I was not expecting to bowl a ball in Warsaw. A few years ago I read ‘Slogging the Slavs’ by Angus Bell, and was given to understand that I shouldn’t expect much in the way of Cricket in Poland, but I think the presence and standard has increased in the past few years.
After a day at work, I’d strolled back to the apartment through the beautiful Lazienki Park, when lo and behold I saw half a dozen men walking with Cricket bags. A sight for sore eyes. I watched them through the iron railings as they set up, and then made my may back for a cup of tea.
I drunk the tea on the balcony and decided to go and have another look. The astroturf was at the back of a School. There were quite a few Indians, one or two Poles and a bearded Irishman called Mike who seemed to be in charge. I took a business card from an Englishman called Ben and later emailed to see if I could join.
I went along the following week and it was great to turn the arm. I was asked if I’d like a bat, but without a box I didn’t feel too comfortable so gave it a miss. The Warsaw Hussars evidently play quite a few games. I never made it to their pitch which was apparently somewhere West of the City, but it was heartening to see these men gather on a Wednesday evening on Ulica Rozbrat and have a net session. There was even a bowling machine one week, I’d love to have been a fly-on-the-wall at Customs when that was unearthed.
I moved into an apartment in Warsaw overlooking a splendid park, think Prince of Wales Drive meets north side of Hyde Park. Once a salesman, always a salesman. I listen to a lot of classical music. I watch the sunset from the balcony, I cook asparagus. I read Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. I promenade along the river, and I don’t have a Telly. But, thanks to a computer, an internet connection and a password, I have managed to watch an hour a night of ‘The Test’ over the past week.
After Staff Friday Football, which I have surprised myself in enjoying way more than I thought I ever could, we were having the customary Zywiec and talking about good Sports Films. I was put on to ‘The Test’. I’ve watched a couple of great Cricket Productions over the past few years, which I have ashamedly and blatantly failed to blog about. ‘The Edge’ and ‘Packer Series’ were both engrossing but produced no copy from Nowak.
JL – not to be confused with J Lo gives a candid account of his position and that of the Aussie team after Sandpapergate. Sandpapergate was really not that long ago, but the world moves quickly and there is a lot of water under the bridge as they say. I remember an Aussie colleague (remarkably I seemed to work in China with the only 2 Australian men who didn’t seem to follow Cricket) telling tale of a Vietnamese based British Headmaster ex colleague of his who put little pieces of sandpaper in the pigeon holes of all the Australian staff. As JL says himself, “There’s Banter, and there’s abuse”. Pigeon hole prank is undoubtedly the former.
I enjoyed the series a lot. Dressing Room access to players is a tough one. Where do you draw the line? For example, not a shot of the recent Oscar winning Hopkins film ‘The Two Popes’ included the Vatican. Not permitted, niet, outruled. Absolutemente non. But despite some Rugby playing and supporting Kiwis thinking it, sport is not a Religion, and these fly-on-the-wall docs are two-a-penny now. Yet, ‘The Test’ will appeal to Cricket Lovers. What do you do when two key men are suspended from playing?
From the heat of UAE, and the decision to let the Press know that ‘Aussies love Heat’, to the difficulty in losing on home turf to Captain Kohli and his team, this series shows us just how important it is to gel as a team. It is great to see Tugger, Haydos and Hick in the background (if that is not a name for a World Renowned Cricket Academy I don’t know what is), and despite the conference rooms and PowerPoints being about as boutique as a Political Party Conference, one gets the sense that some deep analysis and data is being mined. You know what they say, ‘Fail to Prepare and you…’. C’est vrai Monsieur.
It all obviously culminates with 2019, the World Cup and The Ashes. Bombastic, it was not. These matches really meant something to a lot of people. All the main interviewees, from Langer to Payne to Finch to Lyon to Starke, Cummins and Warner and Smith themselves open up. Langer says he’d have taken a Semi Final World Cup position and retaining the Urn on the plane over to England, but forgivably it is only human nature to want more. Watch it.
