September 2, 2013

My poster boys

Emma John
Rediscovering her folder full of newspaper cuttings and posters of England of the '90s makes an erstwhile supporter wonder if success and empathy can co-exist
30

A little boy in a black tracksuit wailed to his dad: "They haven't looked like taking a wicket for a couple of overs."

Son, they've hardly looked like taking a wicket for a couple of years; they haven't looked like taking that many since before you were born.

Matthew Engel, the Guardian, 24 August 1993

Every home has its corner of shame. An attic space, a cellar or a cupboard, full of the stuff that will play no further part in your life, and that you can't bear to throw out: obsolete electricals, schoolbooks kept for sentimentality's sake, the lampshade that you'd repair if you just bought some damn superglue, the box files of family photos you never got round to putting in albums. In my parents' house it used to be the loft, but then they moved to a thatched cottage. The only things there's room for up in the thatch are some confused birds, a couple of nesting squirrels and the occasional rat that burrows noisily above everyone's heads for weeks before getting trapped and dying, pungently.

So now it's the basement. A cold, concreted space that frequently floods and smells almost as bad as a dead rat, packed floor to impossibly low ceiling with crates and boxes that are immovable, utterly unidentifiable, and guarded by ferocious spiders. It's like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom down there. The only person brave enough to venture to the basement is my dad, but even he has given up pretending to know what it contains, or why. Last summer my sister and I were visiting one weekend and he emerged from the basement dragging something huge and dusty behind him.

"Look what I found down there!"

Two gigantic sheets of cardboard, hinged together in imitation of an artist's portfolio, sealed at the edges with parcel tape and bulging pregnantly from its contents. I knew what they were. I'd made the cardboard folder, just like I'd made everything it contained.

"Oh god," my sister groaned. "Is that what I think it is?"

We slit the tape and opened it up on the floor. Dozens of sheets of coloured card spilled out, each covered in cuttings from the sports pages and photographs cut out of magazines. Neatly arranged and mounted, the newsprint had been laminated with the fastidious care of a Blue-Peter-watching Girl Guide. Little dry balls of Blu-tack, some with flakes of white paint and wallpaper still clinging to them, dotted their obverse sides.

"Oh, it's your cricket posters!" said mum. "You used to sit up in your room for hours making those!" she sighed nostalgically. "You were such an industrious teenager."

"She was such a nerd," snorted my sister.

From the floor, Angus Fraser looked up at me with a typically hangdog expression. He seemed resigned, as if spending the last 15 years wedged in between two pieces of cardboard, in a forgotten corner of a mouldering basement, was no less than he'd expected. Above him was a banner headline: "England lose again".

The posters, if they deserved the name, were the outworkings of four seasons of fanaticism. It started at 14 when, in the joyous aftermath of the 1993 Oval Test, I had bought every broadsheet so I could read about England's victory four times over. Some latent scrapbooking gene had stirred, and suddenly the reports were cut out and stuck up on my wall (having first been mounted on card: I wasn't a savage) where I could enjoy the words "England win, at last!" even as I fell asleep.

I was an impressionable teenager with no other allegiances. My relationship with England was forged in the purest flames of adolescent hope. And like most teenage romances, it was doomed

My little project turned into a habit, and soon my collages had become my primary expression of devotion to the England team's cause. While my school friends were decorating their rooms with the glowering faces of the Gallagher brothers, I was gluing the back of Graeme Hick's head to a piece of A1. Tour previews, Test reports, interviews with my favourite players - once, for reasons I cannot remember, a profile of Alan Mullally - all made it under the preservative skin of sticky-back plastic.

My parents were blithely tolerant of my behaviour, something they must have regretted as my bedroom walls disappeared under the posters (when there was no more space, I moved onto the ceiling). It probably seemed a harmless enough pursuit (even if it did blunt my mum's best pair of kitchen scissors): after all, I couldn't afford illicit booze if all my pocket money was going to WHSmith's. It was only when I'd packed up for college, and my paper shrine remained baldly behind, that my pastime suddenly smacked of Kathy Bates in Misery.

