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Tuesday, 15th March In these days of 24-hour rolling highlights packages and surround-sound Shashtri, it is easy to forget that there is a downside to our sport. But right now, as you read this, there are ageing cricketers out there who need your help, men who face a bleak future of pro-celebrity golf tournaments, supermarket openings and sharing a commentary booth with Danny Morrison. Men like Punter.
Punter has fallen on hard times. He hasn’t scored a century in over a year. He doesn’t know where his next boundary is coming from. That’s why I’m asking you to support my campaign: “A Run For Ricky”. You don’t have to give much. Even a streaky single down to fine leg or a hurriedly scampered two off a misfield would help. Dig deep, ladies and gentleman and let’s try and make a little hairy fella happy.
Wednesday, 16th March His fringe may hang forlorn where once it flopped; he may be coated in sweat with the exertion of walking back to his mark; his excess bodily baggage may give him the appearance of a man attempting to smuggle kittens under his shirt; but he is still Shoaib. And for true cricket lovers, the old tingle returns whenever we watch him get into his run and accelerate to the crease, his right arm stretched out beside him as though he was preparing to hurl a deadly poison-tipped spear.
What hooks people on cricket? It isn’t statistics, trophies or putting the ball on a length and wobbling it about a bit. It is watching players like Shoaib. In full flight, throttle down, he was mesmerising. Few things on a cricket field were more exhilarating than watching him hurtle to the wicket and let fly. So now that he’s going, pay the old boy a fitting tribute: throw a sickie and spend an hour or two watching Youtube footage of the Rawalpindi Express in his prime.
So long, Shoaib, and thanks for all the thrills.
Thursday, 17th March Those bearded gents who founded the modern game had some very firm ideas on what the sport should be like. There should be rules, of course, and lots of them, because let’s face it, cricket in the pre-Victorian era was dangerously free and far too much fun. But above all, they were determined that cricket should be a gentlemanly affair. It was more important that a chap lose his wicket politely than that he should know which end of the bat was which.
Well they would have enjoyed today’s game, featuring two moderately talented but supremely chivalrous XIs trying desperately to hand one another the game as though it were the last cream slice on the dessert trolley. And no one epitomised this noblesse oblige more than those two gentleman of the crease, Sir Pollard of Trinidad/Mumbai/Taunton and Lord Ravi of Chelmsford.
First Pollard gently blocked out a Bopara over (not a sentence I ever thought I would find myself writing). Then, in return, the ever-courteous Ravi diplomatically spilled a Keiron lob. It was all very pleasant and a welcome diversion from the rather vulgar goings-on elsewhere in this tournament, caused, I am afraid to say, by an excessive desire for success on the part of some teams. Sadly, the demands of the format required a nominal victor and so, after some delay, England reluctantly accepted the prize, on the understanding that they would let the other team win next time.
Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73