It started so well, the fiesty Test Victory, shortly followed by a total capitulation. The 20/20s were a hoot as they always are and then so near yet so far in the ODIs. Sam Curran proving he’s up for it. Well played England. A close but no cigar kind of tour. And still they play to empty stands.
There I was, stood beyond an imaginary boundary during some kind of practice session. Joe was tonking it, Ben was messing about on the other side of the imaginary ropes. Joe hit it over the imaginary ropes. Ben piped up, “I’ll get your tonking bat Joe”. I smiled, thinking, ‘Don’t give it away’. That’s it. That’s the dream.
I am sitting here typing whilst listening to the Backa Beyond, Spirit of the Forest; a band I saw a million years ago when you could go to gigs on a whim; I’m looking forward to being able to act a bit more impulsively, I am sure we all are. There is a distinct feeling of the 90s band ‘Deep Forest’ about it, music to play backgammon by (on a sun drenched Indian Ocean beach). Deep indeed. The Back of Beyond indeed.
Cricket has already been everywhere I have not. It is the annoying elder brother who does everything first and gets everything first, but then I suppose it is a few hundred years older than me. Reference ‘Master and Commander’ to see Russell Crowe as Captain Jack Aubrey or Matt Smith as Prince Philip in ‘The Crown’ in order to gauge the expected swopping of Cultures and History Cricket has been involved in. Gratifyingly it has generally been the one thing that has united people and embraced and straddled cultures with some ease. Amongst the tough tales of massacres in India and Pakistan, and slavery in the West Indies, the game of cricket has endured, and is now still loved in all its various forms. Yes, Basketball or even Golf seem to be the apple to many a young Caribbean’s eye at the moment, but as long as there is a Jason Gayle there will be a following. It was good to hear Vaughan and Tuffers praising him for his recent achievement of 1000 sixes in the IPL on their recent podcast.
What am I getting at? The very notion that Cricket is still our very best export. I have seen the love of football in East Africa, but there was a burgeoning Sunday Cricket Club. The East Africans of Indian descent generally headed up the cricket, but there was interest from other locals too. There were some very fluid run ups, and pacy deliveries displayed in the nets by some of the younger boys.
Having spent the last 5 years teaching in China and Tanzania, I have a good idea of how Cricket is being both played and accessed in these places. It is a world of good for the communities and schools. In the next few decades I believe China will adopt it in a very big way. The lack of presence it has in the Olympics means a Government wide investment is not for the moment forthcoming but I believe this could change, if only for the fact that the sport by its very nature can be defined by Tea Intervals. What’s not to love?
For an expat teacher I have found sport an excellent way of settling in to a new community. I found it a little easier to arrange tennis matches than I did cricket matches, but once you have played for a team, even if 8 of the other players are ‘duffers’ (as Arthur Ransom would have written), there will still be a couple who will be good for a pint.
If you can’t find your niche in Cricket, Tennis, Badminton, or T’ai Chi, music is another great way to get in with a community. One of my ex colleagues had the Summer of his life taking his guitar down to Yunnan and jamming with the locals. It helps that Yunnan is the Province of eternal Spring and the vibe is sweet. There is a Shangri-la out there. Just read ‘Lost Horizon’.
The MCC Foundation is currently involved in work in Nepal, and perhaps we will see Cricket finally move over the Himalayas. The corridor forming the Karakoram Highway from Pakistan to China is another possible route, and with some International teams keen to start touring Pakistan again, I think word of mouth will act well. It’s only a matter of time.
In other news, just before the November Coronavirus lockdown, I had my first Real Tennis lesson. It is an amazing game. Unique and very enjoyable.
Given that the mag is free in Waitrose (PR Dept. feel free to get in touch and offer me those nice free coffees which seem to have vanished into thin air btw), have a read.
It takes a Pandemic to start nitpicking apart the Pensioners’ favourite Daytime TV programme, Pointless. But here goes. Amongst other things, Jonathan Agnew writes of his broken heart at hearing Alistair Cook being a Pointless answer. I’m not going to go into the rules of the game, if you don’t already know them, congratulations at taking WFH so seriously you never flick on the Telly. The Question : Name any cricketer who had captained England on six occasions or more. As our Jonathan points out, Sir Alistair captained England a record 59 times. How can this be? How can everyone not love cricket as much as me?