Still, the posters had cost far too much effort for me to bear throwing them out. And so the makeshift cardboard folder, which bore the large insignia "Emma's Cricket Posters", remained, along with what I'd clearly thought were witty annotations:

Contents:
44 x Michael Atherton
35 x Angus Fraser
12 x Alec Stewart
1 x Very Angry Illingworth (Ray, not Richard)
Caution: this pack includes 3 Brian Laras. Strictly no wayward bowling.

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.

As we spread the posters out to get a better look, their confectionery colours transforming the floor into a giant jigsaw puzzle, I noticed for the first time what bizarre images I'd lived in such close proximity to during my teens. Grim-faced men wearing striped blue pyjamas that did nothing for their dignity and even less for their figures; blazered men on crutches, waiting for a flight home; a fancy-dress Christmas party that included Phil DeFreitas dressed as Batman.

My sister looked over my shoulder, and captured the mood with her usual pith.

"You really were a loser."

****

A few months after the discovery, I am at home in London. England are in India, at the start of their winter tour. The first Test is taking place, somewhere. I'm not sure where exactly, as the build-up's passed me by. I wake up, reach a sleepy arm out to the radio. Garry Richardson tells me that India have scored over 500 and someone called Pujara has got a double-century. I switch over to longwave. There's a distant thonk, the sound of Nick Compton losing his bails four thousand miles away.

Fifteen minutes later, England are 30 for 3, needing 322 to avoid the follow-on. And I feel… nothing. For possibly the first time in my life, I am completely blasé about the result of an England game.

And I wonder: what has happened to me?

****

It was my mother who introduced me to cricket. She'd grown up the second youngest in a family of four brothers, so as well as loving sport, she fiercely defended her opinions on it. She and my dad met playing hockey - they were as competitive as each other - but Dad's never had much time for spectator sports unless they involve motor oil and Ferraris. Mum loved to watch football and rugby, but cricket was her favourite. She used to commandeer the television during England's matches by doing the ironing. If she saved up enough laundry she could hold the living room hostage for a full five-day Test.

Botham, Gatting, Gower and Gooch. My mother's heroes read like the opening credits of Trumpton, although the names meant nothing to my sister and me; we merely resented the interruption to our usual programming. From the '81 Ashes to the Tiger Moth incident, not to mention both Blackwashes, Mum could remember where she'd been for them all. Although, to be fair, she'd mostly been ironing.

I showed no interest until the Ashes summer of '93. I didn't even mean to then. I was just transfixed by the little box in the corner of the screen in which two tiny people dashed up and down; and Mum's explanation of it raised more questions than it answered. Wasn't it unfair that two of them had to play against 11 other people? Why didn't the guy in the white coat have to run too? What was a wicket? By the fourth Test, we'd moved onto the lbw law. By the fifth, I was hooked.

I still understood little of cricket, and knew next to nothing about the England team. But I picked up, from my mother's sighs, that we were not very good. By the Edgbaston Test, we had already lost the Ashes, and our captain had resigned. (Our captain! I'd been inculcated quicker than a Scientology convert.) And now there was a new man, and he was young, but looked even younger, and he lost his first game in charge, but then he went and won the very next one, and everyone said it's a miracle, and really, what's a 14-year-old girl to think, except that he's her hero?

Thus I fell in love with cricket at a time of profound, and utterly misplaced, optimism. My coming-of-age Test was one in which David defeated Goliath, and a 25-year-old baby-faced captain prevailed against a mustachioed veteran leading our most ancient enemy. I was an impressionable teenager with no other allegiances (being an utter swot, Britpop and body piercings had passed me by). My relationship with England was forged in the purest flames of adolescent hope. And like most teenage romances, it was doomed.

