No 55: Dharamsala

Small towns are rare in India (by population standards) and probably the rarest you could find an international cricket stadium located in a town with population of merely 25,000. Yes, I am talking about Dharamsala, the home of the Tibetan Government in Exile and its head Dalai Lama. The town is located in Himalayas and has an international cricketing venue – HPCA Stadium which has the capacity to fit over 80% of the town’s population. So what’s the fuss is about? Why is it one of the reasons to love cricket?

Its because of the mesmerizing backdrop you could see while watching cricket. I am not arguing that it is the most comfortable or cozy ground to watch cricket but certainly good enough to take your breadth away!! A unique venue for cricket with an altitude of 4780 ft above sea level allowing you to witness snow capped mountains in the background and feel the cold wind breezing across the stadium. No doubt, it was featured in Cricinfo’s list of top grounds to watch cricket. Add this to your to visit list NOW!!

PS: The population figures are just an estimate116258

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No 53: India vs Pakistan

If you do love sports, you must have given a thought on the most heated and greatest rivalries in international sports atleast once. And your answers would depend a lot on your love for a particular sport, your perspective, age or country. But despite all there are few rivalries in global sports which no one could deny. So, give it a thought and tell me what comes to your mind?

May be the one between the boxing legends of the 70s – “Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali”  OR may be the Spanish football clubs – “Real Madrid vs. Barcelona” OR if you lived on the east coast of the states, you would think of “Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees” OR if you love Latin American nations, your vote would go for “Argentina vs. Brazil” in soccer OR for once you could think of “USA vs. China” in Olympics. I also asked this question to one of my classmates at London Business School wearing our rugby club hoodie and he told me – “Dude, it’s obvious – Australia vs. New Zealand!”. But probably neither of this would make sense to you if you belonged to the Indian subcontinent or love the true gentlemen’s game.

People in the Indian subcontinent think that “India vs. Pakistan in Cricket” is the answer and so does the Wall Street Journal to some extent. The rivalry that has been going on for over six decades brings the Indian subcontinent to a standstill drugging it with jingoism and chauvinism. Two nations, fought three wars and are bitter rivals in every sport they play, have had one of the closest encounters in every form of cricket with many matches going down to the last over.

My childhood memories of this rivalry goes back only to the early 90s when I started understanding this game and the defining moment being the famous tussle between “Venkatesh Prasad and Aamir Sohail” during the 1996 World Cup Quarterfinal match in Bangalore. Prasad, not the quickest among the Indian pack (actually we never had quick bowlers), beautifully answered to Aamir’s sledging (see the video below) by taking his wicket on the very next ball and became an overnight Indian hero. That moments – an Indian triumph, dance on the streets, firecrackers in every corner and even sounds of firing of guns in the air are still intact in my memories. That became the defining moment for me for this IndvsPak rivalry.

When I asked my father, he cited a different example as the defining moment for this rivalry but a bitter one for him and Indian supporters. Chetan Sharma, a hat-trick guy bowler during the 1987 World Cup, became a prey to Javed Miandad when Javed hit a last ball six to take Pakistan to victory in the Australasia Cup final, Sharjah in 1986 (see the video below).

The list doesn’t end here and there are many more games and things to write about IndvsPak. The league match superover and the final of the T20 World Cup 2007, the famous Chennai TestMiandad’s mocking of Kiran More, Sidhu’s anger by showing his bat to Aamir Sohail and Sachin’s cut to Six against Rawalpindi Express (Shoaib Akhtar) are some of the ‘ugly-lovely’ moments. And trust me, this has no end!!

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No 50: Clandestine Updates during Work

5th December 2007 is a day that, perhaps curiously, I will remember for a long time. It was the final day of the first Test of England’s tour of Sri Lanka, in Kandy. Having been nowhere at 130-6, Ian Bell and Matt Prior took England to the brink of saving the match, batting for 45 overs against the indomitable threat of Muttiah Muralitharan.

