I should also add that this isn’t The Cricket we’re talking about, but our local second XI versus some other people in white from somewhere else in the West Midlands. A smidgen fewer spectators, a ball delivered a tiny bit slower, but obviously rendered just as gripping by the vows I made to the number 4 batsman.
H, my lovely, over-achieving, competitive sport addict, has signed up to cricket again this summer. He told me he wasn’t taking it too seriously this year, it was just for a bit of fun, a little light exercise. Absolutely my dear, that’s why you’re playing 2nd XI Saturday cricket, and 1st XI on the occasional Sunday! And as cricketers sensibly don’t play in the rain, or snow, or hail, or freezing winds that whip through all five layers of clothing to bite at your very bones, I’m not at all averse to providing the cheer squad on the boundary for the home games.
Until you’ve seen my elder daughter giving a twirling rendition of “Miss Polly had a Dolly” up and down the boundary rope just as the bowler lets fly, you’ll never understand why it’s so surprising that our team keeps loosing.
So without further ado, I give you my survival guide to spectating English cricket:
- Don’t pack light. One of the chief advantages of cricket pitches is that they are supposed to be flat (I’m not vouching anything against the village pitches in the very hilly part of rural Devon I grew up in), and they tend to have a car park not too far away. Fill the car with anything you think you might possibly need, and then some. Our entourage includes a little pop up tent for some baby shade, cushions, a quilt, the latest library books, at least three toys that give out an indignant squeak when you accidentally stand on them, and the component parts of ‘my hockey’ (toddler golf clubs, toy football). Unless I’ve parked behind the score box I have a sneaking suspicion that play is paused just so that they can all watch as the buggy lurches across the field, Elma’s existence indicated only by the tiniest tuft of hair visible above the mound of bits and pieces loaded into her footwell. Cricket matches are long; be comfy, and if that means bringing the moveable contents of your house, so be it.
- Bring lots of drinks. That sounds very grown up and sensible doesn’t it, and where the small daughters are concerned it’s accurate; I’m a stickler for making sure they are both suncreamed and hydrated at all times. But whilst water and tepid weak orange squash have their places, usually in a stack of brightly coloured thick plastic cups of the sort so beloved by Sunday Schools, I’m thinking outside the jug here. I’ve yet to test this theory, and I will neither confirm nor deny that there have ever been any requests, but a swift half of lager shandy, delivered incognito to the nearest loosing fielder under cover of the retrieval of a small child, might prove a turning point in the match. One way or the other.
- Don’t forget your umbrella. I could stop just there really. It’s practically a mathematical formula:
CRE (chance of rain in England) + CRES (chance of rain in England in the summer) + AERD (ancient English rain dance) + AYFYU (and you forgot your umbrella) = 100%
- No really, don’t forget your umbrella. Mine does double duty as a sun parasol wedged into the buggy handle and it’s a perfect little orb of shade, leaving me just enough space to peek through and keep an eye on the progress of our defeat.
- Maybe leave the chocolate at home. Or perhaps just don’t open it. There is after all something intensely summery about the taste of a bar of chocolate that you rolled into the fridge at the end of the day as a molten foil wrapped stress toy and peel to reveal a contorted approximation of the neat chunks that left the shop 24 hours later. This may be more of a ‘do as I say’ than a ‘do as I do’.
- Above all, enjoy yourself. As the melting heat of Saturday afternoon cooled slightly, I sat on the bench outside the scorers’ box watching the sun dip and weave among the clouds to find its horizon. Elma, tired from an afternoon of flirting prodigiously with anyone who came within smiling distance and practicing her sitting up, was fast asleep in her buggy, dark eyelashes brushing warm pink cheeks. Kitty trailed her newest friend (another cricket daughter) as they searched for tennis balls, or danced barefoot across the grass to her own little tunes, sun-blond hair impossibly tangled and desperately trying to escape its band, and H, who, having executed a swift 25 runs, including a 6 that sailed over the fence onto the main road, narrowly edging out ‘extras’ for the position of top scorer, divided his attention between a little light ‘my hockey’, and the banter between scorers and batsmen. In that moment, there is nowhere else I’d rather have been.
- But to add superlative to stereotype, a throaty growl opened up behind the pavilion, and a Spitfire swooped across the skies behind us to dance attendance on Warwick Castle. Cricket spectating was entirely abandoned by everyone (including I think briefly the scorers) as we watched barrel rolls and loop the loops by this most graceful of flying machines. As the opposition’s scorer remarked; “You wouldn’t get that in Sutton Coldfield.”