Nick Ahad: Happiness is a heavenly cricket tour around sun-drenched Devon

FrIEnds, I have wonderful news. Believe it or not, I’m happy.

Now, to some of you, this will appear utterly inconsequential. “Well done, you’re happy, and? So what? Write summat about sport or sling your hook.”

Well, believe me, if you’re a weekend cricketer, you will know what a sparse emotion happiness has been around our parts this ‘summer’. Since May, we’ve stood in pavilions watching the rain fall. We’ve stood in outfields and watched our boots slowly sink into the mud. We’ve closed the curtains on a Friday night to rain and opened them on a Saturday morning to... you guessed it, rain.

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It has been, for the weekend cricketer, the most miserable summer any of us can remember.

Exaggerating? It’s not unheard of for me to do a little truth-bending in this column (although I really have scored a ton), but I swear to you, it has been the worst summer for us lot, ever. Or certainly in living memory. And any weekend cricketer will have been miserable all year.

Some of you might think it’s a bit silly to be so miserable about not playing cricket. You might think that it’s just a hobby and, well, if we’re rained off then surely we can just find something else, perhaps something more useful, to do. If you think that, you are very wrong.

When you’re a weekend cricketer, it’s not just about that one day when you get to go out and play. It’s not just something we do as a bit of a hobby. It’s not like playing football or going cycling, or anything like that.

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I’m going to let you into a very dark secret now – and the reason why this summer has been so difficult for us part-time cricketers.

We’re not very good at cricket. Harsh truth, difficult to read, even harder to write, but it’s just the truth: we’re not.

We’d like to be better. In our heads we’re magnificent, but in the dark recesses of our minds, the place where we tell secrets and even lies to ourselves that will never see the light of day, we can admit that, really, we’re not much cop on the cricket field.

But, because there are plenty of us who aren’t up to much on the cricket field, but will never allow themselves to believe it and love the game beyond all reason, we can find our standard. We can find somewhere we can compete on a level playing field. And that, it may seem extreme to say, makes life worth living.

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It doesn’t matter that we’ll never look like Vaughan, right, playing our off-drive, that we’ll never see the ball tickle the batsman’s throat a la Curtly Ambrose in his prime. We can imagine what it might be like to play the shots our heroes execute so perfectly because the bloke running in at us is about as good a bowler as we are a batsman. There is something ineffable about being able to compete in that level arena which brings meaning to our lives.

And we’ve been robbed of that feeling all summer, because of this godforsaken English weather.

Yet somehow, as it peters out, in the dying song of summer, I’ve found happiness.

That happiness is all thanks to the annual tour. Oh the tour. How I have missed you.

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It was five years ago that my best mate Ben moved south and, working as he does for the BBC, started playing with their team down there.

As soon as he discovered the team has an annual tour, he cleared it with the committee to invite me and our other best mate Del to go to Devon for a four-day cricket fest.

Every day there would be cricket and every close of play would be greeted by some of the finest ales Devon has to offer. If there was a place called heaven, I imagine it would look very much like this.

So Del, me and Ben went on cricket tour – and we were welcomed with open arms. Why? Because we played league cricket in Yorkshire. The BBC team were very excited to have a couple of league cricketers amongst their number. They were less excited when they saw the standard of these league cricketers.

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It took a couple of games for Del and me to realise that the Beeb team played friendly games in a much less fraught atmosphere than we were used to – we eventually realised our constant chirping at the opposition batsman was, frankly, a little out of line.

The first three years were magical. Cricket for a couple of days, a day off, generally spent messing around at the seaside and then a final game before making our weary and happy way back north.

The last two years on tour have been truly awful. I’ve driven to Devon, from Yorkshire, in whichever clapped-out-banger I had at the time, sat in a pub for four days while it rained outside, and then very nearly failed to get back home in said clapped-out-banger.

For two years we’ve not had a single game because of the weather.

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You might think, therefore, that it was a slightly odd decision for the three of us us to say yes when we were invited, as usual, to join BBC Caversham down in Devon.

The reason we said yes to tour this year, despite having seen two full tours rained off in the past two years, is the same reason we play at all – hope.

That’s what we get from playing cricket, even though we know we’re not really all that good. Hope is one of the most powerful emotions we experience and hope against experience – which the weekend cricketer understands all too well, the most powerful of all.

So it was that I caught a ridiculously early train to Devon last Saturday and met up with this group of men I now count as friends. There they all were, Sim (Andy Pandy), Ant or Dec (he looks like one or the other), Eammon with his off-colour jokes, the legend of an umpire that is Pete Jones, Average (tends to take himself off the moment he sees a decent batsman arrives at the crease) and Pornfoot (I can’t even begin to explain that name).

And we got all four days of cricket in.

Just as I hoped we might, despite what I’d experienced the past few years. And, somehow, in this miserable excuse for a summer, I found happiness.

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