County cricket May 20, 2010

A cricket cure for the hopelessly insane

When you have been to the very gates of sanity and gazed at what lies beyond, there’s only one thing that can help soothe your frayed nerves again

Readers will be pleased to know that both players involved in this unseemly animated display have been fined for unnecessarily exciting spectators © Getty Images

I’d like to start today’s blog with an apology. I understand that the non-appearance of Tuesday’s Long Handle piece caused a great deal of distress, indeed panic, on the streets of London, Mumbai and Melbourne. To those of you who staged a massed protest outside the offices of Cricinfo and had to be dispersed by riot police threatening to broadcast Danny Morrison’s audio recording of Shakespeare’s love sonnets, I offer my sincere apologies.

Rest assured that almost nothing can keep me from my keyboard. A court injunction might, but so far this month I have managed not to invoke the wrath of the law (though I did have to make some last-minute changes to last week’s piece entitled “Giles Clarke and the Kennedy Assassination”.) No, it was something far more serious that prevented me from fulfilling my Cricinfo duty. I have been, friends, to the very gates of sanity and gazed beyond at a world that makes no sense.

It began on Monday morning. I woke with a piercing headache and an ominous sense of foreboding. Nothing unusual in that, except that this time I was also experiencing the most bizarre hallucinations, visions of such absurdity that they could only have been the product of a fevered and diseased mind. I could see before me, as clear as if it had actually happened, irregularly shaven men in dark blue uniforms celebrating on a cricket pitch, and an Englishman lifting a trophy. Yes, a trophy. I know.

My doctor has assured me that the hallucinations will pass, but as part of my treatment I have been ordered to stay away from overly stimulating cricket and have been prescribed a week-long course of something called, “County Championship”. So on Wednesday morning I handed in my prescription at the pharmacy, collected my deck chair, straw boater, bottle of Pimms and king-sized pillow and began my treatment.

The first side effect they warn you about is the sensation of hearing loss. After seven weeks of IPL and two more from the Caribbean, I am used to a wider range of frequencies and I spent much of the first hour of Wednesday’s play fiddling with the television until I realised that this was no technical fault: the ground really was that quiet. It was the deathliest of hushes, the kind of silence librarians dream about. Even the birds were whispering. Only if they’d marked out a pitch in the Sea of Tranquillity could a more profound silence have been obtained.

And it proved to be a strange sort of morning in the world of subsidised cricket. One of the teams (let’s call them Northchestershire) were a certain number of runs behind and needed 50 more to get a bonus point. But it seemed that the allure of a glittering point couldn’t rouse them to urgency. Twenty-seven runs accumulated in the first hour. I hadn’t been that bored since the week I spent glacier-watching in Interlaken.

The bowlers bowled, the batsmen blocked, the fielders fiddled with their facial hair and the grass continued to grow. The highlight of the morning was probably the extended footage given to the manoeuvres of a fire engine. The commentators eagerly speculated on what the vehicle might have been doing, although “transporting firemen” did not feature in their conclusions, thus raising some doubts about their judgement on other matters.

But there is no doubting the efficacy of this county stuff. As the butterflies fluttered amongst the horse chestnut flowers and Bob Willis started to complain again, I felt my eyelids droop, and long before the lunch interval I had been lulled into a deep, deep slumber, disturbed only fitfully by a recurring dream in which Nick Knight was rocking Eoin Morgan to sleep, singing a lullaby about heavy rollers. Another week of this and those Caribbean nightmares will be but a distant memory.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England