Our day’s first sight of Morgan is well-received. On the big screen in the car-park, he is shown winning the toss – about which we are neutral – and, crucially, opting to bat. He has given his vaunted batsmen an opportunity to pile up runs against the weakest opponents in the tournament. We approve. We have, not a promise, but a probability of a full day of entertainment.
On our second sight, Morgan is less well-received. It’s him tripping down the stairs from the changing room, not England’s greatest limited overs batsman. The innings is in the 30th over. Buttler-time. But Jos is batting in scorecard order, not in situation-specific sequence. ‘Spare your back, skip,’ we mutter. England’s innings, without a Roy-based supercharge, has for 29 overs felt like an preamble, foundations built by a fastidious builder on ground that is already solid and ready for England to erect great towers and arches. Still scoring at 5 runs per over, with wickets in hand – it feels quaint, not bold new England.
Morgan does nothing to alter the tenor – a single off seven deliveries – and we enjoy the replays of Gulbadin’s return catch, taken at shin height, that stopped Bairstow’s progress towards a century and his, as the set batsman, anticipated assault on the bowling. Morgan, like a coach demonstrating the shot to junior cricketers, plays back and forwards with exaggerated care. His bat canted downwards as though surrounded by crouching Afghan fielders. In reality, five are arrayed at the edge of the 30 yard circle and, blue and red kit merging with the World Cup signage, four more are stationed camouflaged on the boundary.
It’s heralded by a no-ball. Morgan pivots on the free-hit and the ball clears the boundary in front of square. Before we know it, the game spirals. Like a boxer, Morgan deals in one-two combinations. Pitch it up and a clean sweep of the bat, sometimes vertical, but always angled optimally for the width of the delivery, sends the ball in gorgeous high arcs beyond the fielders and the straight boundary. Drop it short and Morgan swoops with sudden energy to put the ball beyond the leg side fence.
Morgan’s crouch and his bottom-hand dominant swing enable him to administer lofted drives to half-volleys, good length deliveries and near yorkers.
And there’s variation: the ball angled at his pads is slog swept to the distance; the quicker bowlers driven straight, with the trajectory of powerful artillery. A straighter pull-shot lands in our stand. It feels like a blessing, or coin tossed by the lord of the manor to his underlings.
Morgan may as well levitate, so intense and unreal in its assurance is his shot-making; he sees, he hits. I recall two mishits: the drop on the leg-side boundary and a single air-shot. He also defends, bat straight, with unerring certainty about which is the right ball to attack.
The spell he has fallen under captures us and who knows, maybe the Afghanis, too? For a little over an hour we have eyes, ears and thoughts for nothing else. Time and space are melded: we exist in the Eoincene era, Morganistan. Morgan provides a release, abstracting us from the cares and concerns of our lives, temporarily wiping clear troubled minds. The elation survives his dismissal but is soon gnawed at by guilt, at surrendering to this pleasure in a wider context of angst and discomfort.
One man present remains outside that spell. Root, arriving at the crease twenty overs earlier than his captain, reaches ten after around ten deliveries. He has reached the forties, scored off 40-ish balls when Morgan arrives. A run-a-ball, or thereabouts, through the careful building of foundations, the sudden acceleration of the innings and the sustained hitting. While Morgan has stretched the elasticity of time in a cricket innings, Root was metronomic, rhythmic, maybe detached.
I wasn’t detached. Morgan transported me and, no fault of his own, left me hungover as the real world and its agonies re-established their dominion. I feel sheepish at how readily seduced I was, but in the same measure grateful to have had – and shared – that experience. My memory of it will join other, largely more personal recollections, that I withdraw to, to find respite. Writing this, the day after, provides the same welcome relief.
I’ve played on a few county grounds, by which I mean grounds where county cricket is played. Broad squares and unvarying outfields to chase a ball across. Empty seating, tiered in and around the grander than usual pavilion, and in long, white single lines, like the teeth of a vast mouth, curving around the boundary. The dimensions don’t quite seem to take account of the greater power and speed of the players who appear on days that the seating isn’t left vacant. But, I suppose tennis courts are the same size at Wimbledon as at my local club, despite the gulf that separates their users’ physical abilities.