The point here is demographics. I have often thought back to my Geography and Maths classes at school when I hear of people conducting surveys. If you do your fieldwork on High Street Kensington you will get a very different set of 100 people than you would if you took a sample from a more financially deprived part of the UK. I have long thought Pointless should bear this in mind. Mr Armstrong should let his contestants know where the 100 people were captured. Where, Richard Agatha Christie Osman was the survey conducted? Anyway, it is after all Pointless, and it is pointless in me taking any of this too seriously. Pensioners and Cricket are unlikely to save the world from bloody Coronavirus. Or maybe not? Stranger things have happened in the Dover Straits that is for sure.
Aggers mentions that during a ‘Summer’ spent in the bio bubble, pretty envious to be honest – can think few better places to be than being in that bubble, (Vaughan looks quite handy at table tennis, but I still reckon I’d have him), he’s come to realise, money talks more than ever right now.
One does wonder if the Chinese pulling out of the Football Premiership sponsorship was a direct consequence of the Hauwei 5G ‘U’ turn. I can tell you, China can be pretty joined up in its thinking, and if you piss off Uncle Xi, you might only find out from nephew Deng.
Yes, visibility is key. These sportsmen need to be on TV or the connectivity we feel through live events just dies as a result of events not being attended. Looking forward to Mr Agnew’s next column. On the IPL?
After a needed Saturday siesta, a Sichuan nap of sorts, I cycled down to the local village Cricket green to see if there was a game on. To my delight, there was. I propped my bicycle against the picket fencing sectioning off the Croquet court and watched the two in-batsmen stroking it around the field for an over or two, before strolling around a quarter of the boundary.
I struck up conversation with the lad fielding as sweeper, and after gleaning the scores, generously commented that it was close, at the same time thinking if that Bat continues to cream sixes the home side have no chance. Chasing around 210, the opposition stood strong at 160- 5.
Cracks started to show and after a lucky wicket from a full toss, the home side got the bit between their teeth. I was witnessing a come back. Only twenty four hours ago on TV I’d seen the English bowlers outwit the Aussies in the first of the 3 match 20/20 series, surely it couldn’t happen two days running?
There was the usual beautiful village cricket stuff : batsmen colliding with bowlers; a thwack on the kneecap from an effective but ungainly piece of fielding by a portly gentleman at mid off; banter.
Wickets continued to fall. Another dislodging of bails from a full toss. A well held catch at mid off. The home team were in the running. The score was not nudging beyond the 180s and the visiting XI seemed to be throwing away their chances.
I think there was above all a feeling of relief to be out there playing, and I for one was feeling joy at just watching some live cricket. In the end, the home team did it. A glance and a nick down the leg side, with a catch held by the keeper saw an unforeseen (from my book) victory.
Cycling away down the lane I thought how scenic it was, the late Summer / early Autumn evening sun streaming through the leaves giving a dappled lighting, highlighting the flying insects.
Playing the game and watching the game is in my blood, and Corona Virus has meant very little of both over the Summer of 2020. So where have I got my fix? In the most random of places.
The most enjoyable game was a game of beach cricket during the heatwave about a month ago. I love beach cricket. Young and old unite and there’s always the sea to admire. During a weekend visit to Bath recently it was very relaxing sitting in comfy leather chairs, sheltered from the cool breeze by floor to ceiling glass looking out on the square and watching a batsman from Bristol bring up his 100 by driving a six out the ground over long on.
Aside from these instances, I have enjoyed watching and listening to the England team play both the West Indies and Pakistan. The Rose Bowl and Old Trafford have stood up and accommodated the necessary bubbles. As Agnew mentioned, it would have been superb for James Anderson to have the crowd urging him on to 600, but hey, at least he got there. It really does seem like only yesterday that he was passing Sir Ian’s total of 383. There you go, time, like the tide, waits for no man.