This I remember so acutely because England collapsed to defeat within the confines of one French lesson. With every wicket that fell, I failed more and more to hide my displeasure as the screen on my portable DAB radio flashed up the bad news. In the end, Hoggard b. Malinga 8 was met with a louder-than-intended pained sigh, alerting the other cricket fans in the room to England’s sudden demise.

What I have just described has been a common quandary for cricket fans for decades. The necessary length of a Test match (even an ODI) means that it will always cut into your work/school day, and your job as a fan was to try and keep abreast of matters as surreptitiously as possible. Top marks always went to the one who could thread an earphone through the arm of their jumper and into the palm of their hand, so they could listen to TMS by “resting” their head. (My strategy during England’s tour of Pakistan in 2005).

Others would be forced into using more intermittent sources – remember, ubiquitous internet is a fairly new phenomenon – and would have to be even more creative to find out the score. The telephone was always an option, either through contacting a friend who had a radio, or via calling one of those score update services whose existence I never knew about until hearing about cricket in “the old days”. You might have used the work phone, or even the phone box down the road to satisfy your cravings. You might even have drawn up a complex plan, using timetables, to work out when the rooms which had working televisions were free, so you could check Ceefax (John Major’s plan of choice).

Rare it is that fans of other sports have to deal with this hardship. Only really during World Cups and Wimbledon do non-cricket fans engage in these activities, as since the widespread advent of floodlights in the 1950s, midweek football games are played at much more convenient times for the English working/scholastic hordes than cricket matches.

As time has gone on and technology has improved, there has been less and less need for these complex strategies – a smartphone on the lap is all one need use. You can even watch the match if you have the opportunity to log onto WiFi, or don’t mind incurring large data roaming charges.

How times have changed from having to conceal a transistor radio in your blazer.

No 45: Disappointment!

This was suggested by one of our other contributors after yet another defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory by an ever more flummoxed [currently] England team. Disappointment is the default mode of most cricket fans, even if you are currently on a high, you just know that sometime, probably soon and certainly well before later, your team is going to disappoint you. You fully understand that a single dropped catch can lead to total meltdown, even within the best teams and before you know it, those celebratory drinks in the pub are more of a wake for what might have been. You have a firm grasp on the laws of cricket sod, can appreciate every nuance of a bad bowling spell just when you needed your most reliable ball chucker to dig you out of a hole; of a golden duck when a 50 is normally easily knocked off by your No3. Whether it’s a Sunday afternoon knockabout or an International fixture, regardless of whether you are urging on South Africa or the South Ambleside 2nd XI [a club entirely of my own invention for literary purposes] matters not, the safest place to view it all from is the boundary of disappointment.

So why I hear you mumble, through the mouthful of bile you are spitting at the latest defeat, is this possibly a cricket Love? There are two reasons, let me explain…

The first is the more obvious, possibly even clichéd, but no less valid for that – it’s because the disappointment makes the good times feel even better. Take a look at the photo below and witness if you will, the unbridled joy at an unexpected win near the end of a pretty unremarkable, nay, ‘disappointing’ season for Somerset in 2013. It was the end of August and before this LVCC match, they had only 1 championship win to their name before coming to face a Middlesex team that had out performed even the hopes of the most optimistic pundits. The Somerset lot had the best remedy for default disappointment available, whilst the Middlesex lot had that all too familiar bitter taste back in their mouths.

