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Growing up in the north-east in the days before Durham became a first-class county, cricket was something consumed almost entirely on television. From the age of six, I went fairly regularly with my dad to watch football at Roker Park but cricket was just too far away. All we had was the Callers Pegasus Festival, a pair of one-day games each year, sponsored by a local travel agent and staged at Jesmond, the county ground of Northumberland.
They started out as Durham & Northumberland against the Rest of the World, which in those days of early Thatcherism was pretty much how we saw life. Soon, presumably after a series of crushing defeats, there was an acceptance that maybe we could open it up to the rest of the country, so the games became England against the Rest of the World.
The games themselves have blurred into a series of dislocated images; the memory hasn't preserved any results, which I guess with exhibition games of that sort is kind of the point. I remember a glowering young Nasser Hussain refusing to sign autographs on the boundary (many years later, standing next to him at a urinal in the media centre at Lord's I decided against reminding him of the incident). There was Martin Crowe stretching alarmingly, Faroukh Engineer trying to do a north-eastern accent, Derek Randall stealing sandwiches and eventually taking somebody's cool-box with him to field at backward point. Clive Rice always seemed to be making doughty half-centuries and Carl Rackemann always seemed to be opening the bowling.
But those details are no stronger than other memories of the experience of the game: the smell of the grass, the glare of the sightscreen, the 'pfft' of another can of lager being opened. We got into a routine of buying lunch at Marks & Spencer's, a huge treat, on the way to the game. Rather than my mam's usual range of sandwiches - ham and pickle, cheese and tomato, beef paste - we were allowed such luxuries as crudites and dip; raw cauliflower with a garlicky mayonnaise seemed impossibly exotic. One year it rained all day so we took the M&S lunch down to the cliff-top car-park at South Shields and watched the sea.
The first game, I see looking up the scorecards, was played on August 6 1981, rain helping the Northumberland & Durham side featuring Lance Cairns and Wasim Raja to a no result after Glenn Turner had hit 96 off 71 balls as the International XI (starring Ian Botham, Basil D'Oliveira, Desmond Haynes, Zaheer Abbas and Kapil Dev) reached 275 for 5 in 45 overs.
The next day, Paul Romaines, later of Gloucestershire, scored 86 as Northumberland & Durham scored 227 for 4 from 55 overs and then, remarkably, bowled the International XI out for 204. Wasim Raja took 2 for 32 but what caught my eye was that Stephen Greensword, a right-arm medium pacer from Shiney Row, dismissed Zaheer Abbas, Kapil and Chris Old in taking 3 for 27. It may mean little to anybody else but I remember him being bowled middle stump for a first-ball duck in the first game I ever saw at Whitburn, the village ground a mile and a half along the cliff from my parents' house. (Weirdly, the petrol station that used to stand opposite it has now become a seafood restaurant serving locally caught oysters, which is, I suppose, progress of a sort).
The International XI won the next five completed fixtures, though, three of them by over 100 runs, prompting the change in format from 1985, which I think is the first year I went. Graeme Fowler made 19 off 63 balls but England still chased down 258 with five balls to spare. I was certainly there the following year when Gordon Greenidge hit 114 off 117 balls. Preposterously, the Rest of the World opened with Dennis Lillee and Terry Alderman, then brought on Malcolm Marshall as first change and Michael Holding as second: those were the days when the Rest of the World was the Rest of the World. England lost by 32 runs despite an Allan Lamb ton.
We did once venture down to Acklam Park in Middlesbrough to see Yorkshire demolish Kent in the Refuge Assurance League. I clearly remember Arnie Sidebottom taking a low caught-and-bowled to remove Simon Hinks with the final ball of his first over and Paul Jarvis took 4 for 19 as Kent were bowled out for 175. I remember three straight sixes pounding the crowd around us and could have sworn they'd been smacked there by Martyn Moxon, but it turns out he didn't play in that game so it must have been either Ashley Metcalf or Kevin Sharp (Metcalf I assume, given Sharp batted left-handed). But that was a one-off and, anyway, there was something a bit weird about watching your nearest county knowing that by accident of birth, despite my mam having been born in Teesdale and a great aunt on my dad's side having divorced Herbert Sutcliffe, I could never have played for them.
So thank goodness for those Callers Pegasus games. I'd probably still have grown up enjoying cricket but it would have been an abstract emotion, mediated entirely through Peter West. The games at Jesmond might have been pointless, an easy pay cheque for players who fancied a boozy couple of days in the north-east, but it was because of them my love of going to the cricket was born.
Jonathan Wilson writes for the Guardian, the National Sports Illustrated, World Soccer and Fox. He tweets hereFeeds: Jonathan Wilson
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Jonathan Wilson is the editor of the football quarterly the Blizzard and writes for the Guardian, the National, Sports Illustrated, World Soccer and Fox. He is the author of six books on football, including Inverting the Pyramid, which was named Football Book of the Year in both the UK and Italy. His thighs are oddly shaped, yet spectacular. @jonawils