August 24. I am writing this during a patch of rained-off play at Lord’s Cricket Ground and I can already feel my prose style being drained of zest. Out on the field, the wicket has been covered with low, corrugated sheds and a dozen burly groundsmen have just finished carpeting the surrounding turf with huge lengths of grey tarpaulin. Up on the pavilion balcony, the Middlesex captain stares irritably at the heavens, which are also grey. And a grey, or going-grey, trickle of spectators moves pensively towards the exit gates ... See what I mean? There is something about cricket grounds, and cricket, that enervates the language. Perhaps it is because cricket writers are for ever straining to catch the kind of leisured exactitude that the game itself is noted for, and end up sounding merely sleepy and pedantic. Or maybe they too do their writing in the rain. Whatever the reason, I think I’ll continue this at home ...
August 25. It has been a rough week for Lord’s one way and another. First, they get told (by the Mail on Sunday, of all people) that their collection of priceless cricket pics is full of – shall we say? – misattributions. Then, for the first time in living (and probably every other kind of) memory, the Long Room which houses said misattributions is flooded in a brief but accurately local thunderstorm. And in between these two dire blows, members have had to sit and watch Middlesex all but surrender three trophies that might easily have been theirs: the three trophies they have been playing for all season. All this in a single week. By Wednesday, those hideous orange and yellow ties really did look as if someone had set fire to them. To complete the general air of spookiness, the three key games had been lost to the same team: Somerset. Somerset’s captain for the week was Ian Botham, who still remembers what those ties looked like when the gents of the pavilion silently (and with near-hatred) acknowledged his two ducks against Australia in 1981.
Marylebone’s week of torment had begun with the semi-final of the Nat West Cup. It was a marvellously exciting game (and Botham won it almost single-handed), but at the end I found myself almost envying those who had watched it on television. The one-day game has brought ‘atmosphere’ to cricket, we are often told; you really have to ‘be there’ to savour the extraordinary new passion that has been engendered by the certainty of an outright result. As it turns out, all this means is that cricket fans have begun imitating soccer fans: the gear is the same, the chants and songs are the same, even the faces – slack-jawed aggrieved – could have been shipped over from the terraces at White Hart Lane or Upton Park. Umpires get booed, boundary fielders get bombarded with obscenities, and opposing fast bowlers run up to a crescendo of oohs just as goalies do when they prepare to take a goal kick.
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[*] The Cricketers’ Who’s Who, 477 pp., £8.50 and £4.99, April, 0 907 48104 3.