Do you remember the West Indies tour that followed up that Ashes summer? England were taking Devon Malcolm, a quick to rival Ambrose and Walsh; Atherton and Stewart were opening the batting. It felt that anything was possible. And it was. In the third Test at Trinidad, 2-0 down in the series, England needed only 194 to win. Instead they achieved something even more unlikely; they got themselves out for a record low of 46.

I had an entire poster devoted to that result. "PORT OF PAIN" was the headline given top billing on its moody magenta background. I also included "Requiem for Atherton's Army" which probably captured my own elegiac mood at the time - although looking back, it's pretty creepy - and underneath ran a colour photograph of the England team lined up at the post-match ceremony, arms uniformly folded, staring at the ground like chastised schoolboys.

Even at 20 years' remove, I can look at that picture and feel it all. The adrenaline shock at the lbw yell on Atherton's first ball, and knowing from that sound alone - as it travelled tremulously through my radio set - that he was out. The nausea that accompanied Ramprakash's run-out, just a few minutes later. The dawning horror, as batsmen hurried each other back to the pavilion, that no one was coming to save the day. I remember falling asleep with an empathic ache for my fallen soldiers, and the gut-deep dread of knowing that Chris Lewis was all that stood between England and their worst-ever score.

My bedroom was a museum, a mausoleum really. A historical record of England's doldrums; Wisden writ large, in Pritt Stick and pastels. "Thorpe and Emburey postpone defeat." "In the still of the nightmare." "The point of no return." "From Bad to Worse" - this one accompanied by a picture of Ray Illingworth and Mike Atherton looking sulkily at each other across a patchy bit of wicket.

I'd spent 20 years defining myself with individuals who kept promising as they failed - even when, together, they proved less than the sum of their parts. But now they were world-beaters. Did they even need me any more?

It's odd to think I spent all that time, painstakingly recording defeat and disaster. Why didn't I edit out the worst moments - who bothers with the humiliations? Why not just capture the happy times, the one-off victories, the home series wins against the Kiwis, the glorious rain-affected draws in South Africa? Perhaps my gloomy room was an adolescent outpouring, a cry of angst and self-indulgent misery. But I wasn't a particularly mopey teen. I didn't own any Sylvia Plath, and I had plenty of constructive thoughts on how to strengthen England's middle order.

After all, I didn't know any better. My mum could compare Atherton's England unfavourably to the Brearley years, or bemoan the loss of Boycott's bloody-mindedness, but I didn't have that luxury. I celebrated England's Pyrrhic victories like they were the real thing. Andy Caddick smiling. Phil Tufnell taking a catch. Angus Fraser routing West Indians on greentops, that funny little flannel flapping at his crotch as he ran down the wicket, finger wagging at the sky.

****

Someone tells me that England are all out for 191 in Ahmedabad. Twenty years ago, I would have sat in front of the TV, watching their innings dismantling on Ceefax. These days I'm a grown-up with my own Sky subscription. I can watch the game in bed on my laptop or on the bus on my mobile or, if I fix my face into an industrious frown, on the computer in the corner of my office while I'm allegedly working. I don't though. England's last wicket falls like a tree in the forest. Soundlessly.

What's the problem here? Am I sulking? England haven't had a great year, to be sure; you couldn't pay me to revisit the Tests against Pakistan in the UAE. The Pietersen texting debacle was depressing on such a profound level the ECB should have offered us all reintegrative counselling. And I've been missing Andrew Strauss' cheeky little face since the moment he left us.

I've grown accustomed to England winning, perhaps. Got lazy with it. This must be how Australians used to feel.

****

I don't know how old you were during the 1990s. Perhaps you were mature enough to put England's dismal years in context, to appreciate their place on the carousel of Test history. There are certainly easier things to be than a teenager who's obsessed with a team on their longest losing streak in history. "Such a weirdo," was the kindest epithet, and that came from my best friend Verity. Friends, boys, uncles who should have known better - they all taunted me with England's failings, not because any of them cared two hoots about cricket, but because they liked to watch me turn puce and start spluttering about Alec Stewart's average, or Ray Illingworth's selection policy.

