The Christmas Ball
Sean McPartlin gives his his festive blog - The Christmas Ball
It was wrapped up in the bottom of the pillowcase, beneath all the other presents. Removed from the packaging, it seemed almost luminous.
I suppose, in the heat of the game, we overlook the visual properties of a cricket ball – we are more interested in swing, shine and spin. When we see cricket balls in numbers, it tends to be in the nets, and often they are dull, misshapen, and tired.
But, on Christmas morning, fresh from its packaging, this cricket ball was a thing of beauty. No white compromise, produced through a mix of marketing and desperation, no pink advertising phenomenon, simply a brand new, red leather, full sized, cricket ball.
I can see it now in the palm of my hand: the deep red glow, the raised stitching on the seam, the gap between the quarters, the golden writing. Looking at it, I could almost feel the heat of the sun reflecting up off a well prepared pitch, could see the white of the freshly painted crease, smell the tang of fresh cut grass.
Spinning it in my hand, I loved the smack of the leather on my palm, the firmness of the stitching against my finger tips.
There was only one thing to be done, but, as with all daring activities, it would need to be carried out with circumspection. I put on an extra sweater and, with all the stealth of which an eleven year old committed to daftness is capable, I edged my way downstairs, avoiding those steps which creaked.
On Christmas morning, much was going on in the house, so it was not too difficult to reach the back door unnoticed, and soon I was at large in the back garden.
I used a mallet to hammer the wickets into the frozen ground – three at the batsman’s end, one at the bowler’s. Then I fetched the yard brush and carefully brushed all the frost and ice off the wicket. Once my run had been paced out, shorter than usual to allow for the slippery conditions, I was ready to bowl.
As an only child, it was a routine which was familiar – though not normally on Christmas morning with the temperature at freezing.
I had been certain that if I was spotted on my way out, and if my intentions were recognised, I would be told in no uncertain manner not to be so daft.
I was probably right about that – but, what I only realised much later in life, as a parent myself, was the joy it would have given my mother to see a happy child, bowling ball after ball in a frosty Christmas garden, with the present she had given him. I am sure she must have watched from the window, shaking her head at my idiocy, but pleased at my reaction to her gift. We seldom recognize our parents’ love in its complexities when we are young.
When it was time to go in to watch “Christmas Top of the Pops”, I was red faced and warm and the stumps had been splayed more than a few times.
In a reflection of a path that all gifts follow, the ball had no longer the shining appeal of earlier. Hard ground and long frosty grass had left its red a duller shade, its leather bruised and water marked, the lettering already losing its gold – but now it was mine, and valued as a possession, and kept for many years.
Cricket, too, has changed since those far off days. Some of the shine is lessened, the obsession controlled, the memories forged – but it is still there – one of the greatest gifts you could receive.
So to all at Cricket Scotland and to the Wildcats: players, staff, supporters and spectators: may you have a happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year, based on the magic of childhood, the enchantment of cricket, and the drama that never dies.
Enjoy the Christmas Ball!!!!