My county ground experiences came during a couple of seasons as a marginal second XI pick playing in the Kent League in the early 1990s. Not once did the environs inspire me to raise my game. At Maidstone’s Mote Park, my only memory is of standing at slip being taught Gujarati expressions by the wicketkeeper to shout at our opening bowler. (What was I doing at slip in my twenties? Was I considered a specialist close catcher, or a liability in the ring?) At Dartford, I think it must have rained, although we were lucky to get there as the skipper’s mini metro vanden plas had sudden engine failure climbing a hill on the A2 with a juggernaut on our tail.
Both years, I was in line to play at THE county ground, Canterbury, but had to make myself unavailable because of friends’ weddings. Then there was Cheriton Road, Folkestone, which finished me off as a regular club cricketer in my twenties.
My home ground in those days, Blackheath, had until twenty years before my membership hosted the county team once or twice each season. In 1956 Tony Lock took all ten wickets in an innings there for Surrey and 16 in the match, three weeks before he more famously managed just the one in an Ashes Test at Old Trafford. But by the 1990s, our ground-share cousins, Blackheath RFC, were in the ascendancy. The toll their play took on our outfield meant we referred to the Rectory Field by an anatomical name that shared the same first syllable of its official title.
I had one other near miss. On tour, my college old boys side were due to play at Basingstoke. Having talked up the opportunity to play on one of Hampshire’s out-grounds, we faced a little disappointment to find the club had two pitches and we were on the second of those. Pudsey St Lawrence, also on tour, deservedly played on the main square. That afternoon did provide a little brush with greatness as each our batsmen found themselves being sledged by the 12 year old grandson of a West Indian Test player, who kept wicket for the club’s Sunday seconds.
These experiences of sharing space – if not cotemporally – with professional cricketers came to mind again this week, when no.1 son let on that he would be playing for his school team in a competition at Old Trafford. ‘I’ll see you a county ground and raise you an international venue’, he might have taunted me. But my disappointments looked likely to settle on him as the forecast for Friday was late September, Manchester, grim.
The forecast proved accurate, but Lancashire were very accommodating and turned over the indoor school to the competition. At lunchtime, he sent me a text: “..we’re into the final. Do you want to come and watch?” Wrapping up work for the week in mid-afternoon, I arrived and picked out no.1 son through the netting at the far end of the hall, fielding at third man. I watched the innings unfold, amongst students and school masters, parents and LCCC staff. After 20 minutes, I realised I had no idea of the state of the game. “Nearing the end now,” I was told. The team batting were losing wickets regularly and presumably shedding runs in the way of indoor match scoring. Finally no.1 son came on to bowl. The batsmen were in reckless mode. Two catches taken off successive balls. The next ball, straight and on a length, met by an outrageous attempt at a ramp shot and so, a first hat-trick. He finished his over and the match was done – a comfortable victory.
Players and spectators were invited to the pavilion for food and presentations. Multiple apologies were made for not being able to allow play to take place on the ground. No.1 son received the man of the match award for the final (he’d also “batted ok”, he said) from Lancs Head Coach, Glen Chapple, and his school team collected the trophy.
By way of entertainment, Warren Hegg interviewed Glen Chapple about coaching, what makes a cricketer, toughest opponent (Darren Lehmann) and why he’d been so difficult to captain – the former seeming far more comfortable in his role. “Wonder if any of the lads know who these two are”, whispered Umpire Rob. Probably not, I concurred. And perhaps that ignorance of who and what were in his surrounds served no.1 son well on his first time playing at (if not on) a county ground.
Just like the Birmingham Bears, I was delayed by the traffic.
“Ten minutes and we’re leaving,” I announced on returning to the family home.
“Why can’t I have a phone?” demanded the 1&only daughter.
“By tram. No. Why can’t we go in the car?” complained no. 1 son.
“Can I have a coke?” nagged no. 2 son.
Were Chopra and Brown’s team as moany and discontented as Mrs DG’s and my lot?
A sprinkling of rain fell as we got off the tram at Old Trafford.
“How much longer until they call if off?” queried no.1 son gloomily.
Finding dry seats in C stand, we heard the announcement that the game would start 30 minutes late owing to traffic delays on Daddy’s commute home (or similar).