That's how I spent my character-forming years: defending my corner, battling for my team, convincing myself, if no one else, that that they would, one day, be winners. Following England was an education in adulthood itself. Here's where I discovered pathos: pasting an adulatory piece from the Sun ("Thank Gough for Darren! Brave new hero has England grinning again") opposite a picture of the bowler being carried off by a physio. When did I first grasp irony? When I twinned the headline: "Aussies won't walk all over us again - Athers" with "Aussie twins blow apart Mike's hopes".

Most of all, though, it was a primer in perseverance. Atherton's 185 not out in Johannesburg may not have been the prettiest or most fascinating innings in history, but it was my totem: if the captain refused to give up, then so would I. (Some youths dream of success, independence and fame; I longed to be stoic in adversity.) My naive brand of enthusiasm may have driven my far more urbane friends to despair but it was an ideal characteristic for supporting England, a team which demanded a particularly imperishable sense of loyalty.

And what happens, in the fairy tales and the fables and the religious texts, to the young acolyte whose faith never wavers? That's right. They're rewarded with an epic win against the Australians.

When the umpires took the bails off on the final day of the 2005 Oval Test, confirming, in their silent way, that England had won the Ashes - the utterly anticlimactic end to the most significant moment of my cricket-watching career - it was, for me at least, the culmination of a cosmic life lesson. It was Cinderella slipping on the shoe, Prince Charming's kiss, Brer Rabbit's revenge. Emma, the gods seemed to intone, we have seen your sacrifice. It is pleasing.

Anyway, it was a significant moment, OK? It was a big deal. And when England went on to achieve even better things - barring the odd Flintoff-captained blip - it felt like they'd finally climbed the mountain. They were standing on the summit, looking at the meadow grasses and the goats and whatever else you get up there, and then they were marching on, finding new peaks to ascend. And my once-teenage self was wheezing behind at the back, possibly suffering from altitude sickness, and watching them leave.

I'd struggled to adulthood alongside a team that seemed to understand my experience of over-reaching, toiling to prove myself, of being, in my sister's words, a bit of a loser. I'd spent 20 years defining myself with individuals who kept promising as they failed - even when, together, they proved less than the sum of their parts. But now they were world-beaters. Did they even need me any more?

****

Alastair Cook is batting. And batting. And batting. He's standing at the crease, his jaw as rigid as a set square, and singlehandedly saving England from an innings defeat. I've put him on the TV, in the corner of the room. He's a calming, constant presence. He reminds me of someone I used to know.

My mind flits to a picture in that cardboard folder. Two batsmen crouch mid-pitch, a small, scruffy guy in a helmet leaning into the ear of a taller man. The taller man is propping himself up with his bat and he is grinning. It was my favourite picture of my favourite innings - Jack Russell barking encouragement in Jo'burg - and I far preferred it to the pictures of Atherton triumphant, arms raised, or running from the field, swamped by supporters. Somehow, it captured the captain in his element.

England can't save this Test, I know that. But they're trying. I watch, willing them to hold out, my stomach tensing in a manner which would make my pilates teacher proud. But it's not an unpleasant sensation. It's nostalgic. I welcome it as I would an old friend.

This piece was first published in The Nightwatchman, the Wisden Cricket Quarterly. Issue two features Gideon Haigh, Andy Zaltzman, Marcus Berkmann, Lawrence Booth and Jonathan Wilson. Free sampler here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on September 2, 2013, 16:19 GMT

    Thanks for the lovely comments guys. I hoped this would strike a chord - and I'm thrilled to hear I wasn't the only one making posters... (Nicholas09, did you go as far as laminating? I can't believe how much money I must have wasted over the years in stickyback plastic. No wonder I never had any decent outfits, or nice earrings, or anything that a teenage girl ought to be spending her money on).

