Sean McPartlin Blog - Everlasting Love

05 Jan
Sean McPartlin gives his first blog in 2015, as he remembers a few aspects of yesteryear.

Now that our blogging fraternity (sisterhood?) has been joined by various Wildcats from the Antipodes, I find myself challenged geographically! So I am forced to fall back on my one Unique Selling Point compared to our globe trotting women. I am not as far travelled as them, nor am I as skilled at cricket, but I have lived longer than them – a lot longer! 

Luckily, cricket is a game which lends itself to all manner of ‘old git’ rumination: statistics, tradition and history and the very unchanging nature of its atmosphere.

Though I am as liable as any to fall foul of a kind of Pooterish “World’s gone mad!” reaction at the 21st century developments in the game – the fact is that ‘King Willow’ has not changed half as much as hide bound traditionalists like to complain it has. 

When “KP” switched counties because he needed to be ‘closer to Kensington’, he was only echoing the threats made by the great WG Grace when he had a train to catch: “Catch that ball at your peril!” – and the same Great Man would surely have been thrilled at the pecuniary advantage offered by the IPL and the Big Bash. 

While some might shudder at reverse sweeps and pinch hitting tactics, our outrage can surely be no greater than that which greeted the first roundarm – or (Mercy me!) overarm bowling, or the heretical addition of a third wicket. 

It seems , then, that the more cricket changes, the more it stays the same – in its major elements – but this is not necessarily true of the smaller constituent parts of the game. 

When I think of cricket kit when I started playing in the early sixties as a schoolboy, it seems like – well, another century. 

The boots could well have been worn ‘down the pit’ by such as Larwood and Trueman and took so long to lace up that there wasn’t time to take them off at tea. The major worry with pads was that the canes inside them for protection would poke through the blancoed canvas and pierce your ankle, and wicket keepers were prone to sticking bits of steak inside their gloves to protect their hands. Trousers were cream rather than white and even more embarrassing than a ‘golden’ was having to take the field in a cable knit sweater knitted by a doting relative who had only a vague idea of how far your knees were from the ground. 

And then we come to the bats. 

Dennis Lillee’s ill advised stunt with aluminium notwithstanding, surely no piece of equipment can have developed more than the humble bat. In my early days, the choice was fairly simple and largely depended on the height of the batsman: sizes 4,5, 6, Harrow, short or long handle. Now there appears to be a bat for every occasion. 

I took a trip into the depths of the garage to retrieve the first bat I ever owned – and was more than a little relieved to find at least it wasn’t curved… 

Dusting it off, I remarked that it looked like a museum piece; my other half refrained from comment, but cast a meaningful look towards its owner. 

Of course, looking at it brought back a host of memories: the excitement of buying it; the visit to the local cricket club to request the groundsman for an ‘old ball’ so I could carefully ‘knock it in’, the first careful application of linseed oil – and the smell hanging round the house for days – all necessities far predating the polyarmoured era. 

I was surprised that the edges seemed relatively unscathed – clearly the fresh air shot was more common than the edge to the slips, and I was also surprised at the emotion it stirred in me: thinking of the uncomplicated days of youth – when obtaining a ‘real cricket bat’ could bring untold excitement and happiness. 

When I continued my examination, my ‘yesterdays’ returned to museum-like proportions. 

It was  a ’Gradidge’ bat. Who? 

I had to google them. Apparently, they also made golf clubs, but even by the time I bought one of their bats they  were owned by Slazenger, who maybe retired the brand name because of its similarity to Surridge. 

It is a “Geoff Pullar” autograph. Who? 

“Noddy” was my first ‘favourite cricketer’ – a left handed opener for Lancashire and England in the early 1960s, and still a big hero, if not as much in the collective memory as the Cowdreys and Dexters of his day. 

Finally, in perhaps the most pre-historic element of this archaeological discovery is the stamp of the shop where it was bought in Liverpool – “Jack Sharp’s”. Who?

Sharp – and his shop, was a legend in 60s Merseyside, even though he had died in 1938. A classic ‘fin de siecle’ sporting figure, he had excelled at football for Everton, and at cricket for Lancashire and England – a double sporting hero of the type possibly last embodied in in Carlisle and Leicestershire’s Chris Balderstone and Yorkshire and Man Utd’s Arnie Sidebotham, father of Ryan. His shop supplied the kit for both Everton and Liverpool for many years post war, only closing when taken over by a major discount sports chain in the 1980s. It seems so redolent of a distant age – before lucrative sponsorship deals, countrywide sports warehouses, and online marketing ploys. 

Like its owner, the bat has seen better days, the rubber on the handle is a little perished, but the scars of cricketing battle still have the power to stir memories. 

I guess you could say it was the start of a love affair.

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