“Now, we’ve got to sit here for 40 minutes,” muttered no.1 son, who in another Manchester sporting venue is anxious if we aren’t at our seats that length of time before kick-off.
Time well-invested back at the concourse behind the pavilion, buying treats. An ice cream to distract the 1&onlyD from the ignominy of being a year 6 pupil without a mobile phone; and another chosen in a split-second defection from coke by no. 2 son.
I try to explain to Mrs DG the prominence of Brendon McCullum in world cricket. I feel emotional as I summarise how his significance goes beyond New Zealand and can be credited with invigorating the English game this summer.
“So he’s the best T20 player in the world?” questions no.1 son, comfortable with definitive judgements, not the weighing of strengths and weaknesses, the application of context to performance and the sheer ambiguity of the game. “Is he good?” he asks as each new bowler is brought into the attack – frequently, as Lancashire bowl most of the innings in one over spells.
McCullum doesn’t live up to my encomium – although that’s been true of his whole trip to the UK as a batsman. The Bears’ captain, Chopra, and their other international captain, Porterfield, accumulate, but the innings doesn’t ignite.
As each bowler starts their mini-spell, I confirm to no.1 son that, “Yes”, they are good – as well as providing some context. The exception is Steven Croft, about whom for the sake of variety rather than a genuine assessment, I state, “No.” Despite me, Croft bowls well, as do the other spinners, Parry and Lilley, which suggests why the Birmingham innings falters. No.1 son and I comment on the variation in pace and flight of the slow bowlers, but most respect is accorded James Faulkner.
His run-up is pitched like a man trying to progress into the teeth of a gale. But what we appreciate is the accuracy of his back-of-the hand slower ball. He uses it as his default, rather than surprise, delivery and lands it on a length on off-stump repeatedly.
Before the game began, asked how many sixes we would see, I plumped for eleven. The first comes in the Bears’ twentieth over, when Gordon, who the big screen tells us has zero T20 career runs, hoists his first ball over the mid-wicket boundary. If my prediction is to come true, the Lancashire reply will be short and successful.
Mrs DG pronounces it ridiculous that a county is playing a city. I think about asking her views of a team known as ‘England’ playing another titled, ‘West Indies’.
She also detects flatulence innuendo: the Blast, which starts with a Blast-Off and the flaming jets and hot air expelled in front of C stand that signal boundary hits. I enter into the spirit with a plate of lamb rogan-josh, pint of ale and bag of Bombay mix.
We move upstairs for the Lancashire reply. The rows of seats are steeply inclined. No.2 son asks us to sit still as he is anxious about toppling off. The view of the ground, its hinterland and the setting sun is uplifting.
A couple of early sixes shorten odds on my pre-match prediction. But in back garden cricket fashion, each is followed by an out. Mostly Lancashire batsmen mistime the ball or middle it straight at boundary fielders, to no.1 son’s frustration and increasing disdain. Don’t worry, Faulkner’s coming, I reassure.
Mrs DG and the 1&onlyD are focused on the big screen. Tracking the required rate? Checking career records? Studying the umpire referrals of two run out decisions? No. Waiting to see if their selfie tweeted with #summerlive makes the cut. It doesn’t and they feel short-changed. Note to county grounds: make sure you display every photo submitted.
Faulkner does come and some of the time does strike the ball a bit more cleanly than his teammates, but keeps taking singles to bring Jordan Clark or Alex Davies to face – the latter plays a short innings comprising, almost exclusively, attempted ramps. When Faulkner does connect well the ball whistles to the upper tier of the stand at mid-wicket. The chase is on! Then off again when the expected rattle of boundaries doesn’t come and he falls to a good low catch at long-off.
Faulkner is replaced by Liam Livingstone, a cricketer in the odd situation of being more famous for an exploit at club level than in the professional game. Could he alter that tonight? 17 runs to win off the final over would do it.
A straight drive hit so hard that Brendon McCullum at long-on can’t even get close enough to essay a dive, raises hopes. Livingstone runs hard, losing and regaining the strike with byes run to the keeper. Nine needed from the final two balls and the Nantwich player swings Hannon-Dalby into the legside and just over the boundary.
