My childhood was eons ago. It was a world before the internet, blanket media and instantaneous access to information. A world that my kids think is somewhere between the Jurassic period and Victorian England. A dystopian world where dinosaurs routinely knocked down buildings and feasted on mangled chimney sweeps.
My oldest son once participated in a school project that featured a picture of a Victorian school. All the children had to add a slogan to be pasted around the picture. His was simply “my Daddy went to school in the olden days”.
So there we have it. Today’s we’ll be looking all the way back through time and space to the archaic days of the late 1980’s and early 90’s. A time when 20 over cricket was a game played by children and the doosra was something served with a double naan.
Back in those days you had to work much harder to get your cricket fix. This was especially so outside of the core cricket playing summer months. My options were restricted to the radio’s Test Match Special which would provide coverage from time zones that were largely inhospitable. It often involved staying up late into the night and trying not to succumb to sleep. Not an easy thing to do when England were playing New Zealand at the Basin Reserve.
In addition I had my monthly subscription to “The Cricketer”. A magazine with a perpetually stuffy image but one I have to admit to rather enjoying. Although I was always perplexed by the amount of coverage given to public school cricket and their old boys’ teams, who probably spent their weekends power-boating and prancing about like rejects from “Howard’s Way”. I still have a box full of those old magazines stored next to several more boxes of “Roy of the Rovers”. Come on, breathe in that nostalgia!
The final option open to my young cricket loving self was to visit the local library. Do you remember those places? The local council probably closed yours down at the turn of the century. In there you could find three whole shelves of cricket books. Due to the limited fare I think I probably read through all of them at least once. Bringing out an eclectic mixture of reading content.
I can remember turning the pages through autobiographies of W.G. Grace, Victor Trumper, Jack Fingleton and one originally titled “My story” by Sir Jack Hobbs. Where “The Master” would regale you with detailed anecdotes of how many shirt collars he would pack for a tour to Australia. Away from ghost-written autobiographies I recall a book by Fred Trueman that analysed the great fast bowlers. Obviously none were as good as Fred but he grudgingly accepted that Harold Larwood wasn’t bad.
As I was walking to work the other day I was reminded of one of those old library books. It was some kind of anthology of cricket writing and it included an essay by the politician and journalist Bill Deedes. It was a short piece titled something like “The Stolen Hours” or “The Stolen Moments”. I have tried searching for it online without success. If someone remembers it then send your answers on a postcard please.
The pretext of the article was that cricket was best enjoyed when one should be doing something more useful. He would refer to nipping out of the House of Commons to catch an occasional hour of a championship game at The Oval. Probably on expenses and involving one prepared on another Harry Brind belter.
However, for the sake of this exercise I want to put a slightly different twist on Bill’s approach. Let’s define ‘stolen moments’ as the ones when you are not sitting ringside at a game or ensconced with beer and biscuits watching it on the TV or listening intently on the radio.
These are the moments when cricket shouldn’t be there or at least should not be available. Where instead it hones into view like an unquenchable, beating soundtrack to life. Test Cricket with its longer playing time and possibilities to dip in and out of the action clearly offers up the best opportunities for these stolen moments.
So, after that stodgy Boycott type build up, here are mine …
Andrew Caddick taking 4 wickets in an over vs the West Indies (4th Test Headingley 2000).
This was the series when the West Indies juggernaut finally ground to a screeching halt. The old “Blackwash” days were already a thing of the past. England had improved steadily if not spectacularly and the West Indies decline was already set into accelerated motion. The widening cracks temporarily papered over by the fading but still potent ferocity of Walsh and Ambrose and the batting brilliance of Brian Lara.
Let us join the 4th Test on the 2nd and final afternoon. West Indies are struggling at 52-5 in their 2nd innings and 48 adrift. Ridley Jacobs is taking guard to Andrew Caddick. I have just left my boring financial services job and am walking back to my car to begin the drive home. I stop at the window of an electrical shop where every television in the window is tuned into the Test Match. As Caddick’s arm comes over I think I may as well stay peering suspiciously through the glass and see what happens.
In the blink of a second Jacobs is cleaned bowled and trudging back to the pavilion. Faced with an immediate wicket I feel it worth hanging around for a bit longer. In the space of the next 5 balls Nixon Mclean, Curtley Ambrose and Reon King are all castled by Caddick; completing a 4 wicket over. Fate, time, space, Russell Grant and David Icke all coming together in perfect harmony to ensure that I was positioned in the right place and at the right time to see it happen.
Jimmy and Monty hang on vs Australia (1st Test Cardiff 2009)
This match followed the 5-0 hammering in Australia. Everybody agreed that England needed to start well. I was desperate for 2005 not to have been a flash in the pan. On the 5th afternoon the prognosis was bleak with England holding on for the draw by their finger nails.
England’s 9th wicket fell with the dismissal of Paul Collingwood for a battling 245 ball 74 and just Anderson and Panesar stood between England and defeat. With 11 overs still to block out the game seemed up and a summer of pain in store.
Lacking the necessary funds for a SKY Sports subscription I had been following the final day’s proceedings on the radio. However, as the last hour came into focus I had already, under threat of divorce, been dismissed to the bottom of the garden to paint a fence. A task I undertook with all the diligence, skill and commitment of Tom Sawyer rather than Mr Miyagi.
Out of reach of radio I had to rely on my primitive mobile phone to bring me text updates via Cricinfo. This it did via an intermittent signal and endless hanging between balls, where I was convinced the delay was directly connected to a wicket. But, eventually we got over the line, Jimmy, Monty and me.
The World Cup Final – England V Pakistan (Melbourne 1992)
I was 15 years old and took my radio into school. A terrible, crackly old thing where you could be forgiven for expecting to hear “London Calling”. It was the same radio that I had listened intently to in bed when England had skittled Pakistan for 74 in an earlier group game and been cheated out of a win by the weather.
The tournament was being shown on SKY, which at that time put it beyond the reach of 95% of the population. It was therefore outside the consciousness of all of my school friends and thus I kept a lonely vigil.
I remember finally making it out of class for break time to hear that England were 9 down and caught the last rites of Richard Illingworth’s dismissal. What made it worse was that nobody else seemed to care. Those of us that do care are still waiting for that elusive World Cup win.
These are my stolen moments. I’d love to know yours.