This is the first in a new series in which I hope to invite various guests to write about the moment in which they first truly fell in love with cricket. It may be a single delivery, one very particular innings or even a whole series. To begin with though, here’s me.
5 am starts should never be fun, 5 am starts with a 2 hour train to go and see your team bundled out for 67 on what many described as “the ideal batting day” should bring nothing but misery and sadness to those who have to endure them. Yet this 5 am start- where I saw exactly that, was, for me, the moment I truly fell in love with cricket. We all remember the day, England showed up having ran through Australia for less than 200, the previous day under dark grey clouds sent by Zeus himself, feeling confident as ever with the sun shining, the wicket flat and a vast amount of runs on offer. Englands confidence was justified for about 3.5 overs until Jason Roy (who looked in alarmingly good touch) was out for 9. 24 overs later and England had been bundled over for 67 and were begging for forgiveness, my dad was laughing his arse off and Geoffery Boycott was ripping Jonothan Agnew to pieces on TMS. After the final wicket fell the sense around the ground was one of party and exuberance, almost as if we were watching some sick Shakespearean dark comedy where the heroes had failed so tragically that they could only go up from here. That day England were at their absolute peak, terrible with the bat but fought back honourably with the ball and at one point threatened to come back into the game as Ben Stokes produced the best spell of bowling I have ever seen either live or on Tv. That was the day I really understood the beauty of this stupid game.
This may surprise a few and make no sense whatsoever to a vast amount of others but let me explain. As a longtime Sheffield Wednesday I am used to my team going behind and then all hope being lost: 67 all out in the first innings and trailing by 112 is in effect being 2-0 down at half time after having a blistering opening 5 minutes and this is a situation I am more than used to. Cricket though offers something different- well, test cricket offers something different. Rather than switching off from the game and accepting that defeat was inevitable, the moment David Warner was trapped LBW for 0(2) it really struck me why this soap opera of a sport is so enticing, England had just been offered a second chance. Some supreme overlord had seen Ben Stokes’ shot to get out (quite frankly the most dreadful shot i’ve ever seen him play) and said ‘come on Ben you’re better than this, here have another go.” Not only had England been offered a lifeline but they nearly, just nearly took it. The Aussies were 52/3 after 14.1 overs and the Joe Roots men nearly came storming back into the contest all while capturing my imagination like no sport had ever done before.
The feelings that hit me were not ones that I was used to. England were still in the game weren’t they? England could win from here? The game isn’t lost yet and I’ve just seen a display of cricket so bad that even a village team would’ve been upset with it? England still had 3 days to fight back into this game, they had all the time in the world, the course to victory is simple isn’t it? Optimism was building with every delivery and every delivery held this enchanting spell over me as I was overawed by the sense that even though time was in abundance every single ball mattered more so than the last. This was the moment cricket truly clicked for me. 5 days of one game holds a vast amount of beauty and allows for these intricate plotlines to develop. From the comeback of the aforementioned Stokes, to the Broad vs Warner battler, to Jofra throwing the beach ball back into the stands and confirming his cult status; 5 days allows for drama which is unmatched and unparalleled by any other sport nowadays. The closest football comes is two legged knockout ties in play off matches and these have produced the greatest moments we’ve ever seen in the modern game. Think Roy Keans vs Juventus, Troy Deeney vs Leicester, Moura vs Ajax and Origi vs Liverpool; qutie simply when something that is fun is elongated the fun itself is elongated. This aspect of cricket finally hit home for me- the penny had dropped. After years of my dad trying to get me to play in the backgarden (I have a vivid memory of being taught to play a forward defensive only to ask my dad if every batter has pink on their bats), years of thinking it was a ridiculously popmpous and classist sport- which it is, everything finally clicked.
Why was this such a huge moment for me? Well I’d always struggled with cricket. As someone who has severe ADHD cricket is not an overly accessible sport regardless, add in the lack of diagnosis for 15 years meaning that at school I never felt like the brightest button in the box and my struggles with cricket were almost predetermined. Cricket, for me, was (and still is) a daunting figure full of high class men who had all gone to Cambridge and got degrees in subjects which you or I have never heard of walking about drinking tea, reading the Sunday Times and saying “oh jolly good”. Cricket never felt like the game for me and in all truth I never cared for it. But that sunny Headingley day I realised who the actual fans are. Drunken songs were bellowed by the army of fancy dressed punters for hours on end and I even heard a rather rousing rendition of ‘shoes off if you love Ben Stokes’ on the train home. That day I finally realised that this is a sport I can have an identity within and for me that was something I'd never experienced in sport. Despite my love for it, football has never offered me that and often I have felt the outsider on a match day- I’ll never forget the disgust I was met with after I first mentioned the phrase expected goals before kick off. Cricket, however, welcomed me with open arms and I’m so happy it did.
That day was special for myriad reasons: I fell in love with the sport which now dominates my life, I realised how social an event it could be and how it can bring strangers together, I developed a strange bond with my dad that truth be told had never really been there before and most of all I realised that when watching England, if you don’t laugh you’ll cry.