It was inevitable that cricket would take over my life. I was born in Somerset, where the sound of leather on willow was the only game in town. Throw into the mix the fact that that I grew up in the 70s and 80s and my goose was as good as cooked. At that time, the Cidermen swaggered around the English cricket scene like drunkards on a booze cruise, bringing as they did so a touch of bucolic charm to the fusty portals of the summer game. The team’s visits to Lord’s – London seemed to hold its nose whenever the horde of fruity-voiced supporters lurched their way along the platforms at Paddington – were frequent, memorable and mostly victorious.
Not that I caught much of the team in its prime. With a father long absent – and whose weekend visitations tended to take in steam railways rather than the John Player League – and without any older male relatives to speak of, I relied on the kindness of Other People’s Dads to take me along to the county ground of a weekend. I remember Vivian Richards making the odd silky hundred, and big Bob Willis once bowling 5 no-balls in an over. But, like a street-sweeper cleaning up after the Lord Mayor’s Show, my lot was to experience the glory days by examining their detritus, not first hand. My most intimate acquaintance with the team was from 1984 on, when they were already in decline, and would in time descend into a riot of name-calling and foot-stomping that would have made an Eastenders script-writer blush.
And then there was England. My relationship with the national team was conducted at one remove, through the medium of television, with the marvellous Richie Benaud as my glassy-eyed chaperone. Again, I missed the big event. I spent the summer of 1981 publishing a newspaper for the neighbours on my street (circulation: 8) and running errands for my Nan. This is the cricketing equivalent of throwing a sickie and missing the Second Coming. Botham’s Ashes would reveal themselves to me only through a plethora of ghosted biographies.
No, my first experience of the national team was them being crushed to a pulp by Clive Lloyd’s West Indians, whose side I saw in the flesh in Taunton in 1984. To anyone familiar only with the neutered game cricket has become in the present century, the mixture of brilliance and brutality of the 80s West Indians would take the breath away. As a first summer glued to the telly, it was X-rated stuff with its mixture of broken bones and Rastafarian revelry. But for the boy from Somerset, a passion had been kindled.
Between my O Levels and my graduation ceremony, I took in every hour of telly cricket I could. I sat – often alone – in the stands at the county ground as the remnants of the great Somerset team played out its sorry drama – Antigone in gum boots. Oh, and I did get to play a handful of times. But this was well before the enlightened era of sport for all. My PE teacher was a monstrous bully who sent me off the field once for clean bowling him – the humiliation I had meted out in so doing was, he said, a punishable offence. I never played a “proper” game again.
No, cricket for me was a spectator sport par excellence. It ate up hours, days, of my life. It has continued to do so in adulthood despite the distractions of career and family. But those days of the mid and late 80s remain unsurpassed in my mind. For the sheer exuberance of the cricket – and for the constancy, the purity, of my addiction to it
Cricket was the brother/father/best mate I never had.
So why this website? Nostalgia, pure and simple. I’d like to recall the stirring deeds of the great players of that era. The nearly-men as well. Favoured grounds and fabled commentators. Matches, tours, selections. Hundreds and five-fors.
All will be grist to this particular mill.
So if you were around then and like me lived through it, and want to extoll the virtues of one of Dilip Vengsarkar’s sublime hundreds at Lord’s, or make a belated case for Colin Dredge as the best seamer never to play for England, welcome to the site. I hope you will read, write and enjoy.
After all, this is the place where Botham’s always the next man in, Dire Straits are on the radio, and it is forever summer.