Basingstoke in the mid-1990s; the scorer’s hut. “I’ll give you our top five,” said our skipper to their scorer. “Dunn, Mann, Smith, Brown, Wood.”
“Sounds like a team of aliases.”
A top order of monosyllabic names. And now we find ourselves short of one syllable.
Greg was tall, often sunburnt, unhurried and calm. He smiled, bearing lightly our ritual teasing of the team’s sole Yorkshireman, replying with gentle ripostes in an immaculate accent unaffected by three years spent down south studying. University for most is a launch-pad away from home, giving energy to the search for new experiences and changed identities. For Greg, comfortable I imagine with who he was and where he came from, undergraduate study was a detour.
Some years, Greg would show on tour the benefit of his time playing club cricket in West Yorkshire. Once, we were mismatched against a Devon club 1st eleven. Greg, after the loss of most of our monosyllabic top-order, faced their teenage quick who was relishing the chance to pick up his 100th wicket of the season against some fragile tourists. I was pleased to have made it to the non-striker’s end, from where I saw the young bowler dig in a delivery that was heading for Greg’s torso. With a speed of reaction that surprised and contrasted with everything we had offered hitherto in that innings, Greg pivoted and pulled the ball with a clean crack through square leg. A moment of class that communicated that we may be hung-over, but we weren’t to be push-overs.
Greg missed several tours owing to a prior commitment. He had become involved with coaching his club’s junior section – a genuinely selfless act as he wasn’t following (or steering) his own child’s activity. On August Bank Holiday, Greg organised a cricket festival for the primary school kids of his area. In his absence, naturally he was a topic of our discussions. There was a story of Greg earnestly telling a young player’s Dad that his son’s bowling action was suspect. “That’s not what Martyn Moxon thinks,” was the reply. I also remember one of our number saying that each morning, when John Simpson cued up the BBC’s business correspondent, he amused himself by imagining it would be our Greggy’s Yorkie tones that he would hear, not the bland voice of his BBC namesake. Greg’s former team-mates will be experiencing a lot of fond imaginings of their friend.
These memories are so arbitrary and slight, as is the way when there’s no particular purpose for storing a recollection. Thinking back, Greg is associated not with sharp images but feelings: the easy companionship of our team’s reunions; threads of familiar stories picked up, spun a little, then put down safe in the belief that we will continue the narrative together.
We do, though, have some more deliberately formed memories: of a ludicrously warm weekend spent in Leeds this past summer. We had thought it sensible to locate our Friday 13th get-together close to Greg’s home, hoping he could join us. But Greg, with a vigour that defied his condition, played the part of host and local expert. Our weekend culminated in an afternoon under blazing Yorkshire sun, watching Pudsey St Lawrence play a Bradford League fixture. Our vantage point: camp-chairs and benches, on the boundary beside the sightscreen, with tea in the pavilion and an all day bar. Greg gave us fresh stories that we can enjoy reliving, but that have come to a conclusion.
So, now we find our batting order short of a syllable; and I find myself short of the words that convey the warmth and affection in which our team holds this dear man.
Yesterday, I had intended to write up a piece about Steve Smith, Derek Randall and John Arlott. I was going to point out the similarities of Smith and Randall: fidgeting, stepping across the crease, playing shots without establishing the orthodox ‘solid base’; I would revisit Arlott’s famous article about the Nottinghamshire batsman and why his often replayed summation was unfortunate hyperbole. I was going to conclude that Smith didn’t remind me of my inevitable demise.
But yesterday morning I read the sad news of Seamus Hogan’s death. I knew Hogan in a very modern way: twitter exchanges, emails and comments on each others’ blog posts. Different hemispheres, shared interests, instant, brief communication.
Despite the limitations of that sort of acquaintance, he came across as very likeable, generous and clever. In fact, Hogan was a leading economist and academic in New Zealand. From time to time, he applied his academic rigour to cricket questions, generating counter-intuitive, but statistically solid insights.
Across the cricket world, he is probably best known for his work behind WASP, the result and score predictor used by, amongst other outlets, SkySports. Like any forecasting system, WASP was only really interesting for most viewers when it was wrong. On a couple of occasions, I followed Hogan as he patiently and politely responded to gloating and ill-informed criticism on twitter of the system he co-founded. Too patient and too polite, I thought. Those who really knew him may know if that was his general disposition – I suspect it was.
Hogan’s blogs – about cricket and other matters – can be found on the Offsetting Behaviour website, which he shared with a colleague, Peter Frampton, who wrote this touching, dignified notification of his death.
For all John Arlott’s erudition and eloquence, he was dreadfully wrong about Derek Randall and, indeed, any other batsman “who overplays his hand and falls into disaster”. That’s not what reminds you of your own mortality.
My thoughts are with Seamus Hogan’s colleagues, his students, his friends and, above all, his family.