A tribute to a cricket lover
Day one of a Test series is always an exciting time. In Dubai the feeling among the several dozen stalwart England supporters was slightly different to the usual "let's act like a child on Christmas day morning because we are watching Test cricket abroad again" syndrome that I've become accustomed to over the years.
I wrote in my first update about the recent passing of one of our own, George "The Podge" Summerside.
The first time I met Podge was back in 2007 on the outfield of the SSC Cricket Ground in Colombo. I'd manage to convince a couple of security men to let me into the ground despite the fact the gates weren't open for some time yet. It was early AM; at least two hours before the start of play. Sunil, my favourite tuk-tuk driver in the whole of Sri Lanka, had dropped me off at the ground particularly early in order for me to beat the rush for prime "flagwatch" position. Flagwatch is a race against time. The mission is to get your flag in a position where every time the TV camera focusses in on a batsman concentrating hard on the bowler running in, your flag magically appears in the background, giving the watching world a view of your team or town. Basically, anywhere just behind the bowler's arm guarantees coverage every other over.
Podge was the master of this. Everywhere he went, his flag went. And without fail it was always behind the bowler's arm. Despite my rather heavy head, thanks to a night on the local beer, I remember our first encounter like it was yesterday. He shook my hand firmly, before commenting in his unmistakeable broad northern English accent that "I deserved to steal his spot seeing as I was up so bright and early!" He laughed loudly, shaking my hand again before slipping a few rupees to one of the Sri Lankan lads on groundstaff to look after his flag until he got back from his breakfast!
From Ahmedabad to Antigua, a Test match featuring the English wouldn't be complete without hundreds of flags being erected on fences, walls and trees. With the kind permission of Podge's' family, one of his closest touring buddies, Kev, has bought the "Podgy Roker" flag with him to Dubai as a fitting tribute to one of England's finest followers. It was quite an emotional sight to see his infamous flag blowing in the wind today, naturally in prime flagwatch position.
The time was 2pm and back in the UK some four hours behind us in the UAE, his funeral was starting. After some discussions with the stadium management a message was read out over the PA system informing all spectators of his untimely passing and that they were invited to join in a minute's applause celebrating his life. As the whole ground stood to applaud a fellow cricket lover, our very own batsman, Matty Prior and Graeme Swann, showed their respect by looking over to us and clapping too. Several of the Pakistani cricketers also joined in.
Only in a sport as magical as cricket would something like this happen during play. An international match briefly interrupted to celebrate the life of someone who loved the game. After all, you'd have to love the game as much as Podge did to visit places as far flung as Georgetown and Chittagong.
I wasn't there but I knew he was - after all, that famous flag kept appearing on my TV screen.
Richard Kemp is in the UAE on his ninth cricket tour with the England side. Since his first tour in 2004, his love for the game has made him max out several credit cards visiting five Test-playing nations, including three tours of India and all five of last winter's Ashes Test matches. He keeps a travel blog of his journeys here