6th November 2014
Patrolling the Boundary – a view from the outfield
As a lad, my Dad used to take me away to the first 3 days of a Test in England outside London each year, in the company of his fellow beer-drinking thirty-somethings.
These were the days of ‘no kids in pubs’, so I spent many a lunchtime sat outside bars watching the world go by.
But as a young amateur scorer (freshly sharpened pencils, firm black biro – but none of that multi-coloured nonsense!) he never let me miss entering a ball in my Bourne’s Empire scorebook.
In 1981 Dad and I and his pals went up to Trent Bridge for the 1st Test of what wasn’t at that stage ‘Botham’s Ashes’. A low-scoring contest, shaded by Australia – the turning point being when Border was dropped off a dolly by wicket-keeper Downton in the 1st innings, which would’ve given us a very handy lead. Whatever happened to him, I wonder?
Later in the summer, after the heroics of Headingley and Edgbaston, my Dad’s pals went to the 5th Test at Old Trafford. If you recall, England mustered 231 (thanks to a painfully dour 69 by Tavare, and a maiden 50 by Allott). Australia were then shot out for 130 in just over 30 overs.
Day 3, Saturday, dawned with England 70-1, 171 to the good. Interest for the guys was reduced greatly because Gooch was gone (we were all Essex supporters), and Boring Boycott and Tedious Tavare were together. On a hot day, the first session was as ‘anti-cricket’ a morning as is imaginable.
From memory (I was glued to my TV in Walthamstow), the pair added something like 8 in an hour and a bit. And when Boycott was dismissed, he was quickly followed by Gower, Gatting and Brearley. England went to Lunch 104-5. Effectively, 34-4 in the session. There’d been one boundary all morning.
“Fuck this for a laugh” the guys apparently said and marched off to a far distant pub the other side of town, away from crowd noise, radios, and twenty years of so away from the ubiquitous ‘Big Screen’.
They siddled back to their seats several pints later, sometime after Tea. Tavare was now joined by wicket-keeper Knott (back then Downton was held accountable for his follies). The boys looked at the scoreboard, and had to rub their eyes. They did so again.
England 260-6. Last man – Botham 118.
But here’s a happier variant on the ‘missed cricket’ story:
A year earlier, in 1980 we attended the Headingley Test between England and West Indies.
The first day was washed out. Rather than take me to sit outside the pub in the rain, Dad took me to see a newly released movie, a sequel, that this 11-year-old was busting to see, having thoroughly enjoyed the first. In a flea pit in Leeds we saw The Empire Strikes Back, and its support feature, The Black Knight, which remains the 2nd worst movie I’ve ever seen. I’ve only ever met one other person who says they saw it – anyone else remember it?
Anyway, that evening we dined in the veritable fish & chips Heaven that was (still is?) Brian’s. In there were the match umpires, Bill Alley and Ken Palmer.
“Any chance of play tomorrow?” my Dad asked. “Not a chance. Forget it” he was told.
Next day me, Dad and his pals headed off to Bronte country in Haworth to do the steam train and make something of our day. It was a nice, clear sky and the dales were breathtaking. After the excursion, we found a little out of the way inn, and the enlightened landlord actually allowed me inside. My Dad asked him, just on the off chance, if we could switch the radio on to check if there was any chance of play?
“Play will begin in 25 minutes” declared Johnners.
My heart froze. I was devastated. We were God knows how far from Leeds and I was going to miss cricket. My world was over (and please bear in mind that I was still reeling from the previous day’s shock at learning the paternal truth behind Luke Skywalker’s identity). I looked at my father. Surely not…
He looked at me, put down his tankard, and turned to Barry Newton, who was a driver of one of the three cars on the outing – and the only Yorkshireman among our group:
“Come on, Barry. Let’s go. You know the way.”
He said this in exactly the way Obi-Wan would inform stormtroopers that they didn’t need to see someone’s pass.
Barry necked his beer, and we were off.
Hurtling through the Yorkshire countryside at fantastic speeds, we got to the ground (Barry dropped us off at the turnstile) as the opening over was already being completed – but cool and undeterred, Dad had scored the opening forays via the car radio, picking up Tony Cozier’s clear and concise radio commentary (thank the stars Arlott wasn’t on. A great commentator – but he was a nightmare for those of us trying to score off the radio back then), while managing to negotiate our tickets, pack lunch, binoculars etc.
We made our way to our seats, where I took over the duties for the innings’ 4th over.
England were all out for 143, and my hero, Gooch succumbed for 14.
But that didn’t matter. I didn’t mind. I’d got there, and I’d seen it, and my book had recorded it.
It wasn’t Gooch, but my Dad who was the big hero that day.
And he wasn’t a Dark Lord of the Sith.