Cricket bag hide-and-seek
At this time of the year, as leaves blow across unprotected squares, covers lie dismantled and sight screens pushed aside and oriented parallel to the wind, the nearest I get to playing cricket is the game of cricket bag hide-and-seek. My objective is to keep the cricket bag out somewhere around the house, as long as possible, before it gets put into storage for the winter. The opposition, teammate in all other respects, is my spouse.
My starting point, summer and autumn, is for the bag to be in the hallway. There it sits among handbags, school bags and lunch-boxes – like an elephant trying to be inconspicuous in a flock of sheep. Rarely does it manage an overnight stay there. The study, where it is placed between the exercise bike and the gerbil cage, is just behind the front-line, but vulnerable to sudden assaults.
In retreat, the bag spends time in the car boot. For very practical reasons, I don’t like this. In the autumn, I can’t justify the carbon emissions it adds to every journey. During the season, I find it too easy to leave for a match incompletely equipped. I carry this fear with me to every match ever since my debut (also my swan-song) for Buckinghamshire Under 12s. Very nervous and having endured a car journey with our boasting, racist of a keeper and his appeasing parents, I found a space in the changing room. Waiting until the other, more at ease boys began changing, I reached into my bag for my cricket kit. All present and correct, except the socks. I thought I was going to have to play the biggest game of my life in grey school socks, already sweaty from the discomfort of the journey. I was saved that, but not the embarrassment, by our team manager, who must have seen this time and again, so queried his charges whether they were properly attired. I haltingly declared my deficiency and he found me a spare pair.
After that game, my Dad taught me the skill of packing a cricket bag by imagining you are getting dressed and padded up for an innings. Over 30 years later and I still do this, each time my stomach turning as I am taken back to a Northamptonshire pavilion, finding my bag devoid of white socks.
Back to the game of hide-and-seek. What are the motives of the players? For my wife, there’s the general virtue of tidiness. I am also convinced that the bag, large and with protruding bat handle, symbolises for her the obsession that draws me out of the house, or in front of screen or by radio, attention on family severely compromised.
My motive: unequivocally, I deny that it is equipment fetishism. I am not turned on by new, fancy kit. I am not even turned on by my own kit. I keep my trappings of batting until they break. I have a thigh pad that dates back to college days. The only item that I can remember the occasion of its purchase is my bat – three years old and ordered on the Internet. Twenty years ago, the skipper of my South London club dubbed me Kent’s scruffiest cricketer: odd pair of batting gloves, white work shirt flapping at wrists and waist, a heavily taped SS Jumbo and hair that had to be pushed from my face during the run-up of every delivery faced.
I have come to realise that I like to have my bag visible around the house because it reinforces my belief that I am a cricketer. It validates my self-image. It would be so easy not to be a cricketer. I don’t offer a great deal to my team. Personal success, despite a very flexible threshold, is a rarity. In my mid-40s, a season-ending injury is never more than a quick single away – attempted or defended. There’s the demands of family and the guilt of not fulfilling them. There’s work. And there’s a newer creeping occupation, offering another title, fulfilment and obligation: junior coaching. While the bag’s there, I have withstood those counter forces and maintained an identity that I care about.
So, an update on the game. I’ve made it to the end of October and the bag is still on the loose. You’ll see it in the image, lurking with the recycling bags, tucked beneath the coats, atop the old hamster cage and in a very prominent place in my mind.