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The second reason is slightly more abstract but I defy any fan to argue against it – because secretly, deep down, probably hidden in a dark festering corner, we love it! We revel in cricketing disappointment, it gives us myriad excuses to lay bare the reason for the disappointment, to dissect, to cogitate over, to offer our own opinions on what should have been done, or what shall be done in the future. To demonstrate this, witness if you will the column inches and blog posts given over to ‘analysis’ when disappointment levels ratchet up. Count up the number of articles questioning decisions, actions, outcomes and alternatives. They are many, varied and always far more copious than in victory. Oh, and don’t for one minute think this is merely the media filling space, a few hours on twitter after a win and then a loss will set you right on that score. After a win, people will hang around for a brief while expounding their teams various virtues before heading off to their own lives with a self satisfied smile on their face, disappointment temporarily gone [but never forgotten, that would be just too stupid to contemplate] If a defeat was the outcome, the post-mortems can go on for hour after hour, debates will rage about what went wrong, individual players will be torn apart for the smallest error. Now OK, I am stating this from an ‘English’ perspective and as a nation, we are given to being naturally pessimistic [probably weather related] but from what little I have a seen, I have a sneaky suspicion this is not only an English affliction, I suspect this is a cricket affliction, regardless of the colours you wear on your replica kit. We are all cricket fans, and we all come to the conclusion eventually that disappointment is the optimum mood to adopt, because it’s part of what makes cricket what it is.

No. 43: The Parks

It’s just down the road from the museum. Some might say that the location is apposite.

For me, however, the University Parks in Oxford – The Parks in cricketing parlance – are a repository of memories. Walk down from the dreaming spires, past the University Museum and into a verdant urban space. I spent the lunch break of a school outing transfixed by the cricketers who use the centre, the accidental discovery of a high quality match in the midst of the city, unwatched by the joggers and park footballers who share the field. One time, the first ball I saw was launched for four by Graeme Hick to bring up his hundred. Part of the beauty of the ground is its accessibility and openness – you can just drop in for a session. It also offers a rare proximity – one time, stood by the pavilion, I heard the changing room clunk of a just-dismissed batsman’s hurled helmet. You can field the ball off boundaries and chat with boundary fielders. You can stand by the nets whilst the pros practice, and then have a go yourself.

One time, watching the Varsity Match, I chatted to two American exchange students. They were looking round Oxford for some material for a presentation on something quintessentially English. They had come into The Parks and stumbled across cricket. They weren’t to know that this match, with its anachronistic First Class status, was more English than most, but I explained the basics: straight arms, six balls, six runs, and why the players had apparently randomly wandered off for a cup of tea. This is the beauty of the ground; as the only free First Class ground in the country, there is a haphazard nature to the crowd. There rarely is one, but the grounds are full of joggers and pub footballers, couples and picnickers. The cricket fades into the background, softened but not overshadowed.

The intimacy this bucolic setting offers, combined with the insight proximity offers, seems to relax the game. Even when huddled against Arctic winds in April (the free entry means you don’t feel so guilty leaving early), the ground feels cosy. This is cricket at its approachable best – top level sport unfranchised and unadulterated, available and accessible. At the Varsity Match, essentially club cricket elevated by tradition and historic pedigree, you wander past revising girlfriends, dismissed batsmen, the intimacy of village cricket combined with understated quality. The players wear traditional cable-knit jumpers. The Victorian pavilion is neat and half-timbered, suitable for a pastoral Lord’s. You can sit on the bench that serves as a memorial to Colin Cowdrey. It is outdated, twee and quite beautiful.

Moreover, it is an Oxford experience. Wander through from High Street, past the grandeur of the Bodleian Library and the University Museum, the dreaming spires behind you, and you arrive at The Parks, urban escape at its finest. Some would see the cricket played here as almost as prehistoric as the dinosaur footprints up the road. But a world away from the IPL, under cloud-streaked spring skies, the game continues as it did decades ago, fading into the background of a beautiful day.

No. 38 Those Matches

The seven year old sat glued to the TV.

This was the first summer he had watched organised cricket.  He had played it for hours with the other children who lived in the compound on the sub-continent, until he watched the first test at the WACA he had not seen it at this level.  Visiting his Grandparents in Australia, he had watched the TV with interest for as much of the tests in Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide as his parents (and grandparents) would allow.

Another over passed unscathed.  A few more to the total, but it was still unlikely…

This match was different. His grandparents had taken him to see the second day of play live.  England had been bowled out just on stumps the night before and the Aussies were batting.  He had ridden the highs and lows of the day – his hero was out hooking first ball, but the wicketkeeper had scored a fifty to go with a couple of others from the batsmen. Like the Englishmen the previous day, they were all out right on stumps, a princely lead of three runs on the first innings.

