace, such a fragile, bashful mess. He could have been the greatest, still could yet. When he first showed up, I loved his cheeky grin. But age has built up barriers to keep the baddies out; and creases in his face, to keep his ego in.

Over breakfast we question what the future holds. Pass the jam, mind the cutlery. Stokes or Woakes? Chopra, Ballance? Finny, Rooty, Buttler-y?

We hope to see the day when one of our own strolls through the Long Room, greeted by a roar. “Make way”, they’ll say, “and hold the door. The incoming batsman – the latest of the Blackledge clan at number four.”

By Sam Blackledge

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