In the good old days when my eyes were those of the eagle, my reactions as sharp as a razor, and when my knees still contained all their constituent parts and didn’t creak like nineteenth century floorboards, I used to play cricket.
Not well – don’t get me wrong – I turned out for the fourth team of a local club, turned my arm over occasionally, and clubbed the odd ball towards someone fielding on the boundary in the persistent hope that he would have trouble catching anything more than a cold. It was a hope that was often rewarded, since at that level of the game fielders were usually banished to the boundary because they could be trusted only to stop a ball that had pretty much exhausted its journey and was rolling towards them as though propelled by a small dung beetle.
But I enjoyed the game, and still watch it on the television when the England team are displaying their impressive talents. (It is fashionable at the moment to denigrate them since they aren’t treating every other international team as wanton boys treat flies, but when I remember the glorious ineptitude of me and my fourth team colleagues, criticism feels ever so slightly hypocritical.)
Knowing my fondness for the game, Mrs J bought me a birthday present some little while ago consisting of a trip to the Oval in London to watch a county game. Obviously it isn’t international standard – though still very good – and that means the crowds are better described as groups, many of which turn up with their packed lunches, 12% proof refreshment and reading matter.
It was something I hadn’t done before, but I was looking forward to it. Rightly so, as it turned out. The weather was kind, mostly sunny and pleasantly warm, and my chosen team were well on top, appealing to my tribal instincts and instilling a vicarious feeling of achievement.
There was just one thing. Now that my knees are knackered and my reactions slowed by age and substance abuse – mostly food – I no longer have aspirations to play the game; that much I’ve recognised for a while. What I hadn’t considered was that the eagle eyes were no longer in the flush of youth either, and that the bowlers sixty yards away were propelling the ball at a speed that meant I couldn’t actually see it.
For the most part, therefore, what I was watching might as well have been a mime. A man runs up and wheels his arm in a vertical circular blur. The batsman waves his bat to no great effect, and the bloke behind the stumps pretends to catch something. Occasionally the batter makes contact with an aurally satisfying crack of leather on willow to prove that they are actually playing, but then it’s a case of trying to spot which fielder is reacting as the batsmen ponder the possibility, and occasionally grab the chance of a run or two. Occasionally I could see the ball being thrown back to the wicket-keeper or bowler. Giddy excitement indeed!
Sometimes, though, the ball was hit in our direction and – deep joy! – I could actually see it racing across the perfect green outfield towards us. Probably happened half a dozen times in the course of the three hours we watched.
Cricket, eh. Does sport get any more exciting?