A streaky shot and a few more to the total.  There was just a possibility that they could what had seemed impossible.

The English second innings saw a third straight day where the innings finished just on stumps.  England had been in trouble early but a couple of partnerships had made sure they posted a reasonable total – ten more than their first innings and seven more than the Aussies only innings.  The match was set up for a stellar finish.

With the field pushed back, the batsman took another comfortable single to put the number eleven on strike.  Another run closer.

The Aussie second innings had swung wildly from one side to the other.  First the Aussies seemed in the best position, until the opening partnership was broken and then the captain fell cheaply again.  A third wicket shortly afterwards had England in the box seat.  However a fourth wicket partnership of 100 had seemed to settle the result.  However both batsmen were out within two runs, and another couple of wickets 17 runs later left England in dominant position.  Two more wickets fell as Border was given singles so that the English team could work on the tail.

An edge for four and against all odds, these two had taken Australia within one well hit shot of victory.  The boy could hardly believe what he was watching.  

The final pairing had come together needing 74 runs to win.  Border had been out of form all series, and Thompson was not expected to last long.  England had won the match.  But the two Queenslanders had other ideas.  Border was under very little pressure due to the English tactic of giving him runs in an effort to get to Thompson. Thommo for his part gritted it out, and even occasionally hit a half decent shot.  For the first time in the game, a team survived to stumps.  More than that the last pair had halved their target: 37 still to get.

The tension was almost too much to bear.  One ball was all it could take…either way.  

Given that the day could end first ball, the gates were thrown open for the last day.  After four days where the match had been so enthralling, 18000 people turned up to see the end.  Millions more watched on TV.  Border and Thompson had inched their way towards the target against the new ball.

Botham came on to bowl the 18th over of the day.  Ball took the edge of Thompson’s bat.  The boy’s heart went into his mouth.  Dropped! … no… caught!  England had won.  

Tavare had dropped the catch at slip, but it had bounced up, not down, and Miller had come around behind him to complete the catch and a three run victory.  All four innings had been completed with scores between 284 and 294.  The match had been close throughout with the ascendancy moving backwards and forwards.  

Even as a seven year old he knew that this was one of “those matches”, the extra special ones that make cricket such a joy (win or lose).  He went on to watch many more of those matches- Australia and the West Indies in Adelaide 1993, The Ashes in Adelaide in 2006, Australia and Pakistan in Hobart in 1999, Trent Bridge 2013 just to mention a few-  But it was the first of these that sealed his love for cricket.  

No 37: Lords – The Home of Cricket

I have been mulling over writing this one pretty much since @legsidelizzy first tweeted this blog before Christmas and even now, I am not sure I am up to the task of doing this one justice. Where do you start with such a icon of the cricketing world? This is not a player for whom you can wax lyrical about his cover drive, or ability to swing it both ways [ooerrr missus] or even quote stats & records, though Lords has seen plenty of those in it’s lifetime. It is not a pretty village pavilion nor inner city rough but ready pitch, the starting point of so many illustrious careers held in deep affection only by those that have lived in the locale. No, Lords is often the pinnacle of those careers, it is the symbolism of having ‘made it’, the absolute peak of cricketing greatness on so many levels. So, if this mighty edifice in the heart of St John’s Wood is so great, why does a diminutive [metaphorically and literally] soul like myself always feel so at home the moment I walk through the gates? I guess that is the point of this post, I am going to explain from a simple point of view why the self styled Home of Cricket is worthy of being one of our 500 Loves. This isn’t about history per se, or the intricacies of the MCC and its role, it is about the actual physical place that is Lords and those that work and play within its walls.