It has come down to the final ball: family friendly cricket. Excitement more memorable than an ice cream and flake, a ride on a busy tram and fear of tumbling from a high stand; and at least on a par with seeing flames shot into the air in front of you. Whether it matches the thrill of seeing your photo on the big screen, we’ll have to wait for another visit to find out.
Embed from Getty Images
Descriptive language tends in two directions. One is the hyperbolic, where the notable is ‘incredible’, the amusing is ‘hilarious’, the inconvenient is ‘a complete nightmare’. The other direction is careful or casual understatement and it is often found in situations of danger.
In cricket there’s little more dangerous than being hit by the ball. And so the understated, off-hand description of a batsman being struck on the head by a fast bowler may include ‘the ball got big on him’ for the moment prior to impact; ‘sconned’, not for an incident in the Great British Bake-off, but for the thud of the ball onto head; and ‘wearing one’ for the outcome of being unable to elude the speeding ball.
Rarely has ‘wearing one’ applied more literally to a cricketer than to Stuart Broad at Old Trafford on the third day of the fourth Test.
Broad’s innings was brief. He played no stroke to his first two balls, ducking under a short delivery from Pankaj Singh. The following over, looking to increase the scoring rate to build England’s lead quickly, Broad drove at a full ball from Varun Aaron, before hooking successive short balls for six.
The next ball, the sixth of Broad’s innings, was also a bouncer. Broad aimed another hook but, with the ball propelled at 87mph it may have bounced higher, he played under the ball, which arrowed towards his eyes. The momentum of the shot, rather than any move to avoid the ball, swung Broad’s head to the right so the ball crashed into his helmeted head facing midwicket, rather than the bowler. The ball, perhaps through some minor misalignment of the helmet’s grill, forced its way under the helmet peak, breaking Broad’s nose.
Broad swivelled and moved back past his leg stump, after a few steps crouched and waved to indicate help was needed. All the while, the ball was jammed against his face, pinned in place by the helmet’s grill.Embed from Getty Images
I have found the image of Broad with the ball stuck hard against his face, inside the helmet, oddly unsettling. Much more so than the pictures of him bleeding onto the ground, or stitched and bruised. I cannot quite put my finger on what gives me such a strong instinctive reaction to that image, but I’ve tried to rationalise it and have identified the following possibilities and associations:
- the sight of an object lodged fast against the face suggests not just injury, but suffocation. The damage caused is continuing and needs urgent alleviation, not merely treatment.
- the ball is screening the wound, meaning the true extent of the injury has to be imagined until it is revealed.
- a projectile bursting into a body references warfare – not missiles and bombs, but their deadly side-effect, shrapnel
- it even conjures images of assaults by animals, their teeth or claws attached to the flesh
- the picture, in my mind, that it most closely resembles is that of a victim of 1970s football hooliganism with a dart in the nose.
Broad may return for the Oval Test, wearing a mask and wearing a replacement helmet when batting. If he does play, he’s sure to be tested with short-pitched bowling. Let neither he, nor anyone else, have the misfortune of ‘wearing one’ in that unsettling way.
No.1 son came with me to the Sunday of the Old Trafford Ashes Test. It was his first experience of live, professional cricket. It made me think about my first visit to a cricket ground. That, too, was for an Ashes Test: day one of the Oval Test in 1977.
My son saw four and half hours of lively cricket on Sunday. Thirty-six years earlier, my Dad and I had spent a wet morning at the ground before play was called off in the early afternoon. We went to visit my Nan in Carshalton before heading home. I don’t remember being particularly disappointed at seeing no play. The day had had its excitement, beginning with an early morning journey into and through London. I do remember watching the players arrive: the Aussies by coach; England players in sponsored cars. My Dad made much of the Australians not wearing blazer and tie. I recall him attributing their series defeat to this lack of discipline in attire.
I have a memory of the scorecard bought at the ground. The names were familiar to me because that was the summer I began my vigils in front of the TV, lasting from Peter West’s introduction to his closing reminder of the highlights programme late that evening. Beside the players’ names were their counties and more alluringly, states. Queens., W.Aus. NSW, Victoria were terms empty of context that I could conjure with and savour.
