I know it’s controversial these days, you’re not really supposed to say it, but here it is: one of the many mottos with which my mother raised me was “a good hiding never did you any harm”.
I’m not suggesting I was a victim of abuse: I was raised in a wonderful, loving household.
It just so happened that it was a household with a typically Yorkshire mum who believed if you earned a good crack, a good crack was what you got.
A hiding was normally administered by mum following the smashing of some ornament, lampshade and, once, a window, in the epic games of indoor cricket me and my brother played to get us through the long winters. A corky was probably the wrong choice.
Mum, as always, was right. A good hiding never did me any harm. Taught me the importance of discipline.
But, before you start wondering if the back page of Sports Monday has become a new confessional problem page, let me explain the relevance.
Discipline, and the lack of it, is one of the biggest issues facing local league cricket today.
When cricket captured me and stole away my summers, one of the first things I learned was not that you can’t make runs in the pavilion, nor that it’s better to bowl slower with swing than faster without, but something much more important.
When it comes to cricket, there’s a right way to play the game – and a wrong way. Discipline on the field is where it all begins.
At school we were supposed to play either rugby or cricket: I played neither.
Not big enough for rugby, I lacked the patience to play cricket with the school set-up.
I enjoyed the game far too much to take it as seriously as the driven boys around me at Bradford Grammar.
The school team could keep their perfectly mown wickets, proper umpires, grounds with sightcreens (sightscreens? What a luxury). Me and my mates were content with a brand of cricket that is a bit different. It’s played in the streets of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan. It’s played less in England than it once was, although on a hot day you’ll still find it happening on patches of open land around the country.
I used to play it for hours down the snicket at the side of our house with my brother.
There’s not really a name for it – it’s like football played using jumpers for goalposts: it’s impromptu cricket, played for the sheer love of the game and me and my mates played every lunchtime.
Had he been at school with me Usain Bolt would have been left in the dust as me, Del, Ben, Si, Bilal and Ozzy legged it out the doors at the sound of the school bell so we could claim the playing field’s only artificial wicket for our games.
I always think the reason I’m a journalist and not something important is because maths lessons were always just before lunch. Which essentially meant 45 minutes planning how I was going to get to bat first, and drawing fielding plans in my maths book for when Del was batting.
While other boys might be netting under the watchful (and terrifying) eyes of the sports teachers, we were running about, playing like the carefree cricket lovers we were. These games meant we were our own judge and jury. No school masters to umpire, we legislated our own games. This led to a couple of things for which I am eternally grateful – we learned the rules properly (when Del, the most belligerent 14-year-old you could ever meet, is claiming that you are out LBW, it is best to know the laws inside out and backwards).
It taught us respect for the game, respect for umpires and most importantly of all, respect for each other. When you’re getting the bus home together that afternoon, it’s best to just walk when you get an edge behind. An hour-long bus ride with an indignant best mate is not easily endured. Especially when you know you should have admitted the snick.
The Craven League, in which I now play my weekend cricket, is one of only three that straddle the Lancashire-Yorkshire border.
As well as playing against teams like Haworth, Oakworth and Skipton, we face teams like Foulridge, Pendle Forest and Cowling, where the people are officially still in Yorkshire but talk in that funny accent that starts once you reach Colne.
Crossing the border means our Saturday games sometimes end up being a little bit... interesting in temperament.
I remember a couple of years ago, much to my shame, I dropped my bat (mistake) and stormed up the wicket after a third head high no-ball from the big Lancastrian steaming in at me. Perspective’s a funny thing – I only realised he was about a foot taller than me when I’d travelled 22 yards up the wicket to come face to chest with the lumbering oaf. It was one of few aberrations in a career which I am proud to say has been played with a clean disciplinary record.
The same cannot be said for everyone in amateur leagues around the country. Discipline is always on the agenda at the Craven League meetings and it is heartbreaking.
Cricket, let’s remember, is the ultimate game of gentlemanly conduct. If you play in a league, it is your responsibility to play the game in the right way, to respect the great game that brings so much pleasure, to remember when you were a schoolboy who played for the sheer love of it and not for a win-at-all-costs mentality.
If that doesn’t work, next time you start sledging, get into a spat with a bowler or question an umpire, think about what your mum would say.
Always works for me.