The first time I walked into Lords, via the tradesmans entrance otherwise known as the North Gate [which despite the glamour of other gates, is still my preferred way in, there is something about the build up, walking past the Nursery, players out there in training kit, often having a knock around with a football] it was all rather surreal. I had of course seen this cathedral of cricket worship on the TV, but that first view of the lovely old groundsmen sheds alongside the Nursery ground, the back of the spaceship Media Centre dominating the skyline, it was all a bit, well, weird. The sharp contrast between the traditional and contemporary bits didn’t jar in the way I would expect, it just all felt so right, so familiar and yet so new… and I hadn’t even seen the Pavilion at that point.

I spent the next 3 days at Lords, lucky enough that my first few days there included being fed and watered in the Media Centre – an odd place indeed, especially during a county match, which is the only way I have seen it on the inside, sort of fish bowl meets gentlemans club with a bit of the comedy store thrown in for good measure.

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Lords is quite large, as you can imagine, but you quickly get a feel for the layout and there are always smartly dressed stewards around to point you in the right direction should it be required. It is an odd combination of the original architecture with all manner of miscellaneous new bits bolted on, like someone took the stations & platforms from an old Hornby railway set and chucked them in the box with the Meccano. Walk round the back of the Mound stand and the brick archways are more reminiscent of an Abbey cloisters than anything else – possibly quite appropriate. Popping out at the Tavern stand and 70’s/80’s kitsch is all encompassing, but it almost goes unnoticed because there is the sign to the Clocktower, the clapperboard style tower that contains the scorers box and the clock. Sitting proudly atop this tower, Father Time himself [not, as many think ‘old Father Time’, have a read of THIS straight from the horses mouth], reliably offering advice on wind direction and a comforting presence to all, like the guardian angel of wood & willow the world over and certainly of this corner of London.

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Beyond this you reach the majesty of the Grace gates and the Tavern pub [the Tav], topped by the Thomas Lord Suite – again, TLS is not the most eye pleasing part of the ground, but it is of little consequence as the eye is drawn by those gates, known the world over and together with the Pavilion itself, probably symbolise Lords more than anything else. We are now very much into ‘members’ territory, Allen & Warner stands are down this end, acting as bookends to the monolith that is the MCC Pavilion, THE home of cricket, it’s laws, it’s members, it’s history… look carefully, you can probably see the glow of the aura that surrounds this building. Pitchside, it’s facade is a symphony of symmetry, spoilt only by a sliding sight screen that for my visits is nearly always off centre, a bum note.

From the rear, this symmetry is less noticable as it spreads across into the museum via the player changing rooms and offices and ‘stuff’, and becomes a neighbour of the Middlesex shop, which in turn sits cosying up to the Harris Gardens, where the ‘posh’ people drink champagne on warm days. Walking under here, you pass the main entrance to the Pavilion, always watched over by a pair of stewards in smart blazers [like all the Lords stewards in fairness] You glance down at your trainers and jeans and feel just ever so slightly under dressed and out of place, so scurry past before you lower the tone too much.

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Popping out the other side you come across what is probably the most peaceful place at Lords, the Coronation Gardens. Gently manicured lawns surrounded by benches. A place to sit and appreciate the passing world, enjoy your packed lunch, watch a couple of kids knock a tennis ball around with little cricket bats. There is something very serene about this little corner.

From here it is the long run under the main grandstand, a modern concoction of concrete and steel that is as close to ‘football ground’ as Lords can possibly get, although the friendly welcome at the bar under the stand has any resemblence quickly banished.

Finally you are back behind the Compton stand, which together with Edrich, flank the media centre. A pair of two tiered stands, that require their occupants to have a love of the English weather – the lower tiers have a venturi quality, pulling the wind in off the Nursery pitch and sending it howling down your neck even on a relatively balmy day. The upper tiers are completely open to the elements, rain or shine, you never forget your rain coat and your sunblock if you plan on sitting up there. They are popular though, especially in toward the Media pod, behind the bowlers arm y’see.

lords_001-4All sounds quite grand, not your average county ground at all. I have visited other grounds, like Kent and Essex and they are relatively small and intimate, Lords isn’t…and yet, it is. Since that first visit in 2009 I have been back many times, for both Middlesex and England matches, as a ticket paying great unwashed, as a Middlesex CCC member and even in a working capacity as a photographer for non-playing third party events and you know what, Lords is an amazing place.