  • itsthewayuplay on September 2, 2013, 11:49 GMT

    A lovely life re-affirming article with a nice balance of facts and feelings that transcends the sport of cricket. Reminds me of various aspects of my own childhood that I haven't thought about in many years but remember vividly on reading this piece. I think I'll take time to stop and smell the roses on the way home this evening.

  • aus_trad on September 2, 2013, 11:33 GMT

    One of the best pieces on cricket I have read in a long time: refreshingly original, and poignantly funny! As an Aus supporter, you will have to forgive me for not viewing England's woes in the '90s from quite the same perspective; though I can assure you that there have been plenty of dark times in Aus cricket as well, since I first began following test cricket around 1970. When Aus won the Lord's test in 1972, I believe it had been 12 tests since the last victory; the World Series fiasco just gutted Aus cricket in the late 70s; for various reasons there was another awful low in the mid-80s; and after an extraordinarily lengthy period on top, we are once again in the doldrums (though not for long, I suspect). It's all about cycles, and now is England's time in the sun (about time, too!).

  • nickythetoon on September 2, 2013, 9:19 GMT

    Emma,what a lovely piece and I so easily identify with your teenage fanaticism and devotion. My first experience of test cricket was Botham's '81 series,watching on BBC or listening to the radio as my pedantic dad insisted I go on holiday with the family.I was even lucky enough to attend a day of test cricket at Old Trafford that same year. Ironically it had nothing to do with Botham but was the friday where debutant Paul Allot scored a fifty in the morning session and England bowled Australia out in just a few hours and were batting again by the third session. It was the huge roar of the crowd at each Australian wicket that I remember so vividly. England were never the best,that remained the West Indies for what seemed an eternity and then Australia took over.2005 was incredible as England toppled a genuine great team to win the ashes back. Test cricket can never be as important as in one's formative years but it still has the ability to enchant and thrill like no other sport.

  • landl47 on September 2, 2013, 4:59 GMT

    Emma. although I'm very much older than you, I know exactly how you feel. I was too young to appreciate the 1956 series, when Laker took 19 wickets in one test and England won the Ashes. My first memory is from when I was 11, in 1958/59, and England lost heavily in Australia despite being overwhelming favourites. From then all though my teenage years England never won an Ashes series. The first time I saw an Ashes win was 1970/71 when I was 23.

    Where my experience is different from yours is that all through the 1960s England was a better team than Australia. We had Boycott, Edrich, Cowdrey, Barrington, Dexter, Trueman, Statham, Snow, Underwood.... but still we never won a series. 2-1 to Aus in 1961, 1-0 in 1964; the rest were drawn series, but as Aus held the Ashes, we never got them back.

    Every series we win now is payback for me- not for the 1990s, but for the 1960s when as a teenager I watched and hoped, but it never happened.

  • sushant57 on September 4, 2013, 17:16 GMT

    You may as well have described my teenage years. I started supporting England from '96. England won their first series 1-0 but it was, like the trend for next 10 years, another false dawn. I didn't even have a cable tv subscription till '99 (Actually I am from India, don't why but I have continued supporting England), I used follow English cricket via the newspapers and rare news reports.

    Every morning I used to wait for that thud sound in the balcony meaning the newspaper had arrived and I used to check the scores and read the report atleast 5 times.

    My favourite moments(in the '90s) were winning that '98 series against SA,the completely unexpected Sharjah ODI triumph and ah, I can't remember any other significant victories.

    Yes, things were on the ascendancy since 2000 and that Ashes '05 was exactly as you described - it was a bit of catharisis. I was studying in the college then ,no one was there to celebrate with me,but inside me was a whole different world.

  • ToneMalone on September 4, 2013, 0:06 GMT

    Thanks for sharing the memories Emma! I'm an Australian, but I'm sure this article will resonate with a lot of fellow Aussies who grew up circa 1980 when we were going through the same thing, especially against the West Indies pacemen.

