At the start of the lockdown, we asked anyone who wanted to write something for the site to send in an article. Elaine Simpson-Long took up the challenge with this lovely piece about falling in love with the game of cricket. Enjoy:
My journey from the darkness into the light took some time.
I found cricket boring.
I was a tennis fan, skiving off school in the summer holidays to watch Wimbledon. When the kids went home to lunch I shot out with them and never came back. I spent the mornings there so when Wimbledon was over and I returned and the nuns used to say “Have you been in School Elaine I have not seen you” I could answer with a clear conscience, “yes Sister I have” . And I had. But only for half a day.
I remember I used to get annoyed when the BBC would nip off to cover the Test match and left tennis behind. Those were the days of one channel and cricket actually being on terrestrial tv.
I continued finding cricket a dreary past time for some years and then I ended up sharing an office with a cricket fanatic. During the summer he had his transistor radio (remember them?) permanently playing Test Match Special. Those were the heady days of Brian Johnson, Christopher Martin Jenkins, Tony Lewis et al and gradually this seeped into my consciousness and I found myself listening much though I tried not to.
Looking back I do wonder how this bloke got away with it as he did no work at all and skived all day. But then we worked in Local Government…..
A friend of mine invited me one summer to spend a weekend with her and her family. They lived in Nottingham and her dad, Bill, was a member of the Nottingham CCC. Oh he was a lovely man. Immaculately turned out. pressed trousers, shirt and tie and polished shoes and courteous and polite. I loved him on sight.
The sun was shining on the Sunday morning and Bill announced we were going to watch a one day match at the cricket ground. My heart sank, Oh God I thought but being a good guest I beamed and said “How nice” and off we went. Lovely sunny day and I found myself in the member’s enclosure drinking Pimms, eating cucumber sandwiches and strawberries and cream. Despite myself I began to enjoy the cricket and then with a vague air of disbelief heard myself utter “Oh good shot, well done!” and this went on all afternoon. It was all frightfully British.
A month later and another visit to see Bill. This time it was in the hay fever season, the pollen count was through the roof and I could barely breathe. Bill had asthma even worse than mine so we stayed indoors with the curtains drawn and what was on telly? Yes you have guessed it. A Test Match against Australia.
Bill and I watched it all and he explained everything to me. And I mean everything. Why a certain bowler placed a fielder in a certain place as he was going to make him play his shot there, the field placings – they took a while to sink in (I still have blank moments thinking about silly mid on) – and the way individual batsmen played. He made me understand that just saving your wicket and blocking and sticking it out could be exciting (Cardiff in later years proved that) and I ended up being totally fascinated by it all.
(At the same time I was learning to love cricket I had a boyfriend who loved Wagner and I spent an awful lot of time sitting through long Germanic operas and I honestly think the two were linked. You need tolerance and patience and stamina for both)
It was clear I just needed somebody to explain it all to me and I was lucky enough to find that person. Dear Bill. No longer with us but I will never forget him.
Later when I was married (luckily to a cricket lover) and had two daughters we all watched cricket together. When my eldest child started school I would strap her baby sister in the pram and race round to collect her from the playground in the afternoon, luckily just round the corner, grab her and belt back. No nattering with the yummy mummies at the school gate tarted up in the latest designer gear. I got it down to a fine art and found I only missed three overs. Nowadays I would probably have only missed one. …
Though my husband liked cricket we did not have Sky and the darkness descended and so I watched an awful lot of tennis. This was anathema to him and I did get rather tired of my beloved coming into the room and saying “Oh for heaven’s sake you are not STILL watching this crap are you”?
Reader I divorced him.
So I ended up living on my own and I thought ooh goody now I can get Sky with nobody to moan about it but the flats were a Sky free zone and so I languished existing on the coverage from Channel 4 which I thought was pretty good though Ian whathisface began to get on my nerves after a while. Too smooth and urbane by half. Never trust a smooth man is my motto.
Then Sky came up with the idea of communal dishes and all of us screamed with delight and had it installed and I was in heaven. I now had cricket coming out of my ears and I wallowed in cricket and all was gemutlich and lovely. I was a happy woman.
It was too good to last. 2014 happened.
KP. Need I say more?
The answer is no because it has all been said, but I will nail my colours to the mast here and say I was firmly in Kev’s Camp. I simply could not understand the vitriol and hatred he seemed to generate on social media and the cricketing forums and, of course, the ECB. You would have to be a mixture of Mugabe and Hitler to justify this reaction. OK I get he was a Marmite person but considering the English team was peopled with the likes of Broad, Anderson and Prior you cannot feel he was alone in that regard.
Along with others during that time, I lost faith with the English cricket team. Not cricket itself, I could never do that, but I found it really hard, if not impossible to support them. I found myself watching their opponents and willing them to do well. When they took an English wicket I cheered. Now I did not like feeling like this I found it all vaguely discombobulating.
Things got better when the Golden Boy finally retired and I did not have to watch him standing in the field looking gormless and picking his nose while Anderson and Broad ignored him and did what they liked. Of course, I then had to watch Joe Root standing in the field, not picking his nose thank gawd, while Anderson and Broad ignored him and did what they liked.
This feeling lasted until last year when the tide slowly started to turn and I found myself beginning to support them again, but I have to say it is still early days and I realised how fragile this feeling was when I watched the final of the World Cup and really wished New Zealand had won.
Watching cricket over the past forty years has brought me so much joy. I enjoy one day matches, I enjoy 20-20, I love the IPL with all its razzamatazz and silliness. But oh how I love Test Cricket. When it is on my friends and family know that I more or less go into purdah and will not answer the phone or venture forth. When four day Tests were mooted last year I nearly had apoplexy.
And sometimes I find myself watching cricket even when it clashes with Wimbledon. Proof positive I think.
At the moment I am in self isolation as I am an Old Person – my daughters have told me so and said I have to Be Careful. So now would be the perfect time to watch cricket. And of course there is none. Talk about the law of Sod. It is like being ill in bed and thinking oh I can spend all day reading when the reality is you are feeling lousy and can’t be arsed.
There are only so many re-runs of old cricket matches one can take, and the picture is square and you have great gaps at the side on your posh new telly and it is all too much to bear. So I have switched off and ponder on the Big Question – are Sky going to give me a refund on my sub to Sky Sports now they are not showing any? I have my doubts..
So there you have it. My journey into the light. Not exactly revelatory or earth shattering.
It’s quiet at present, otherwise I am sure this would never see the light of day . So if you have read this sparkling and witty piece through to the end then well done. You deserve a treat.
Perhaps you should buy a ticket for The Hundred…..
Elaine Simpson-Long @randomjottings1