And that, until the next season, was my spectating experience of cricket. That’s the story I have told and believed. I was secure in my personal cricket narrative – beginning with a washout and then taking off the next year with runs for Gower and wickets for Botham.
I was taken aback when reading the Wisden match report of that Oval Test last week, and looking at the scorecard. Something else was familiar. It was the description of the end of England’s first innings:
In Saturday’s brief spell of play Willis and Hendrick added 33, taking England to a more respectable total of 214. … The tenth wicket pair hit seven of the sixteen boundaries in the innings.
I remembered Willis swiping at the ball and it arcing over his left shoulder – a shot I knew wasn’t conventional or intended. A man in the crowd said that Willis wanted Botham’s all-rounder spot – at the time I wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic. These were the recovered memories of that Test. My Dad had taken me back on the Saturday. Looking at the scorecard, I then had a realisation, but I regret not a memory, that I had seen Thommo bowl. The world’s fastest bowler, with the action of a javelin thrower making one last effort for Olympic glory, had made no impression on me.
If these were the images that lodged in my memory, some buried deeper than others, I wonder what no.1 son will remember in years to come of his first visit to at Test match.
Will it be Prior and Broad’s boisterous partnership that took England past the follow-on mark and probably to Ashes retention? The dramatic pause while the third umpire and crowd looked again and again at Warner’s top-edged hook behind, that wasn’t – and England’s drama queen response? Steve Smith’s driven sixes, or his run out, where he nearly completed three, while his skipper was content with the single?
It might not be the game. It could be the antics of the crowd around us. The trumpeter, the large man singing falsetto, the Barmy Army chanting? All these things, along with the beer snake construction, seemed of more import to many in our stand. It might just be the squeeze on the tram that sticks in his memory.
Just possibly it will be the incident that, second to him thanking me for taking him and asking when we can go to a county game, gave me the greatest contentment. Queuing in the rain for the tram home, we stood beside four Somerset men who had travelled north for a day of Test cricket. For ten minutes we swapped cricketers’ names and grounds we had played on, comfortable that we were in company of mutual understanding. Could my son find space in his memory for five middle-aged men taxing their own memories to locate names and places, and keeping amateur cricket’s undramatic narrative rolling on?
Punching an opponent in a bar, last-minute replacement of the coach, a polarised dressing room, injuries, selection puzzles, batsmen bailed out by tailenders, DRS confusion, heavy defeat.. the components of a squad spiraling towards defeat are there. Friday at Lord’s – a demonstration of village cricket that lasted two sessions – has been the on-field nadir.
But the ‘most chaotic Ashes campaign’ tag starting to be applied is inappropriate for two reasons: the series is still live and there is some fearfully strong competition from the recent past. Here are three nominations.
2002/03 – England
Australia’s retention of the Ashes was decided by 1 December, after just 11 days of cricket. Casualties started a month before England headed to Heathrow. Graham Thorpe pulled out of the tour for personal reasons. Darren Gough made the trip, but never made it onto the field of play. Flintoff travelled too – to rehab and home. Simon Jones played the first of the 11 live days of Test cricket when he suffered the career-threatening knee injury. Five of the other first choice squad incurred injuries that left them unavailable for Test matches. Amongst those called-up to plug the gaps, Silverwood, White, Tudor and Snape were all injured. Jeremy Snape broke his thumb facing his first ball of his first match with the tourists.
The gap between the two teams was set on day 1 of the first Test – when Hussain put the Australians into bat and they reached stumps on 364-2. Victories by hundreds of runs or by an innings followed as Australia motored to scores above 400 and dismissed England with pace, spin and accuracy. England didn’t win a match until their 14th of the tour and the first when the opponents were not Australian (Sri Lanka in an ODI).
1994/95 – England
England, with an upset at Adelaide, took this series to the final match. But there had been chaos along the way. Injuries again ravaged the first choice squad. Six replacements were summoned and the team physio, called upon to be a substitute fielder in a match, broke a finger taking some practice catches. Alec Stewart had three separate fractures to fingers. Phil Tufnell was deemed unwell enough to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital, from which he discharged himself the same day. The team for the fourth test at Adelaide picked itself, comprising the only eleven fit players.
