Mum: “What shall I get our Nicholas?”
Sister: “Well, when did you last buy him one of those little books about cricket?”
Mum: “Not for at least two weeks.”
So, like all you cricket lovers out there, I have a house full of them.
Books about cricket.
Books about the characters who have played the game, the characters who have written about the game. There are books by former England captains, there are books by former prime ministers (John Major’s love for the game is the only reason you can tell he has a soul – the former PM pictured with England’s Clare Taylor).
There are books by cricketers for whom the highest standard they have achieved is only a little above my own, there are random copies of Wisden. There are books that paint the picture of a season, those that tell the story of a Test series, some that focus on random matches from across the centuries. There are books that show how a picture is worth a thousand words and others that demonstrate cricket is where some of history’s great writers have rested a while and some, permanently.
And, nestling among all the biographies and stats manuals and reminiscences and novels and non-fictional cricket tomes (and, come to think of it, among my other books. And next to my bed. And under the kitchen table. And in the bottom of my cricket bag and in my office and next to the bath and…) are the small books bought as presents.
Small enough to slip into an inside pocket of a jacket, they are often beautifully illustrated and wonderful little things to dip into when you have a spare moment.
They are often little treasure troves of quotes about the game, little stories, jokes, quips. I have no idea how many of these amusing little books, thanks to lack of imagination of my relatives and friends when it comes to buying me gifts, that I own, but let’s just say that if my batting average ended up being anything like that number, I’d be pretty happy with my season.
It is to one of those books, I now turn. Like a devotee turning to his Holy Book, many of you will know why I have to look for emotional succour on today of all days.
Today is the Monday after the final game of the season (for my Craven League, at any rate).
And so begins the longest day.
Some of you might be dreading the long winter ahead. Some of you may think that now the weather has turned and there is an autumn chill in the air, the end of summer has had a depressing effect on you – a feeling of dread has come over at the thought of the cold months that stretch ahead.
Well, such winter blues are nothing compared to what us weekend cricketers around the land will be feeling today.
This is the first of many Mondays where we will wake up and remember that it is not five more sleeps until we take to the cricket field again. It is, we realise with a wrenching gut, many, many more.
Sure, there are club presentations, club dinners, occasional drinks with the team and eventually winter nets to look forward to, but it is over six months before we get back on to a pitch.
Over six months before we are warming our hands as a stinging ball heads towards us out of a cloud filled sky. Six months before we are sitting in the pavilion, wondering if the rain will ever stop. Six months before we have the chance to get bowled by a ball that never gets above ankle height on a pudding of a track.
Local league cricket is always like that in April in Yorkshire. That’s what awaits when the season rolls around again – and it is a long, long time away.
So, to my personal Good Book.
I was flicking through one of the gift books I described this week, and found a quote from none other than Dennis Norden, the man famous for presenting It’ll be Alright on the Night.
“September is a funny month”, said Dennis. “It is the month the really avid cricketer realises his wife left him in May”.
This amusing little quote, like many a mot juste, says a great deal more than the few words used in its construction.
When the season is upon us, weekend cricketers think of little else. I normally start dreaming about cricket, regularly, a month before the campaign begins.
This year, knowing it would be my first as captain, the dreams came two months before the start of play.
Once the season kicks off, it is relentless. Committee meetings, selection, ground prep, nets.
For some (as I have outlined a number of times in this column) this takes up more time than for others, but if you play at the weekends and are captivated by the game, there are few waking hours where it is not on the periphery of your thoughts.
Watch any cricketer pick up something that resembles a bat handle – it could be a broom, a walking stick, anything – and he will practice his forward defensive.
I just did it when I picked up a paper copy of this column from the printer – I rolled up the sheet of A4 into the shape of a bat handle, held it loosely in my hands and played the most glorious cover drive.
And now, I will not play that shot again, while standing on grass, for six months.
Why do we do it to ourselves? Truly, it’s like losing a loved one every year.
Putting my kit up in the attic is a heartbreaking annual tradition. Knowing my spikes will remain covered in mud until next April, is almost more than I can bear (some are fastidious about their spikes, scraping them gleaming at the end of every game – I am not one of those).
All I have now are the memories of a season gone by. That and a house full of books through which I can vicariously live other seasons from the past.
Maybe, with them, I will survive another winter and the wait for the next season will seem less tortuous.
and another thing...
It has been such a joy to share this season with you through Sports Monday.
I have brought you occasional glimpses into my club but always tried to make sure that the stories and characters were those you would recognise in your own cricket experiences. Arthur Miller said that you explode the universal by showing the personal. In that spirit, I explain the following.
What I haven’t really told you about are the ins and outs of how the club has performed. I hope you will excuse me a little indulgence at the close of play.
In my first season as captain, we’ve gained promotion. Albeit promotion out of the bottom division of the Craven League, but promotion nonetheless. It’s been a season of controversies – run outs, young ‘uns arguing with umpires – it has been full of incident – Trev head-butting a bouncer away from the wickets, young Harry at Haworth West End tumbling over a fence. And it has been yet another season I will recall with fondness as the nights close in. The lads have been magnificent, a better bunch you couldn’t hope to play alongside and to have gained promotion alongside them. It’s a feeling that will get me through at least the first part of the long wait for the next season to start.