Published 13 March 2014
It’s my party – and I’ll cry if I want to
A cricket clubhouse on an August Saturday night, the mid seventies. Around me, are the celebrating members of our 2nd X1 – my team. Over a couple of years, these guys have become more than playing colleagues – they are friends, confidantes,.
They are celebrating a league championship; an unfashionable FP side for a school that no longer existed, a press ganged mix of folk from every corner of the globe – Holy Cross 2nd X1 have won the league.
There’s only one problem, one reason for the lack of bite in my beer: I’ve spent the whole summer playing friendlies on Sundays. In our championship season, the only chance I’ll probably ever have of getting a medal, I’ve not been selected for a single league start.
Charles is the reason. Like me an opening bowler, but unlike me, possessed of ability. Better coached, more talented, and, damn it, a thoroughly nice guy, he has taken my place in the side, and contributed hugely.
I could have switched clubs and play in another side, or stay put, play friendlies, and watch from the sidelines. Although I wanted to win as much as the next man, playing with friends in a positive environment was more important, so I stayed.
When the Scottish squad for the UAE was announced, with the revelation that the newly clarified ‘granny rule’ had been embraced, I thought the squad impressive and progressive. Some questioned that: a retired county player and a handful of pros keeping young Scottish talent out of the side? How could that be progressive?
I thought it impressive because we had added experience to our squad, and I thought it progressive because we had moved on to a new approach; we had decided to speculate to accumulate.
Cricket Scotland is rightly winning awards for its development programme and more youngsters are gaining contracts in county cricket. However, to attract the funding and sponsorship to move on to the next level, with a full time professional squad, we must put out a side that is more than just aspirational.
Given the cricket blind spot in the Scottish media most of the time, Scotland need to get eyecatching victories over top nations and be up there with Ireland as the best of the rest. Such success will attract funds, enabling us to build further and develop our young talent – and being part of a squad including seasoned professionals can only be good for younger players.
England, ten times the size of Scotland, seem happy with a dressing room where the clipped tones of Pietermaritzburg compete with the brogue of Dublin. If that is the way international cricket is to be, then Scotland surely must take advantage?
When Jack Charlton went ‘granny hunting’ to boost the Irish soccer team, he ended up giving the Irish a wonderful, totally unexpected decade. Of course, it couldn’t, and didn’t, last. However, the result of that success was felt far beyond the international zone. In ten years, the database of qualified Irish soccer coaches has risen from 2.500 to 32,000 – and Ireland has become a ‘go to’ destination for scouts from the UK leagues. They have built on the interest generated by that initial success, and, as a result, young Irish talent is coming through in greater numbers than ever before.
I agree with Craig Wright; I think the presence of the ‘newly qualified’ players in the Scotland squad will raise the game for our developing indigenous talent. It’s also a win-win. If their presence brings more success, our profile will rise, and development will be hastened; if it fails, then at least we will have investigated every possibility in our drive for improvement.
And Holy Cross 2nd X1?
Well, the interest generated by that league championshipmeant the club expanded to run three and then four elevens. Indeed, if I had decided to play into my dotage, they may well have had to run a 6th and 7th eleven so I still got a game!
I still miss that medal, but I enjoyed twenty five happy years with the club.
Sometimes you just have to look at the bigger picture.
Published 13 March 2014
There is a place for us
With various Scottish cricket squads heading off this month to far flung destinations, it’s a good time to reflect on the importance of ‘place’ in the summer game.
The very earth upon which the game is played is crucial to performance, tactics, and result, and cricket grounds seem to have a personality.
At the millennium, my club, Holy Cross, played the Bat and Ball CC on a southern English tour. Significantly, this pub side play at Broadhalfpenny Down, Hambledon, in Hampshire – long considered the cradle of cricket as we know it.
We were, apparently, the first Scottish club to play there – a fact commemorated by the quaich we donated, which remains in the pub’s trophy cabinet.
The nerves which afflicted us, as we prepared, reflected a wish to avoid letting down club or country, but much more so, our awareness, to coin a phrase. of the hand of history on our shoulders. This was exacerbated by the homeliness of the ground – no renovated showpiece this! Hambledon CC moved away long ago, leaving Broadhalfpenny free to be itself. Indeed, it was lost to cricket for the better part of the 19th century till CB Fry resurrected it in 1908. The wicket is good club standard while the outfield has the rough edges which remind you that this was always ‘a village ground’. Standing on the square, looking out over the countryside as the downs fell away in front of you, you felt the power of precedence; the ground itself can’t have changed dramatically since cricket began there in 1753.
Not wishing to risk defeat by ‘the Jocks’, the opposition had put together a team including former 2nd X1 County players, while we were distinctly more social in make up (and in the midst of a tour…) Many of us would have to play out of our skins to avoid embarrassment.