    Having unwavering support for a losing side can also create some unexpected role models ... I used to admire opener Bruce Laird as much as Australia's premier batsman Greg Chappell, and was constantly practising my back-foot defence against the short ball in the back yard. Unfortunately, like Laird, it also became close to the only shot I ever played. No wonder I didn't make it as a cricketer!

  • RohanMarkJay on September 3, 2013, 20:50 GMT

    The 1990s, there were highlights for England. The 1992 world cup. 1994,1995 and 1998 test series against south africa. Yes except for the rare test win against Australia, there wasn't a great deal to shout about. Back then never thought I would see Australia struggle like they have in recent years.

  • on September 3, 2013, 12:20 GMT

    Really enjoyed reading this article. Can greatly identify with it. I am somehow reminded of my own box of such newspaper clippings lying in a corner of my room.

  • on September 3, 2013, 1:29 GMT

    @ Andy Plowright - I agree with u completely. Even the likes of clarke, kholi etc are brilliant fielders in cover, point region but ordinary in slips. With wicketkeeping, likes of gilchrist and boucher are perhaps the last of good wicketkeepers. Warne and murali were the last of spinners and fast bowling would have been heading in same direction if it wasn't for steyn.

  • on September 2, 2013, 16:19 GMT

    Thanks for the lovely comments guys. I hoped this would strike a chord - and I'm thrilled to hear I wasn't the only one making posters... (Nicholas09, did you go as far as laminating? I can't believe how much money I must have wasted over the years in stickyback plastic. No wonder I never had any decent outfits, or nice earrings, or anything that a teenage girl ought to be spending her money on).

  • itsthewayuplay on September 2, 2013, 11:49 GMT

    A lovely life re-affirming article with a nice balance of facts and feelings that transcends the sport of cricket. Reminds me of various aspects of my own childhood that I haven't thought about in many years but remember vividly on reading this piece. I think I'll take time to stop and smell the roses on the way home this evening.

  • aus_trad on September 2, 2013, 11:33 GMT

    One of the best pieces on cricket I have read in a long time: refreshingly original, and poignantly funny! As an Aus supporter, you will have to forgive me for not viewing England's woes in the '90s from quite the same perspective; though I can assure you that there have been plenty of dark times in Aus cricket as well, since I first began following test cricket around 1970. When Aus won the Lord's test in 1972, I believe it had been 12 tests since the last victory; the World Series fiasco just gutted Aus cricket in the late 70s; for various reasons there was another awful low in the mid-80s; and after an extraordinarily lengthy period on top, we are once again in the doldrums (though not for long, I suspect). It's all about cycles, and now is England's time in the sun (about time, too!).

  • nickythetoon on September 2, 2013, 9:19 GMT

    Emma,what a lovely piece and I so easily identify with your teenage fanaticism and devotion. My first experience of test cricket was Botham's '81 series,watching on BBC or listening to the radio as my pedantic dad insisted I go on holiday with the family.I was even lucky enough to attend a day of test cricket at Old Trafford that same year. Ironically it had nothing to do with Botham but was the friday where debutant Paul Allot scored a fifty in the morning session and England bowled Australia out in just a few hours and were batting again by the third session. It was the huge roar of the crowd at each Australian wicket that I remember so vividly. England were never the best,that remained the West Indies for what seemed an eternity and then Australia took over.2005 was incredible as England toppled a genuine great team to win the ashes back. Test cricket can never be as important as in one's formative years but it still has the ability to enchant and thrill like no other sport.

  • landl47 on September 2, 2013, 4:59 GMT

    Emma. although I'm very much older than you, I know exactly how you feel. I was too young to appreciate the 1956 series, when Laker took 19 wickets in one test and England won the Ashes. My first memory is from when I was 11, in 1958/59, and England lost heavily in Australia despite being overwhelming favourites. From then all though my teenage years England never won an Ashes series. The first time I saw an Ashes win was 1970/71 when I was 23.

