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July 20, 2013

Out of range

Sam Blackledge
Not receiving you, Aggers, old thing  © Andy Zaltzman
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Sometimes it's the things we don't witness, rather than the things we do, that stick in the memory. On the final day of the second Test at Edgbaston in 2005, I was standing outside a small theatre in Edinburgh, waiting to take part in a dress rehearsal for a play. Glued to my portable radio, I was beckoned inside as Australia got within 12 runs of victory with one wicket remaining. That's that, I thought. While the greatest Test finish of the modern age was playing out in my home town, I was prancing around a dark Scottish studio, pretending to be Franz Kafka.

A week later, I missed the entire final day of the Old Trafford Test. Having avoided the score, I sought out an Edinburgh sports bar for the soundless highlights as the Aussies scraped a draw. I still see Ricky Ponting's giant plasma face looming over me in my dreams.

I heard the end of that year's Trent Bridge Test perching on a steep cliff in deepest Cornwall, before actually managing to find a screen - this time back at university in Hull - for the last rites.

My main memory of the start of the ill-fated return series in 2006-07 is of wandering around East Yorkshire trying desperately, and unsuccessfully, to find a pub showing the cricket in a town of football and rugby league. The rest of that series has been erased from my mind. Can't think why.

In 2009, I thought my bad luck had ended when I made it to a couple of days of the Edgbaston Test. I even had a ticket to the fifth day at The Oval, which was shaping up to be a victory parade for the home team. But they were too good. Swann, Harmison, and Andrew Flintoff's famous run-out of Ricky Ponting, ensured a fourth-day win - and I missed it all, again, stuck on a slow train from Cornwall to London.

This year I vowed it would not happen. I invested in Sky Sports, and was all set for a thrilling summer stuck to the sofa while all the other children played outside. But having closely followed the opening four days of the first Test, I was dragged away at the crucial period.

With Australia eight down and needing 100 to win, I set off on the road to a family barbecue. No matter, I thought, TMS will keep me informed. The ninth wicket fell and we lost signal. Out of range for the best part of an hour, I feared the worst. We arrived at our destination and immediately asked our host how the cricket was going. "Abysmal." Twenty to win.

We sat in the garden, the faint sounds of Aggers and Co drifting out from the kitchen. When the final wicket fell, a confusion of DRS, Hot Spot, Snicko, and an overturned decision, I didn't know what to do. For the last four days I had been yelling, screaming, and punching the air at the fall of every wicket. At one point my neighbour was heard to remark, "It sounds like you've got the Barmy Army in there." And now, at the most crucial time, I was surrounded by in-laws who have at best a passing interest in the game.

I stuck another sausage in a bun, reached for the ketchup and allowed myself a smile. It's going to be a long summer.

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Sam Blackledge is a journalist with a local newspaper in Devon

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