Captain Atherton felt hamstrung by the squad selected by Ray Illingworth, Chairman of Selectors. Evidence of ill-will was found in comments made by the Chairman at home in England and used by the media in Australia to bait Atherton.
The image Atherton uses to introduce this series in his autobiography is telling: he and Angus Fraser sharing a box while batting together in the fifth Test at Perth.
1989 – England
England were clear favourites ahead of the series. They lost 4-0, picking 29 players (13 making a single appearance) as the selectors cast around for players with form and fitness. A different pair of opening bowlers played in each Test. And there was deeper discontent. Gatting, the selectors’ preferred captain, was black-balled and Gower given charge instead. Recruitment for a rebel tour of South Africa was happening behind the scenes, breeding cynicism and resentment.
I moved overseas during the series and remember asking a friend about it when back in Britain the following year. He said he thought it was best ignored and didn’t want to discuss it now.
Australia remain buoyant compared to the depths of these three campaigns. What, though, would it take for this tour to descend further? One scenario occurs to me: Michael Clarke fights a lonely battle at Old Trafford, recording a century in a heavy defeat and then succumbs to his chronic back problem. That may leave Australia in a desperate situation (unless it allowed Simon Katich to be called-up, of course).
It’s 29 years since I saw England lose – in the flesh.
I estimate that I have seen 70 days of Test cricket, all involving England and the vast majority at Lord’s. I have seen England construct dominant positions. I have seen England struggle to keep their opponents in sight. Occasionally, I have sat tense through days of tight cricket as the teams wrestled for a telling advantage.
My dearth of victories and defeats is because I attend some combination of days one, two or three of Test matches. I immerse myself in these games, spending ten or eleven hours a day in and around the ground. But then I leave and head home with the game’s fate, perhaps not in the balance, but unresolved.
Over two decades ago, revelling in the enigmatic culture of our new, but temporary, home of Japan, my friend Bruce told me about Noh – Japanese opera. The performances were lengthy and so spectators bought tickets by the hour. As we savoured this further example of Japanese exceptionalism, the analogy to our own consumption of Test cricket dawned on us.
Test cricket spectators are not unique amongst people attending live sports in having an experience of the contest that is neither comprehensive nor holistic. Spectators at golf tournaments see either a lot of a few golfers or a lot of golfers playing a few holes. Many tournaments last days – tennis, athletics – and an individual will only see a portion. But each provides a neat package of discrete contests that make up the larger tournament. Test cricket doesn’t parcel itself up conveniently. Last May I saw the final ball of the West Indies innings – last man Gabriel dismissed to the first delivery of the day – and England take a 26 run lead with three wickets down at the end of that second day.
Consuming live Test cricket ‘by the day’ influences the experience and the memory. The focus is on the passage of play and the individual performance. I remember the first Test of the 2005 Ashes series most for England’s rousing first morning, where even in the ‘posh end’ fists were pumped for each of the five wickets that fell before lunch and, shamefully, for Harmison hitting Ponting on the helmet. Australia won by 239 runs.
The match at the same venue four years earlier stays in my memory only for Mark Waugh driving, deflecting and flicking his way to the most easeful of hundreds. He seemed to draw the ball delivered by the bowlers to his pads from where he could direct it around and between the legside field. Australia won by eight wickets.
Back in 1984 I was thrilled to see England go toe-to-toe with the mighty West Indies on day three, establishing and then building on a first innings lead. Greenidge’s day five brilliance won the match comfortably, but I was back at school by then.
2000 was the year that Lord’s hosted a match that I could have eaten whole. England won in the evening of the third day, having bowled the West Indies out for 54 in 26 overs on day two. But I was honeymooning in Corsica at the time.
Next week my spell of runs and wickets without seeing a match reach its conclusion could come to an end. I have tickets for day four of the second Test at Old Trafford. Will I see England retain the Ashes, Australia pull themselves back into the series, or merely the match teed up for a different crowd of spectators to see the outcome on day five?
The scene: the Tahir’s living room.