    Where my experience is different from yours is that all through the 1960s England was a better team than Australia. We had Boycott, Edrich, Cowdrey, Barrington, Dexter, Trueman, Statham, Snow, Underwood.... but still we never won a series. 2-1 to Aus in 1961, 1-0 in 1964; the rest were drawn series, but as Aus held the Ashes, we never got them back.

    Every series we win now is payback for me- not for the 1990s, but for the 1960s when as a teenager I watched and hoped, but it never happened.

  • sushant57 on September 4, 2013, 17:16 GMT

    You may as well have described my teenage years. I started supporting England from '96. England won their first series 1-0 but it was, like the trend for next 10 years, another false dawn. I didn't even have a cable tv subscription till '99 (Actually I am from India, don't why but I have continued supporting England), I used follow English cricket via the newspapers and rare news reports.

    Every morning I used to wait for that thud sound in the balcony meaning the newspaper had arrived and I used to check the scores and read the report atleast 5 times.

    My favourite moments(in the '90s) were winning that '98 series against SA,the completely unexpected Sharjah ODI triumph and ah, I can't remember any other significant victories.

    Yes, things were on the ascendancy since 2000 and that Ashes '05 was exactly as you described - it was a bit of catharisis. I was studying in the college then ,no one was there to celebrate with me,but inside me was a whole different world.

  • ToneMalone on September 4, 2013, 0:06 GMT

    Thanks for sharing the memories Emma! I'm an Australian, but I'm sure this article will resonate with a lot of fellow Aussies who grew up circa 1980 when we were going through the same thing, especially against the West Indies pacemen.

    Having unwavering support for a losing side can also create some unexpected role models ... I used to admire opener Bruce Laird as much as Australia's premier batsman Greg Chappell, and was constantly practising my back-foot defence against the short ball in the back yard. Unfortunately, like Laird, it also became close to the only shot I ever played. No wonder I didn't make it as a cricketer!

  • RohanMarkJay on September 3, 2013, 20:50 GMT

    The 1990s, there were highlights for England. The 1992 world cup. 1994,1995 and 1998 test series against south africa. Yes except for the rare test win against Australia, there wasn't a great deal to shout about. Back then never thought I would see Australia struggle like they have in recent years.

  • on September 3, 2013, 12:20 GMT

    Really enjoyed reading this article. Can greatly identify with it. I am somehow reminded of my own box of such newspaper clippings lying in a corner of my room.

  • on September 3, 2013, 1:29 GMT

    @ Andy Plowright - I agree with u completely. Even the likes of clarke, kholi etc are brilliant fielders in cover, point region but ordinary in slips. With wicketkeeping, likes of gilchrist and boucher are perhaps the last of good wicketkeepers. Warne and murali were the last of spinners and fast bowling would have been heading in same direction if it wasn't for steyn.

  • Ellis78 on September 2, 2013, 23:17 GMT

    I have never before commented on an article but felt compelled to do so. This is the best piece of writing I have ever read on Cricinfo. I particularly like the line about we have seen your sacrifice...it is pleasing. I turned 15 in 1993. I too started filling in scrapbooks that year with the same blind dedication. Everything resonates so strongly, like knowing that Atherton was out that first ball as it came over the air waves. The first India test was the first since 1993 that I felt detached. I wondered whether it was the knowledge that with Strauss retired, every cricketer who would play for England, would now be younger than me. My abiding memory from my first summer of cricket is Atherton on all fours at Lord's. While I too have Jo'burg cut-outs, the person who fills many of the pages in my scrapbook is Thorpe. Although denied in 2005, his salvation had come in 2003. To me, his journey mirrored the team's fortunes more than any other. 86 and 3 off 28 etched in my mind.

