Sleepless (in seat L)

A gentleman dozing in the sun is a popular image of the cricket spectator. The image conveys the tranquility of the sport, or less generously, that it is a game that moves so slowly that sleep takes hold of the viewer.

With England playing in New Zealand, and the guts of the day’s play happening after my bedtime, I am reminded that cricket has caused me more sleeplessness than sleep. I can pinpoint the very first night that my rest was disturbed by cricket: 30 December 1982 – day five of the fourth Ashes Test.

England began the match two down with two to play. The Ashes, held since 1977, were in serious jeopardy. Australia had won the second and third tests of the series, its fast bowlers providing the more effective attack. But the fourth test was thrillingly equal, from first innings to the final margin. The four innings fell within a range of just 14 runs. Australia had been set 292 for match and series victory. Advantage through their innings swung, just as the whole match had. 39-2.. 171-3.. 219-9. The chief protagonist of this middle-late order collapse was England’s young fast bowler, Norman Cowans (a surprise quick tour pick), who took four wickets in the fourth evening, on his way to 6-77 in the innnings.

ct millerAustralia began the final day, me in bed listening to Test Match Special, on 255-9. Allan Border and Jeff Thomson were half-way towards the target for their final wicket partnership. I was tired and downhearted. England didn’t seem to be creating any chances and the runs were ticking away. I neither wanted to listen nor to switch off. After seventeen overs, Australia had closed to within a boundary of victory. I think it was CMJ commentating (do correct me) who described Botham’s delivery to Thomson, which went something like this .. edged to Tavare.. he’s dropped it.. no it’s caught by Miller. My hair prickled, I wanted to shout. I was exhausted. I couldn’t sleep.

Twenty years later, another England victory left me agitated and sleepless. The first test at Christchurch was played on one of the first ‘drop in’ pitches – i.e. cultivated elsewhere, and slotted into the ground for the match. This novel approach to groundskeeping turned upside down one of the constants of first class cricket: pitches deteriorate as a match progresses, making run-scoring increasingly difficult. This characteristic became apparent on day three as England’s sixth wicket pair, Graham Thorpe and Andrew Flintoff, set off on a partnership at odds with the low, slow scoring of the first two days. England, the radio pundits said, would manage with a lead of 250, which they were 80 short of at the fall of the fifth wicket. Fifty overs later and the lead was 460.

New Zealand were eventually set a target of 550. I went to bed with New Zealand down a few wickets and many hundreds still to get, but batting with some verve. Restless through the night, I tuned in to hear commentary as breathless as I can remember. Nathan Astle had run amok, and with Chris Cairns, a lame last wicket partner, were making the most audacious assault on the England attack. Boundaries followed boundaries. England’s attack was hapless – short balls pummelled over midwicket alternated with full balls launched straight. It was humiliating, but futile, so great was the target. Twenty minutes later, the flood untrammeled, the commentators began to consider an England defeat. Then, with the suddenness of all wickets, it was over. Astle out for 222 from 168 balls; a ‘tainted’ victory, I felt, so badly caned were England’s bowlers. Heart-racing, my night’s sleep was over.

Anxiety about my own play has from time-to-time cost me sleep. Only once have I been not out over night. Even with a fifty to rest my head on, I

Peter Sleep

Peter Sleep

slept poorly that night (uneasy lies the head that wears the lid – except I didn’t and never have worn one). The next day, my timing had gone and I slapped my way to a (still) personal best 90.

I have had an even more intimate case of cricket-induced sleeplessness. As a teenager, I played whole-hearted Sunday village cricket with the flotsam and jetsam of my Chiltern Hills village. One Bank Holiday weekend, the club steward chucking us out, we decided on some night-time japes. A visit to the churchyard was mooted, but rejected in favour of sleeping on the square, protecting the pitch for the Bank Holiday Monday’s fixture. The skipper, his girlfriend and three players headed for the middle. There we spread duvets and bedded down. I have endured some scratchy, almost painful innings, but I have never been so uncomfortable in the middle. The joking ceased, somone slept, the skipper and his girlfriend began rolling the pitch and I borrowed some car keys and tried sleeping in a VW Beetle’s passenger seat.