It may be big in the overall scheme of English cricket grounds [probably quite ‘big’ in the world of cricket grounds], but it is still friendly & welcoming. This lass, born in a council house in the north of England, has drunk champagne in the Harris garden and not felt out of place. I have smiled at those doormen at the Pavilion doors as I walked in as well as been smiled at as I walked past them dressed down for sitting in the public stands. Staff have always been friendly and happy to chat, especially the older stewards who love to tell you their anecdotes. You walk into Lords and it wraps you in it’s familiarity, you can leave life’s worries at the gates and relax into it’s atmosphere. Some say Lords is full of ghosts of cricket past and maybe it is, but if so, they are friendly ghosts, very happy to have you share their home.

I remember the first time I went to a test match, 2012 against the West Indies and the ground was of course packed with people, with additional food and drink stalls and it was all very merry. I was initially quite taken aback at all these people at ‘my’ special place, forcing me to stay in the same seat all day and queue for a drink – but in truth, it matters not, because each time that happens, I know that my next visit will be peaceful. It will be back to county cricket with the die hards, the Middlesex supporters [and opposition] wandering around making the place feel occupied but not overly crowded. The Coronation gardens will be quiet, the bar staff will have time to not just smile a welcome, but ask me how I am enjoying play [or not, depending on how things are going for ‘the Middle’] and best of all, I can pick and choose where to sit for each session, whatever the weather. So I can relax and enjoy international cricket at Lords too, because ultimately it is still Lords, it still the place I love to be and I hope every other cricket fan that has been there feels even just a little bit the same.

Reading back, I am not sure I have done it justice, it requires more than my best effort in truth, but hopefully, you get the idea.

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No 33: Charitable

Now I admit I hadn’t even thought of this one until now, sitting here, in the wee small hours [UK time] watching TV. It’s the 3rd day of the 2013/14 Sydney Ashes test, or as it’s otherwise known, the Pink test. The mighty SCG has turned into a sea of pink in support of the McGrath Cancer Foundation, a charity set up to by Australian bowler Glenn McGrath and his late wife Jane to help fund specialist breast cancer support nurses across Australia.

The SCG turns pink - picture courtesy of Amy Lofthouse @Amy_Cricket

The SCG turns pink – picture courtesy of Amy Lofthouse @Amy_Cricket

Now I am not suggesting for a minute that cricket and the people involved are somehow more altruistic than people involved in other sports, but in the few years that I have been involved in the sport, I have been very lucky to be involved at some level [usually a photographic one] with several charitable events. Players and fans alike have given of their time and money generously, inspite of a world recession, and I think it’s about time this was shouted about – hence I am declaring it one of our 500 reasons.

On a personal level I have been at events where Murali was raising money for his Foundation of Goodness, a couple of Lords Taverners events and even been along to help support those ‘rogues’ at Test Match Sofa do a 38 hour continuous commentary stint in aid of Red Nose Day.

Gladstone Small, Muttiah Muralidaran, Rob Key and Ronnie Irani raise laughs & money for the Foundation of Goodness

Add in such worthy causes I have picked up on from twitter such as Cricket Without Boundaries and The Broad Appeal amongst many, many others and of course the amount of events and cricket matches held to raise money and awareness for external charities and I can’t help but feel cricket has a very generous and caring nature. So to everyone that has taken part in, or donated to, such an event, I raise a glass of pink fizz to you. Cheers!!

