Boycott’s Bane

Today is the first day of my life. My Blog life that is. Obviously I wasn’t actually born today because I wouldn’t be able to type, amongst a few other practical considerations. On early reflection this Blog isn’t going to make satisfying reading for the pedants among you, so I will leave a pause here to allow such individuals to disembark…

…there – it’s just you and me now. Or more probably just me. The truth is that I simply don’t care about appeasing any wider audience as my motivations for this Blog are … a topic for another day. Back to the script…

And today is a day of firsts because I am sitting on a modest white and, it has to be said unremarkable, moulded plastic seat the placement upon which I have been permitted in response to my purchase of a ticket. On face value the payment of money in exchange for a ticket to sit on an unremarkable white moulded plastic seat may seem financially unwise but fortunately for me this seemingly Madoffesque investment is an fact redeemed by the placement of the seat, being as it is overlooking the Derbyshire cricket ground. The “first” relates not to the furniture – there have been other seats – but to the fixture, namely a 20-20 fixture with Durham the visitors.

It’s gloriously sunny, there is a packed crowd and a perfect ice cold pint of lager is securely ensconced in my hand – in summary everything you don’t associate with English cricket. This comparison is based on my definitive experiences of the 4-day game having been a frequent visitor to the county ground on not one but two separate occasions to see half a days play against Worcester and Warwickshire respectively. These occasions were in stark contrast, attended by a smattering of retired folk for whom the company was everything and the cricket incidental. In fairness the company was better than the cricket.

I have struck up conversation with an old boy two seats along (there are gaps – I’m not being rude) who explains he has been here two hours because the ticket said 5pm and now he finds the game starts at 7pm. He is obviously a seasoned supporter and I resist the temptation to point out that the internet marketing blurb clearly stated 7pm as kick off (what is the cricketing equivalent of “kick off”? I know that the end of play is referred to as “stumps” so there most be an opposing term if only to balance things out), partly because I fear he may not be acquainted to the fruits of Tim Berners-Lee but mostly because I don’t want to encourage him. It’s a man thing. It is fortunate therefore when a game of cricket breaks out.

I can’t help but be struck by the modern 20-20 cricketer’s demeanour. Forget the pot bellied be-sweatered types engraved on our consciousness from times gone by – a collective of jovial dad-types with competing hair crises for whom the word “Cricket” would most likely be followed by the words “ters Arms” before, say, “practice”. These latter day counterparts are young, lean and razor sharp both mentally and physically. The warm up (that’s one difference already) alone is enough to firmly silence any semi-dormant flight of fancy I may have been harbouring that the scattering of runs I fluked in the last match I played 15 years ago against equally inept work colleagues might have been somehow transferable to the county scene. I am decided that the cannon ball deliveries rehearsed in the outfield will best witnessed from a white plastic seat than the crease. Besides I would hate to spill my pint while trying to bat.

Derbyshire bat first. Old boy tells me that after winning their first two short-form matches we have lost our next four. Only the first half of that sentence surprises me. It’s engaging stuff. How to describe 20-20 cricket? It’s like watching the highlights package of a four day match but in real time. The ball is slogged to the boundary with regularity. Each four or six is greeted by a snippet of music that blares out from speakers placed around the perimeter. The kids love it. The dads love it. The mums tolerate it because the kids love it, and they can soak in the sun chatting to other mums. Old boy sits unresponsive other than to mark down the scoring sequence on a chart with a tattered biro. A wicket goes down as one of the openers fends off a scud missile that is edged to slip. Durham are high fiving and opener trudges off head down. A short fit of motown booms out from the speakers which serves neither to cheer up the batsman or provide any musical meaning. A child behind me smacks together some clackers (the cricketing equivalent to a football rattle for a more demonstrative generation) that still echo in my head as number 3 comes into bat. This alone makes me hope it is a match of few wickets.

A few balls later and it’s 2 down. This time the bowler comes in at a medium pace, pitches the ball at an eminently playable length and the batsman half comes forward to play a text book “crap shot” that sails with sat-nav precision into the nearest fielders grateful hands. The score is in the twenties, the home side are 2 down and we are in the third over. Cue some chart friendly gangsta rap and another bout of the clackers. I turn my head around to see whether the young wielder of said percussive weapon can be hard-stared into silence. Not a chance, despite his older brother pointing out that he was only supposed to use them when Derbyshire do something notable, not the away team.

Number 4 arrives at the crease and – now what? There is an exchange with one of the umpires and a break in play. Umpire A has a discussion with Umpire B accompanied by all the sort of arm gestures that umpires make. Oh this is great – the players are all leaving the pitch! If it’s not the rain it’s the sun! Clearly they aren’t used to this sort of thing, what with the wicket in its fixed alignment and the passage of the sun long since understood not only by Pagan high priests but also presumably by the MCC. The umpires remain on the pitch discussing what to do – a conversation that I suspect has short legs. Of the variables involved I’m guessing that passage of the sun to some subsequent non-intrusive position in it’s arc is the likely solution. Never one to make assumptions Umpire A opens what I like to believe is his rule book to find out whether this is the course of action sanctioned by the MCC. Apparently it is and word emerges that the sun will be given permission to continue its orbit, although the length of the delay remains unknown. And these are the boffins that came up with the Duckworth Lewis scoring system…

The crowd occupies itself with beer refills, toilet visits and sunbathing beneath the sweltering cloudless summer sky. I consider the irony of the floodlights that have been turned on since I arrived. Old boy unzips his coat. It’s going to be a long evening. Time for another pint.

