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Wednesday, 24 February 2010

In the Summertime


Bloody Hell, 200 runs in a one day match against South Africa. Sachin Tendulkar's achievement in helping India to 401 – 3 puts England’s performance against the Prots into context.Mind you the series of one day matches have been ripping – I think that’s the preferred cricketing term.

I come from Hove in Sussex and the County ground of the Sussex CCC is in the town. Not that I spent much time there; I was perfecting my back sweep and late cut on the playing fields of Portslade Rec or Hove Park. To be truthful, although I loved playing the game I was crap (that’s chronic, rubbish, abysmal and pathetic). The thing was I pictured myself as a dashing batsman a la Ted Dexter, but I couldn’t read spin or pace and if anything faster than a dolly ball was delivered I’d close my eyes and swing at it. But I was always there to make up the numbers: and as a marker. If I was at the crease the team knew they’d lost. My bowling technique was not bad; except I tried to be Freddy Truman and Jim Laker at the same time. The poor ball didn’t know whether to rocket off the pitch or gracefully swing in the air before breaking violently as it gripped the turf. The end result was wides and no balls.

However, I had Velcro hands: except this was before that aid to expanding waistlines was around. I was stunning in the slips: no direction was out of reach to me. Left, right, in front, behind where ever the ball was there was I. I was magic. Except on one occasion. It was a school match against Shoreham Grammar - in truth it wasn’t a proper, pukka grammar school but a second rate private school with pretensions. I can talk! I was attending Hove College: its pupils being the sons of fishmongers, builders and airline pilots with more money than sense and sons with even less.

The school’s no longer there. It used to be on the main sea front road – Kingsway - just down from the junction with Hove Street. It was run by two contrasting joint heads. Mr Jackson, a regimental sergeant major in a mortar board, who stalked the school in a fog of Extra Strong Capstan fag smoke, with a mad terrier dog snapping at his academic gown. He took history and French (I think). I may be mis remembering this but I recall that he smoked in class. Nothing unusual there since most of the boys did. He lived in a delightful, to me, house in the school grounds and we swore that Mrs Jackson was always pissed which is why we hardly saw her and if we did she was partially unrobed.

The other head, Mr Dixon, was totally different. A bachelor, with white wavy hair, a high pitched voice, a stutter and closed eyes. He always talked with his eyes closed. Which was somewhat of a disadvantage in class since he added to his blindness by addressing the blackboard rather than the students. He was a pedagogical disaster, but I had a soft spot for him. It was he who encouraged my interest in science.

The school had a science laboratory hidden away which was never used, but somehow I discovered it and asked Mr Dixon if I could use it. I played around with telescopes and resurrected an old Wimshurst machine, which I am convinced was the cause of a lightening strike on our house. I was energetically generating static electricity in my bedroom as an electric storm raged outside. Seeing huge sparks leap across the terminals of my machine the sky borne electric bolts homed in on them like nobody’s business. (Ed note:On re-reading this it I find it sounds vaguely pornographic).

Getting back to the cricket match. I had had a stinker in the slips. All and any ball that nicked the bat headed unerringly in my direction. And equally unerringly I would drop the blighters. (I think it was in this match that our wicket keeper lost his two front teeth after standing up close for what he was sure would be a slow ball but which in fact turned out to be a screamer). Anyway, I was promptly moved to cover. I was minding my own business when the batman made solid contact with an easy ball and it flew shoulder high between me and point. I leapt to my left, arm outstretched and my whole body parallel to the ground and snatched the ball out of the air. Silence; all eyes were on me, mouths gaping and slowly the drip, drip, drip of clapping hands roared into a thunderous torrent. I was a hero.

My next outing onto the field of play wasn’t so successful. Despite my previous superhuman effort I was 12th man and as one of the umpires had cried off I was called to officiate. Surprisingly, in the light of what followed, I remember it as if it was yesterday.

I was at square leg, with two or three caps on my head, a couple of sweaters wrapped round my midriff and I was bored. Then I noticed a young couple edging ever so gently away from the main crowd into the shade of a large tree. There, believing the shade obscured them from the view of prying eyes they started an elaborate mating ritual which involved the placing of hands on various sensitive parts of the anatomy and the discrete but clearly visible exposure of flesh – breasts, thighs and the like.

I don’t know for how long I was distracted but certainly long enough not to see the batsman drag the ball from the off side to the leg side, propelling it with some gusto in my direction. Suffice to say that it hit me fair and square and I was felled like a stag in a chase. The match was stopped and I was carried off the pitch where ministering angels in the shape of Mr Dixon and one of the parents managed to bring me round. That was I think the last time I stood on the playing fields of England. After that it was cross country running and table tennis for me.

Now honestly don’t you think that compared to my sporting misadventures, all this stuff about Ashley Cole and his misses is mere bagatelle. And do you see me splattered over the red tops? Of course not. It wouldn’t be cricket.

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