No 26: Geoffrey Boycott

October saw the 73rd birthday of Geoffrey Boycott. There are people far more able than I who are able to explain in depth the quality of the man as a cricketer – but I shall briefly make an attempt.
Our Geoffrey had a defensive technique that at times was nigh-on impenetrable, with his forward defence stroke becoming something of a trademark pose that was to gain him both plaudits from cricket purists and derision from those wanting a more expansive approach to batting. However, while he may have been one of the finest defensive batsmen in the history of the game it would be unfair to cast him completely in a negative light. For a start his cover-drive was a as sublime a cricket stroke that has ever existed and his on-drive had a power and precision that many stroke players would froth at the mouth at. However, many people that know better seem to forget the last point.
Geoff ‘s Test career lasted for 108 tests in total where he amassed a total of 8114 runs and finished his test career with an average of 47.72 – making him currently 4th in the all-time list of England players. In the whole of his Test career he scored  22 centuries, a record for his country that he holds jointly with Wally Hammond and Colin Cowdrey. It is also safe to say that he would have become the first Englishman to pass 10,000 Test match runs if it hadn’t been for his self-imposed exile from International cricket after a falling out (now go figure that) with the authorities. It is widely assumed that the problem was because he was angry when Mike Denness, and not he, was the man chosen to succeeded Ray Illingworth as England Captain. For a man in his cricketing prime to miss approximately 30 Tests it meant meant that his true greatness was never quite to be acknowledged – after all, it’s always rather easier to malign a cricketer who is the 4th highest, rather than the absolute highest run scorer in the history of his country.
I will be honest, during my formative years he was never one of my cricketing heroes – I was more of a flashing and charismatic Tony Grieg fan. I was possibly too young to appreciate the sheer stubboness and application of Boycott’s style of play. I was completely unaware of his reputation for putting in hour upon of obsessive practice of his technique in the nets, often after the rest of his team mates had departed for the bar. However, he does play a part on one of my most treasured cricketing memories – for I was one of the lucky few to be at Headingley in 1977 to witness the return of the England prodigal son to his spiritual home.
It really wasn’t much of a decision to make for me when I was told by a mate of mine at school that his dad had obtained through various nefarious means in the pub the night before, two extra tickets to see the opening days play in the 2nd Ashes Test at Headingley. I was a cricket-mad 11 year old – did I want to go to my first Test match, did I ever??!!!
In all honesty, I cannot remember much about the morning of that day’s play. I was adrift and lost completely in a complete haze of excitement amongst the 22,000 who were also there – many of them to see Mr Boycott. I was completely unaware of the importance that his return in the first Test had signified (where he had scored a century) – To be honest, acquiring Derek Randall’s autograph during the player’s warm-up had already sent me into the adrenaline stratosphere and had meant that the day for me was complete. I DO remember the moment when Geoffrey entered the field to bat with Mike Brearley after we had won the toss – I had been to to Elland Road to see Leeds Utd play in front of crowds of 50,000, this was something else.
Once again, the memory of that 11 year old’s experience for the rest of the afternoon is rather cloudy. The recollection of it being bloody hot and sweltering is pretty strong, and with it are the gallons of coke that we shared. I certainly don’t remember the play being that exciting as our Geoffrey continued on his usual methodical way of avoiding risk at all costs. However my memory does seem to recollect the crowd if anything getting bigger in size after Tea – and with it my mate’s dad getting more and more excited as Boycott edged nearer and nearer what would be his 100th first class 100.
What I will certainly NEVER forget is the moment that he finally hit the four runs needed off the bowling of Greg Chappell, because what happened next was incredible – and that isn’t hyperbole, because is was indeed incredible.
Pandemonium erupted as hundreds of rather excited Yorkshiremen ran into the field. I wasn’t one of of them and neither was my mate – but his dad was! These hundreds of fans completely swamped Boycott who after raising his arms in celebration then went into self-preservation mode. At one point I can remember saying to David ” I think that your dad is trying to hoist Boycott onto his shoulder” He didn’t manage it. Even when David’s dad and his fellow legion of adoring fans were finally persuaded to leave the field the noise from the 22,000 plus fans continued to echo around the ground for an age. That pitch celebration and the look of my mate’s dads face of utter joy and ecstasy  when he returned will stay with me forever.
Geoffrey Boycott divided opinion then and still does to this day. He was never popular amongst his fellow players due to his self-obsession with his practice, technique and application. Indeed, many have called him far too self-absorbed ever to be regarded as a true team player……..and yet the incredible statistic that out of his 108 Tests, only 20 of them ended in an England defeat – and most of them were as a result of his failing to accumulate any score of note should be the truest testimony as a value to any team.
I could spend some time writing about his contribution in the media as a commentator and pundit – but that is a long piece for another time as his quotes and Boycott-isms are enough to fill a dozen blog entries.
What I will end on is this.
After the chaos and noise of him reaching his 100th 100 finally abated, play was still held up for a further 10 minutes. For during the pitch celebrations one of his adoring fans (not my mate’s dad I may add) had nicked off with our Geoff’s hat and scarpered back off into the crowd with his prize. Geoffrey being Geoffrey, refused to carry on until it was returned, which it eventually was but only after a plea from the Yorkshire chairman over the ground loudspeaker. If only for that act of refusing to play on until he got his hat back, I’ve always loved the guy.