We are 15 minutes into sun-stops-play and with bladders empty and glasses full there is a general murmur of discussion in the stands regarding the length of the delay. Old boy points out he has to catch a bus back later and if this drags on too long he will miss the end. I decide that he has found himself alone following the tragic loss of his wife of many years and that watching cricket alone may be his much awaited day out. Then I wonder if this is a little close to home. Either way, the cricket is back on! I try to calculate the number of degrees the sun has moved in 20 minutes before deciding that the memory of my 100% basic numeracy score at secondary school some $% years ago has – like any illusion of my cricketing prowess – long been consigned to the shadows that loom ever closer to the spectators in the stands. Most likely they decided to resume because the beer barrels had run dry.

The Derbyshire innings continues where it left off. There is a regular fall of wickets, decreasingly regular musical interludes to mark the scoring of boundaries and meaningful resistance is only provided by just one batsman who needless to say is an Aussie. He holes out on 59 and that’s the end of that. The innings peters out with something of a wimper and come the end of the innings there is a polite and gentile reception to the remaining batsmen as they return to the clubhouse which suggests a “6 out of 10” kind of appraisal from the faithful. I notice a single clacker on the floor ahead of me and realise that this is why the racket behind me stopped earlier. I can’t believe how much noise it made now that I can see it is essentially a plastic baton inflated with air. Perhaps the breeze took it when the boy was otherwise engaged, but I have a sneaking suspicion that dad got sick of it and chucked one of them when his son’s back was turned.

We are now in shade and the floodlights are just starting to bite noticeable chunks out of the evening sky. It’s turned a bit chilly and I don a top packed away in my bag. They made me open my bag on the way in to check for beer. Presumably if I had been carrying non-alcoholic explosives that would have been fine. I decide to listen to my MP3 player that I thoughtfully packed for just this break. It’s completely flat. Old boy completes his scorecard and produces a Tupperware box from his bag containing a packup. It is apparent that Mrs Old Boy is alive and kicking. Theirs is a relationship that survives around definition of roles, division of labour and a fair dose of not being in the same room at the same time. Mrs sends Mr out with a packup and she gets to spend the evening in doing cross-stitch while listening to the Archers. Or something. Clearly I have too much time to think about such things in the interval. It seems oddly paradoxical that during the non-stop action on the pitch the organisers chose to needlessly overlay proceedings with music and hype. Then during the interval, well, it’s all a bit dull really. I’m sure some local brass band would be happy to have their practice session on the County Ground pitch. Heck, I would happily watch some karaoke. There’s enough beer been drunk and I’m sure there would be some takers.

A precession of fleeced (in both senses) middle aged couples (where did they come from?) walk past holding styrafoam containers. The smell doesn’t encourage me to trace their origins. I even spot a few folk wearing Durham tops. Have they really travelled all the way down from the North East to watch their team on a Tuesday evening? Blokes with yet more beer walk by an then, strangely a couple with styrafoam boxes that I have already seen walk past in the same direction. Have they done a lap? Maybe they are looking for the perfect place to sit down. The other side of the wall perhaps?

The players return. Let’s see what Derbyshire’s bowlers can do against the Durham openers. I soon find out that the answer is “get their deliveries leathered to every corner of the ground”. It is fiercesome and relentless. They are soon well ahead on run rate and you can see heads in the fielding side visibly wilt. The boundary fielder turns away from the wicket with increasing regularity to sign autographs for young boys who don’t seem know who he is. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Old Boy says nothing but has a “seen it all before” look of resignation about him. Half way through the visitors reply they are two thirds of the way to Derbyshire’s total. It’s good to watch but the heat of the day has gone, the result is all but decided and I’m secretly hoping they finish things off quickly so I can go home. Some mental arithmetic suggests they will pick the runs off inside 14 overs at this rate. The two batsmen at the crease each pass 50, to an appreciative applause from fans home and away. So easy is the batting that I fear the boundary music will start to be repeated as they use all the clips up.

Old boy bids his farewell and heads off to get his bus, with a full 50 runs still to get. He knows his cricket. The crowd become more subdued as they come to terms with the impending defeat that Old Boy and the fielding team resigned themselves to some time ago. The evening air suddenly feels chilly. A couple of wickets are apologetically taken and to my irritation the remaining runs are picked up at a relatively glacial rate. I wonder whether to slink out early but fear a spotlight will be thrust in my direction and the tannoy announcer will say “no you don’t!”.

The winning run comes mercifully and people get up to leave with indecent haste. It has been something of a rout. The home team looks rather bewildered and disoriented as they leave the field. With such a cosmopolitan array of countries of birth many of them perhaps don’t really know where they are. One of them only got off the plane from South Africa a day or two ago.

Margaret Becket, Simon Groome, Tim-Brooke-Taylor, Tosh Lines from the Bill – your boys took one hell of a beating.

I put my head down and walk briskly in a homewards direction and wonder whether Old Boy will be sat in the same seat next time around.