Luckily, we managed to do ourselves justice and posted a respectable score.
When I was called upon, first change, my team mates reported me as ‘ashen’. I was clearly not myself, as I bowled to a length and took three wickets. The last of these dismissed the opposition captain. He dispatched me back over my head with a perfectly timed straight drive. As hundreds of times before, I flung my hand hopefully aloft. The ball stuck. He was incredulous, my team mates amazed, I was stunned. I decided there and then to retire. It would never ever get any better!
But, in a way, it did.
Part of our squad was veteran leg spinner, Chris Kerr. This would be his final game, an injury to his shoulder curtailing his wicked spin. Also, controversially, he would have to bowl underarm.
The umpire double checked: “Underarm over the wicket???”, and sought both captains’ agreement.
My son, scoring for us, reported their scorer, Broadhalfpenny’s historian, got very excited: “My goodness! First time there’s been underarm bowling here in 192 years!” he muttered. It was an electrifying cricket experience, and, yes, Chris got some turn and a stumping was narrowly missed!
Around 6pm, the twilight arrived early, accompanied by drizzle. With the lights in the bar of The Bat and Ball glittering attractively, we agreed an honourable draw.
As I left the field, for the last time as a player, I took a moment to look around.
In the gloaming, the Downs stretched out below us, far into the distance; in field after field, tractors, headlamps burning, were gathering in the harvest.
It was like a scene from Thomas Hardy.
With tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, I followed my team to the dressing room.
From Broadhalfpenny Down to Sharjah, Cricket is universal.
Published: 31 January 2013
I DON’T LIKE CRICKET, I LOVE IT!
There’s a woman who sells the Sunday papers from a stall at the top of Portgower Place in Stockbridge. She’s unfailingly cheerful, and must feel I’m a kindred spirit, as I’m always smiling when I buy from her. However, it’s not her – it’s the location; I love passing through Comely Bank, because it reminds me that there’s nothing I like better than watching Scotland at the Grange.
Is there a better place anywhere to watch cricket than from the top of the venerable Grange pavilion? Unless it’s from the sightscreen at the Inverleith end, with Edinburgh Castle as the backdrop?
You see, that’s the thing about cricket – it offers so many alternatives!
Watching alone you can have a perfect day of thoughts and reflections; with your mates, there’s a hatful of anecdotes and memories. In the sunshine, it’s total joy, but in the wind and rain, checking out the various defence methods around you in the meagre crowd: (golf umbrella, plastic bag on the head, inner sanctum of the bar for IPA), you can luxuriate in the fanaticism that makes you suffer it all. A win buoys you up, a defeat gives you chance to use the last refuge of the vanquished: “it’s the taking part…..”
When asked to write this blog, there was some confusion over my name: “Are you Sean or John?”? Well, both, actually. If you met me professionally, it’s Sean, during the 25 years I was cricketing for Holy Cross, probably John, and if you knew me when I lived in England, you might call me Jock! I’m not on the run, just from a mixed background – born in Edinburgh, with an Irish passport, and an English accent.
I discovered cricket when I moved to Southport as a nine year old. Lancashire were playing a Benefit game at the local ground against Oxford University. The students were led by the Nawab of Pataudi, which will give you some idea of my antiquity. I went out of curiosity and was immediately captivated by the silence of expectation that surrounds a cricket ground – so many people, so little noise. I approached a cricketer in a deck chair and asked for his autograph; he smiled and signed. It was Geoff Pullar of Lancashire and England. I sometimes shudder to think that I may have lost out on one of the great interests of my life had his reaction been a surly refusal.
I started to haunt the club, following the groundsman about on his daily duties. He was a lovely guy who taught me about the game, and I still hold groundsmen in the same reverence as players. I am the boy who, having received a ball for Christmas one year, immediately cleared the snow off the grass so he could practise with it; the boy who gathered bits of lumber to construct covers which he placed every night over the wicket he had cut in the garden. Cricket mad? Oh yes!
My background leads to schizophrenic tendencies every now and then. During the classic Grange ODI between Scotland and Ireland, I was right behind Cricket Scotland but proud of the Irish. There is a picture of me with Mike Watkinson and the Lancashire coaching staff at the Grange. They look a little bemused. That’s because they’d just been approached by a guy dressed head to toe in Saltires’ merchandise who proclaimed: “I’m a Lancashire member, can I get a picture with you?”
Confusing? Of course it is – but that’s the glory of cricket. There are as many ways to win and lose as there are players, as many ways of enjoying it as there are of being driven to despair. It’s fascinating, and engrossing, and followed by an endlessly entertaining group of supporters. Even with the new year hardly begun, my nose is twitching for the first scent of new mown grass.
I don’t like cricket. I love it!