Mr and Mrs Tahir are hosting some family and friends. The occasion is another Test match appearance for their son, Imran. It is the third afternoon of the Test match at Newlands. Tahir has just been brought into the attack. He’s cut for four behind square by Perera. The commentator reassuringly advises, ‘He [Tahir] won’t mind that.’ Next ball, Tahir pitches in the same area, but the leg-break turns out of the bowlers’ footmarks into the left hander, who cannot adjust his shot and is bowled, falling backwards, the intended cut shot tailing off into a chop down, but over, a ball veering towards and past him.
At home, the Tahir’s cheer and rise from their seats, backs slapped by their guests, smiles and laughs , sharing their pleasure.
Head tilted upwards, he continues his dash which takes him in a wide arc and into the empty outfield. He slows and takes his right arm back and hurls an imaginary javelin into the Cape Town crowd and pounds his chest three times before clenching both fists and turning back to his teammates gathered on the square.
At home, eyes back on the screen, the laughs and compliments are quelled as Imran’s extravagant celebration proceeds. Before he gets to his solitary position in the outfield, Mrs Tahir has turned to her guests, not accidentally obscuring the screen, asking for drinks orders and a route out to the kitchen. Mr Tahir invents interest in the performance of his neighbour’s business, ‘accounts? no, insurance?’.
The gathering settles back to watch Imran bowl to the new batsman. Their pleasure has been tinged with embarrassment. Spirits, despite Imran’s success, are deflated.
[Tahir’s dismissal of Sangakkara and similar celebration can be seen on a recording of a TV news show.]
What fuels my imagination of this scene is my experience as a father who cringes when my five year old celebrates a goal at his football club with a sprint and a knee slide, arms open wide. Watching Tahir celebrate brought to mind the contrasting footage I remembered seeing of Jim Laker taking 19 Australian wickets at Old Trafford in 1956. Tahir had dismissed the Sri Lankan number eight. It didn’t break a significant partnership, win the match, let alone set a Test and first class cricket record – the second on a list of cricket records that are predicted to never be broken.
Laker’s response to each batsman falling to his off-spin was off-hand, matter-of-fact. Even his teammates seem to me low key in the presence of his achievement and their destruction of the Australians. The video on YouTube bears out this impression. Laker’s response to taking a wicket got no more animated than wiping some sweat from his face or hitching up his trousers.
Generationally and celebrationally, I am found somewhere between Laker and Tahir. Their reactions appear to me equally disproportionate to their achievement but in opposite directions. But that’s judging them by my own standards. What does the response of their peers tell us? We see Jaques Kallis looking amused – can I assume by Tahir’s antics? None of Steyn, Morkel, let alone Kallis, charges around the outfield when castling a tail-ender. Tahir has also drawn criticism from his countrymen. In Laker’s case, his teammates are as mellow as the bowler is when taking a catch or having an LBW appeal upheld. Much as I’d like to think they’re wishing Tony Lock was wrecking destruction from the other end so they could see him turn some cartwheels and nail a few hand-springs, it just wasn’t so.
It seems that Imran Tahir may be a little out of kilter with his age and Laker in tune with his. But some great change in men’s public displays of emotion has occurred in the last 65 years. When did the fall of a wicket occasion more than a pace down the wicket and brief handshake with the catcher and instead feature raised arms, a bound and bared teeth? Sexual intercourse, according to Larkin, began in 1963, seven years after Laker’s achievement. Was that the point in time? Or was it 1966, the year of the first and only football World Cup victory by a Test playing nation? Can anyone remember when, on the cricket field, austere, deferential England gave way to punchy, proud Eng-erland?
And so I go back to my imagined scene in the Tahir family home.
His parents are continuing to watch. They are nervous for their son making his way in Test cricket, and anxious too that he may embarrass them: wishing him success and a more humble way of celebrating it.
The Laker family may have watched the Old Trafford Test on television, too. Maybe ..
Mrs Laker chuckled that James always did bottle up his feelings, but better that way with the toffs from Lord’s ready to drop any professional who didn’t fit the mould. James even seems reluctant to lead the team from the field when he bowls the Aussies out the first time. Such a modest lad. But what’s that? Just as he approaches the boundary. What’s he doing with that finger? Not picking his nose? Oh no. [1min 48 secs into the clip]
Pity Mrs Laker.