No 25: All in the family

My parents tried very hard to get me to like cricket when I was young. It was a universal failure; I just didn’t see the fun or appeal. After the religious experience known as the 2005 Ashes, I had to ask them why they’d kept this great game from me for so long.

I worked out in the 2013 English Cricket season I had attended 18 days of cricket, across the County Championship and international matches, and I succeeded in dragging my parents along to a few of them. Both are keen cricket fans from their youth, but my Dad had never attended a day of international cricket in his life. Our attempt to watch the second t20 between England and New Zealand at the Oval last May was rained off after two balls, so I guess that doesn’t count.

My Mum, from the sound of all the stories she’s told me, was quite the cricket fan in her youth. Attending teacher training college in Canterbury, she’d watch some iconic players at the St Lawrence Ground play for Kent (see scorecard photo), and once stopped her car at the side of the road whilst on holiday to listen as Derek Underwood bowled a particularly deadly spell for England on TMS. I once stayed up until 4am to watch Steven Finn not score a run for over an hour against New Zealand; I am truly my mother’s daughter.

Scorecard from Gillette Cup match at St Lawrence Ground between Kent and Yorkshire. Neat handwriting, eh?

Scorecard from Gillette Cup match at St Lawrence Ground between Kent and Yorkshire. Neat handwriting, eh?

Her experiences with test match cricket don’t fare so well, she’s had tickets for two test matches, at Lord’s and the Oval, and saw no play on either day due to weather (do you see a pattern emerging?) I hope all of this was made up for when we went along to the Women’s Ashes test at Wormsley and soon discovered just how hot an English summer in the countryside can get.

I also succeeded, just once, this summer to get my parents along to a day of county cricket. I won two complimentary tickets to a Middlesex home fixture at Lord’s during the latter part of the summer. Since I’m a Middlesex member and get free entry anyway, I gave them to my parents and they came along and watched a not particularly thrilling day of Somerset batting, diligently filling out their hot-off-the-press scorecard in neat and tidy handwriting and partaking in a pie for lunch from the bar.

We whole-heartedly support and watch sport. As I’m writing this, on New Years Day 2014, my Mum is watching the Four Hills Ski Jumping competition on TV (don’t ask, just don’t) having switched on the box this morning to watch the Sydney Thunder play the Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash t20 League from Australia. When our terrestrial TV signal got so bad that the Channel 4 cricket coverage looked like it was being broadcast from the Arctic tundra, we bought Sky and never looked back. Sport means an awful lot to us in this house.

My family really are the reason why I love and still love this sport, and a defining memory of what it means to this family comes at the end of the 2009 Ashes. We were sat in the living room, with Sky on the TV and TMS on the radio when the final wicket fell at the Oval and we’d won the Ashes. Amidst the cheering and applauding, my Dad stood up and calmly walked to the kitchen and returned a few moments later with a bottle of bubbly and three glasses, and said “I think we deserve this”.