December 22, 2008

This was my Geraint-at-Edgbaston moment

As my wife gave birth to our second child, on the floor of our bathroom, I, Andy Zaltzman, serial dropper of dollies, sitters and regulation four-quarter chances on the cricket field, had caught the one that mattered

Hello again Confectionery Stallers. Apologies for my absence from the virtual pages of Cricinfo since before the Chennai Test. This was not due to my being unable to bring myself to look at any screen for fear of being overwhelmed by flashbacks of England not looking like making a breakthrough as victory leapt confidently from their grasp. Nor was it due to being hospitalised by bafflement at how two teams for whom spinners bowled almost 60 per cent of the overs contrived to achieve a putrid over-rate of 13 per hour. Nor even has it been due to a niggling typing finger injury that I could not risk exposing to the rigours of a blog about a five-day Test.

Far from it. The real reason for my unscheduled sabbatical is that last Monday morning, with the Chennai Test gradually tipping in India’s favour and heading to a potentially nerve-jangling conclusion, my wife went into labour. In the modern manner (and much as I prize Test cricket as unquestionably the pinnacle of the game), I abandoned my radio and television to be with Mrs Confectionery Stall in her hours of need, as she set about launching our second child into the world.

However, the labour, like Craig White’s bowling, was unexpectedly rapid. To cut a not-long-enough but rather panic-stricken story short, we did not arrive at the hospital in time. In fact, we had not even left the house when my wife rather abruptly broke the news that new Zaltzman was shall we say, on his or her way down the pavilion steps after nine months in the dressing room.

The emergency services were called, and I was promoted unexpectedly to the role of chief and only midwife. The principal piece of advice from the reassuringly calm operator on the 999 call was: just don’t drop it.

Little did she know that my extremely humble cricketing career was marked principally by two characteristics – a prodigious ability to score not many runs unfeasibly slowly, and an equally Herculean capacity for failing to take catches. This was not the time for either of those qualities. This one had to stick. And it was bound to be slippery.

Crouched expectantly like a wicketkeeper in a 19th-century photograph, I awaited the arrival of my newborn with palpitating tension. My heroic wife uttered a couple more primeval yowls (imagine the noise Glenn McGrath would probably have made to himself had he ever bowled four successive long-hops), and here came the infant. “Watch the baby all the way into the hands,” I muttered to myself. “The pressure’s on, so stick to the basics. Stay low as long as possible, give with the wrists.” A momentary hush came over the crowd (namely, my wife) – and I caught it. Or, as it rapidly transpired, I caught him. I, Andy Zaltzman, serial dropper of dollies, sitters and regulation four-quarter chances on the cricket field, had caught the one that mattered. This was my Geraint-Jones-at-Edgbaston moment.

As my wife had valiantly conquered the final elemental pangs of birth, I had felt just as the much-maligned Kent gloveman must have felt in the milliseconds after Harmison’s bouncer brushed Kasprowicz’s glove with Australia’s last wicket pair needing three runs to steal the second Ashes Test of 2005. And like Jones, I pouched the biggest catch of my career, the one for which I would be remembered regardless of the numerous handling errors that have speckled the rest of my life.

For all the heroics of Flintoff, Pietersen and the rest, if Jones had shelled that tricky, sinking catch, England would not have won the Ashes, and the orange-mittened wicketkeeper would almost certainly have been summarily dropped. Similarly, if I had spilled my son during his first second of life, I would almost certainly have been summarily divorced.

I managed to refrain from either hurling the baby in the air in celebration, or even casually rolling him towards the square-leg umpire before high-fiving my wife and looking up at the replay screen, preferring to sink to my knees in relief and burst into tears. Thankfully, the Confectionery Stall’s newest fan had entered the world breathing and healthy, and the ambulance crew arrived five minutes later to complete the formalities with rather more expert hands.

Thus my brand new son emerged into the midsts of a shattering England defeat, born to the soft murmurings of a radio in the next-door room commentating on India now cruising towards their target. They too had achieved something momentous, far more easily than they might have done. My wife and I quietly thanked England’s bowlers for ensuring that our fraught situation was not rendered even more tense by a distractingly close finish to the Test.

The boy is doing well. His first week of existence saw two of the five biggest successful run-chases in Test history, much excellent, close-fought cricket, and a confirmation that the balance of power in the world game is shifting. What a time to be born. Not that he seems particularly interested by it at this early stage. But, if the science of genetics is worth the paper it’s written on, he will be a Test-match boy, not a one-day boy.

I will return shortly, sleepless nights permitting, with some thoughts on England, India and Ricky Ponting.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer