Nick Ahad: Priorities change as I taste life in slow lane of the game I love

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I’M pretty certain we’ll have covered this before, but it seems to make sense to have a re-cap.

So, me: I’m the son of a Bangladeshi immigrant and a Keighley-born mother. I grew up in a corner shop, although before that, when I was at primary school, my dad was a bus driver and my mum used to collect money for Provident. Some of my earliest memories involve my mum taking me with her when I was still in a pushchair and she was cleaning pubs. When I was a teenager, we lived in a shop and my dad ran a takeaway and a restaurant.

The older of my two younger sisters reminded us a couple of weeks ago that she was 12 when she started working behind the counter in the shop – and remembers quizzing people, at 12, if they were old enough to be buying cigarettes. It was only when we reflected on this as adults that we realised how weird that must have looked.

The point of all this is this: my family puts a high value on work. Sometimes these days ‘working class’ is a perjorative – a subject well covered in Owen Jones’s book ‘Chavs’.

When growing up working class was something to be proud of and work was its own reward, so the more of it you did, the greater the reward. When I was doing A-levels I was also delivering curries for my dad’s takeaway. It’s just the way we did things.

All of which is a very long-winded way of me apologising.

This year you see, I have committed several sins against cricket and have committed the cardinal sin against my own team ... I’ve.

I can barely bring myself to admit it to you, but I went to Catholic school, so understand (or had explained to me) the catharsis that comes with confession. So what I am about to confess really happened. There’s no escaping it – in fact, I might as well just admit it and get this over with.

I dropped out of playing for my team this year, several times.

I also, once, dropped out with just under an hour to go before the start of the game.

I know – I. Know.

You really don’t need to tell me. There’s nothing you can say that I haven’t already said to myself about becoming one of those weekend cricketers Who Drops Out At The Last Minute.

In terms of attendance, with the Keighley cricket team I have played for, for over two decades now, the summer of 2013 is my worst year ever.

I have dropped out on a Thursday, on a Friday, made myself unavailable on a Tuesday ahead of team selection – and once, two weeks before the last game of the season, I dropped out with just under an hour to go before the start of the game.

Yes, of course there was good reason. But you and I know, as weekend cricketers, unless you’ve lost a leg there really isn’t a good enough reason – and even then you’d be expected to just bat with a runner.

Even losing a spouse isn’t really reason enough to miss a game – as Dennis Norden famously put it: “It’s a funny kind of month, October. For the really keen cricket fan it’s when you realise that your wife left you in May.”

Yet, I feel I have reason enough for my appalling behaviour. Or at least, I have an excuse.

The lunchtime I had to drop out – had to – at appallingly short notice, I had been up until 4am – and back up at 5am to do some work for a deadline. I still believed, foolishly, that I could get all my work finished by lunchtime and arrive at the ground on time for the start of the match.

I’ve always been an optimist.

What’s that phrase about hope over experience?

It got to around noon on the fateful day, before I finally accepted the inevitable defeat that I wasn’t going to get my work finished in time and was just going to have to cancel.

And I realised something.

I thought cricket was at the very top of my priority list.

In summer 2013 I’ve discovered that actually, my work might be the most important thing to me.

At the moment I’m doing some presenting work for Radio Leeds – I’m essentially doing two really quite demanding day jobs. I really love my work as a journalist and I also love live radio. I’m not willing to compromise standards on either medium, so both are taking a huge amount of my time.

On that terrible day when I dropped out and left my team without their opening batsman, however, I was doing neither of my day jobs.

I was actually – and how’s this for irony – writing about cricket.

This summer, another reason I have been less available to play for my team is because I have been watching other men play. The work I was completing on The Day I Dropped Out At The Last Minute, was actually on a project about the Grey Fox Trophy, a competition for cricketers over the age of 50.

Instead of strapping on my pads, I was interviewing older players who strapping on theirs and, while I was missing my own games, I was collecting important life lessons.

While watching the Grey Foxes play I have been reminded of several poems, but none more starkly than WH Davies’s poem ‘Leisure’, which ends with the line ‘a poor life this if full of care/we have no time to stand and stare’.

The Grey Foxes, men who have been playing cricket for three or more decades, have learnt that it’s a poor life if you don’t have time to stop and play a 35-over game on a Saturday afternoon – and they also know there’s no way to make it go any faster. The pace of modern life encroaches on everything – but it cannot pass the boundary of a local cricket field.

So, due to the drummed-into-me work ethic as a youngster, the several jobs I have on the go at once, this year I have been in the odd position of learning the importance of playing local cricket for village teams – while at the same time being too busy to turn out for my own.

But maybe it’s been a good thing. Having learnt the lessons of 2013, I can’t wait to read over my Grey Fox interviews during the winter and prepare for another summer next year ... if my team will have me back.

and another thing...

Something else I’ve learnt about life this summer while interviewing for the Grey Fox Trophy (honestly, it’s like I’ve taken a philosophy degree this summer) is that the death of local cricket has been greatly exaggerated.

That’s not to say it’s in fine fettle.

But the game remains a really important part of life in villages around Yorkshire – and I’m sure, the rest of the country.

While youngsters aren’t coming through in every village, what I have found is that loads of village teams feature blokes who have done what I did this summer – found that other priorities have taken over their lives. Wives, families, work, they all loom larger in the mind for many cricketers in their 30s and 40s. But all the Grey Fox cricketers I met return to the game. It’s like she’s a clarion call they just can’t ignore.

And what happens when they return to the game and to a team in their 50s is that they arrive with a wealth of experience and, while they might not have the same eye or speed, they have plenty of tales. Find yourself with an idle few hours on a weekend? Kids grown up, wife wants you out from under your feet? You will find fewer warmer welcomes than at your local cricket club, I’ve discovered this summer.