There is one occasion in my career when cricket and sleep fed upon one another. On tour in the south-west with my college old boys team in the early 1990s, our two fixtures were split by a rest day. While the bulk of the team opted for a round of golf, the captain and I (protecting our batting techniques from golf’s seductions) set out on a walk that took us along the south coast to Lyme Regis. In a churchyard above the harbour we found a bench and sat soaking up the late summer sun. Important context is that the day before, I had batted through most of our innings to help secure a draw against the much stronger team from Axminster, keeping out a young quick bowler seeking his hundredth wicket of the season. As relevant is that I had undiagnosed sleep apnoea. So, like a retiree at a county out-ground, I dropped off, almost mid-conversation. When, twenty minutes later, I blinked awake, the captain was eyeing me warily. I apologised. He asked if I knew what I had been doing. I braced for embarassment. He laughed and said I had been mumbling over and over again, “Get forward, get on the front foot, get forward…”

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About chrisps

TouchlineDad to three sporty kids; cricket blogger and coach; and the alpha male in our pride.

7 responses to “Sleepless (in seat L)”

  1. Maithri Jayasuriya says :

    As someone who doesn’t have SKY, I have to watch cricket via dodgy streams on the internet.

    But usually for England matches, I listen to TMS and have found that listen to cricket (or any sport) on the radio is 10 times more nerve-racking and tense than watching it on TV. Now I don’t particuarly care whether England win or lose but when it is a match that I am emotionally plugged in to, I find that not being able to see the action means that you are imagining it more and your imagination takes hold, regardless of the great job that Aggers and co. do in describing what is going on.

  2. Dave says :

    The end of the Melbourne test in 82-83 coincided with the removal of all four of my wisdom teeth. I awoke from anaesthetic in the middle of the night in King’s College Hospital with an aching jaw and knew I would not be able to get to sleep. The hospital radio however had R4 LW and I listened to the whole of the penultimate day. Any mention of Chris Tavare and Geoff Miller together provokes a strange tingling in my gums.

    • chrisps says :

      Dave, very good to hear from you. ‘..a strange tingling in my gums’ may be the strongest sensation Chris Tavare ever provoked while playing test cricket.

      The modern touring team may have superior medical support to that available to old Turl CC, but it surely wouldn’t be as exotically dressed.

  3. Dave says :

    And on the subject of the Axminster tour, we needed a rest day after chasing the ball all over the field as they amassed 200 and quite a lot for not many. I seem to remember a key player was laid low with a provisional diagnosis of syphilis. But it was a great escape …

  4. Brian Carpenter says :

    It won’t surprise you to know that I’ve been there too, Chris, and remember most of the occasons you mention, from Melbourne ’82 onwards.

    I simply can’t do the long stints I used to and tend to dip in and out these days. Christchurch 2002 was one such. I watched most of the Thorpe-Flintoff stand the night before and so couldn’t stay up the following night. I woke up and turned on TMS quite late in Astle’s 222 and Henry Blofeld was even more incoherent than usual (and that’s very incoherent).

    The choice of Peter Sleep’s picture is appropriate for more than one reason. One of my great all-nighters (in a dive of a student house in Leamington Spa) came when England were chasing a target on the last day at Sydney in January 1987. Powered by 96 from Mike Gatting they fell 55 short and Sleep (quite an average bowler ina average side) took five.

    I suspect my attention wasn’t the best in my lectures the next day, although I was young then…

    • chrisps says :

      Brian, I’m pleased it struck a chord. Despite being in my first year at college, I don’t remember staying up all night to listen to the 86/7 series – but would I remember? I watched the highlights of that series in the room of my erstwhile opening partner and college skipper, @ghdunn1, who had so much electrical equipment in his room, we renamed it Dixons.

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  1. does this sound like sleep apnoea? | sleepapneahelpsite.com - April 18, 2013

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