The first definitive memory I have of watching cricket is the end of Mark Butcher’s masterful, match-winning knock of 173* against Australia at Headingley in 2001; I’m English – of course it had to be an Ashes match. I obviously knew of cricket well before this: when summer came round in my school days the Kwik Cricket sets would make an appearance, for one thing. I was never much good, instead making more of an impression as a safe pair of hands in the field during rounders…
I’m not sure why I had the TV on for this particular match. Was it even down to me? I can’t remember. It just sticks out as Butch managed to imprint himself on me following that innings, becoming a firm favourite as I began to watch the sport on a more regular basis. The following summer is slightly clearer in my mind, especially the one-day series featuring India (including Nasser’s three-fingered gesture to the press box in the tri-series final), then the summer after that is even more solid – Jimmy made his debut in the Test series against Zimbabwe, and was very much flavour of the month. We were on a family holiday in Yorkshire, but set aside a decent chunk of time to watch the match, I seem to recall. Some things never change.
It was 2004 when things really stepped up a notch: I started going to games. County cricket, to start with, as Somerset’s ground is only about half an hour away from the family home. I went with a school friend & her family, who were regulars, and saw Ricky Ponting make his debut for the club in the Twenty20 Cup (back in the days when six an over was still pretty good). Somerset won and I was hooked.
The next year (2005 – a big ’un) I became a member and continued to support the club in this way for a few seasons in a row. Plus I, er, attempted to run my own stats spreadsheets; they were pretty basic and took a lot of work, but it definitely helped me pay attention a lot more. Turns out I couldn’t have picked a much better time to get obsessed with cricket – as my most complete scrapbook will attest!
Yes, I kept scrapbooks of autographs, photos of my own, details of the scores, newspaper cuttings… Looking back through them all, I’d forgotten how many prize scalps I got! In Australia’s 50-over warmup match, for example, I managed to get Glenn McGrath’s autograph, despite the whole squad seemingly being under orders not to sign anything – served them right that Somerset ended up beating them! A great omen for the forthcoming Ashes series (still one of the most stressful sporting weeks of my life). Later visiting international teams have been much more forthcoming & friendly, such as Sri Lanka, India, West Indies, Pakistan & South Africa (the likes of MS Dhoni, Shahid Afridi, Lasith Malinga, Chris Gayle & Dale Steyn all feature in my autograph collection).
County games were also the best way of meeting England players and pundits, helping me become the proud owner of the signatures of Michael Holding, David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss, Simon Jones, Alex Tudor, Eoin Morgan, Matthew Hoggard, Benedict Bermange (Sky stats guru!), and the one & only Mark Nicholas – plus many others.
A few England women in there, too, as Taunton used to be the home of women’s cricket – I even gave captain Charlotte Edwards a pleasant surprise when she noticed I had her name on the back of my shirt instead of one of the men’s. I even took to having my photo taken with some players, or just asking if I could take a picture of them (I’d seen other fans doing that). I was rather industrious in my day!
Throw in a few T20 finals days, a few ODIs, and the final morning of England’s Test against Bangladesh at Lord’s in 2005, and my diaries became rather full. Only recently Somerset have introduced reserved seating, so our trips always involved us getting to the ground when the gates opened so we could sit where we preferred, plus there were always decisions to be made about food (with matches always coinciding with at least one of the day’s meal times); it was all becoming a bit of a kerfuffle, to be honest. Even with a bit of an enforced break due to uni; I did go to a couple of matches at Chester-le-Street though (I was a student at Newcastle University) and almost froze to my seat it was so cold! I was still keeping up with international fixtures on TV in the summer, but post-graduation I eventually started getting into theatre – that became the new obsession, taking up most of my time and prompting a move to London in 2014.
As I was initially living in Kilburn, during the Lord’s Test of the 2015 Ashes series I ended up walking to the ground every day – just to get a feel for the atmosphere, as well as a bit of fresh air. Whilst I would occasionally see or hear some of the scores & results in England or Somerset games, I just didn’t have the capacity to keep cricket in my life once full-time work and theatre blogging came along.
Enter the 2019 World Cup. A few days into the tournament I was back at home for a brief stay, and Bangladesh vs. South Africa was on before I had to leave for my National Express (or train, whatever) back to London. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Bangladesh team – partly from their brief stint over here in 2005 and partly because of the growing Bangladeshi community in West Somerset – so obviously I was supporting them. And they won! I was so excited by that I was then fully locked into the rest of the tournament, listening to England’s games whenever they clashed with work, and discovering the joy of TMS for the first time.
Disappointed that I was way too late for tickets, I searched for competitions to win my way into the final and found an easy one from the wine company Wolf Blass. I only went and won! I had some drama getting hold of the tickets themselves, which I don’t want to relive now, but my dad & I finally got in after an hour of play (who else could I invite?!) and… Well, you know the rest. It was a brilliant, stressful, adrenaline-inducing day!
And then we were back at Lord’s just over a week later, as one thing I had managed to book tickets for was day 1 of the Ireland Test match – again inviting my dad (this one had been a birthday present back in February), and again having quite the day of it. Two-and-a-bit innings in a single day’s play! Gutting not to have bought day 2 tickets as well, to be able to cheer on Jack Leach to almost a spot on the batting honours board…
No Ashes tickets (I did apply), but I was glued to TV & radio coverage of the matches – Archer vs. Smith at Lord’s being a real highlight. Stokes at Headingley, you say? Didn’t see it, mate. I’m a superstitious old bird at the best of times, and once it seemed as though things were going better while I wasn’t watching or listening, I relied on Cricinfo’s live text. Yup, that’s how I followed that outrageous day of cricket! Only afterwards did I get to see the treat that was Leach cleaning his glasses, ever so calmly.
A couple of months later I was at the Hackney Empire for Tailenders Live, having only listened to the pre-show pod in preparation – but loving it all the same. The loosely cricket-based safe space was exactly that, whether you were an early adopter or latecomer. I can’t really remember what prompted me to book the ticket, but I’m so glad I did!
Rather predictably, I lost touch with England’s 2019-20 winter tours a bit, but I was determined to follow as much cricket as possible in 2020 – and perhaps go to some London county games (after rain put paid to my County Ground return in August 2019), or try out The Hundred. I think we all know how that went, too…
I may have waited too long to get properly into podcasts, missing the infamous ‘Mood Wank’ incident on the Tailenders Instagram quiz (as well as the replays & score-alongs), but 2020 still ended up being my real cricket renaissance year. I’m mostly up-to-date with Tailenders (and very glad for face masks that hide my weird grins as I listen to it on public transport), caught every England summer fixture, and took advantage of a BT Sport trial to have some Australia vs. India and Big Bash games playing on my phone at my desk in the office. I bought myself a score book in time for Boxing Day, and have since scored a couple of Big Bash games and some sessions of Test cricket; I did try scoring back in the day, but with my own notebooks, template & scoring system – now I’m doing things properly. Well, as properly as possible, anyway. Making the most of COVID restrictions keeping me at home and able to watch on an actual TV.
And 2021? If our government decides it doesn’t want us to be a complete embarrassment & perennial danger zone, I should be at day 1 of the Trent Bridge Test against India (ticking off another ground), and I have three Tailenders Live shows booked for early October… I’d also love to see New Zealand while they’re over here, plus Somerset’s opening championship game away to Middlesex at Lord’s – April attendance seems like a wild dream right now, but if I can be there I will.
For now, it’s 4am starts and sleepy afternoons as England continue their tour of Asia – and I attempt to work from home.