  • Brightonbumpkin on September 2, 2013, 22:27 GMT

    Absolutely marvellous piece, Emma. I remember the walls of my University bedroom plastered in images of that Johannesburg test from all the papers I could get my hands on. Cricket free on terrestrial TV or through Ceefax eventually gave way to the scarcely-believable delight of ball-by-ball text commentary from Cricinfo (I swear it had a great deal to do with my basic degree pass, rather than the Desmond I was initially heading towards). Just like my football team Portsmouth plummeting through the devisions weighed down by administration and near-liquidation, I almost look forward to the return to the cricketing doldrums where we can once again groan at batting collapses, Ashes series lost inside 9 playing days and hero-worship persistant, but unthreatening medium-pace bowling. Dulcius ex asperis - effectively "sweeter through adversity".

  • on September 2, 2013, 20:56 GMT

    I'm with you all the way. It's just not the same any more is it? It was the 93 Ashes series that got me into cricket. I used to go to bed at night listening to Blowers on the radio, and after another batting collapse, say to my brother "there's still the second innings" - not really understanding. I'd spend the day at school defending them and put on the radio again that night. Pictures of them stuck all over my school books. One of them the Jack Russell - Atherton photograph. Every ball that a batsman kept out was a victory, every four was amazing. The only way back is to dig out the old score cards - something that I did only a month ago.

  • on September 2, 2013, 19:52 GMT

    This is pure poetry. I first started properly following england in the nineties, and the hoping against hope was a beautiful pain. You learned to love the draws, almost ignoring the wins as mirages. They'll always live in the memory as dogged triers, obdurate, defiant in the face of teams that were, somehow, always better. That Atherton 185 will forever be my favourite innings.

    That said, I do quite like winning a lot, though.

  • TenDonebyaShooter on September 2, 2013, 19:24 GMT

    Sorry to interrupt the mutual love-in, but I found this article meandering and self-indulgent. Scope was neglected here for asking serious question about how the composition of the England side has changed along with its more successful recent results, and thus asking serious questions about the dimensions of English society which are overrepresented in one of its so-called "national" games. There was a similar cricinfo article, "Summer of love", by an author regarding England's valedictory victory in the 1985 Ashes series, which I felt combined these personal nostalgic themes and addressing more serious and wider dimensions much better than this article. I recommend the cricinfo article "Summer of love" to all readers of the above.

  • on September 2, 2013, 18:50 GMT

    I must be around the same age as Emma, only I didn't come to appreciate the full majesty of cricket until I'd made it out of my teens. You could call that luck, but I like to imagine instead that my brain chose to enter into a sort of voluntary hibernation during the 90s, safely cocooning my cricketing subconscious from the then endless assault of Aussie brickabat. Apart from the odd bright flare - Devon Malcolm hitting out in 95; the Hollioakes wending their way to France, by way of 4 long wave, to illuminate, however briefly, an interminable camper van holiday - my memory of that period of humiliation is mercifully sparse. Thanks for a wonderful piece Emma. (And for further hammering home just how lucky I have been in my cricketing life.)

  • nikky283 on September 2, 2013, 17:57 GMT

    iam ur male version!! following india in d 90s was exactly d same! from 1986-2001 not a single test win overseas; just ind. performances from sach, rahul, saurav, azhar, kumble, sri & prasad; 2 get up @ 4am for aus & nz test matches despite knowing ur team'll lose & make postcards & scorecards of them requires a special kind of dedication?! gud 2 know i wasn't d only psycho out there; thx a lot emma.. simply d best fan article ever written; felt like a luxury cruise through memory lane!!!

  • on September 2, 2013, 17:35 GMT

    I must be around the same age as Emma, only I didn't come to appreciate the full majesty of cricket until I'd made it out of my teens. You could call that luck, but I like to imagine instead that my brain chose to enter into a sort of voluntary hibernation during the 90s, safely cocooning my cricketing subconscious from the then endless assault of Aussie brickabat. Apart from the odd bright flare - Devon Malcolm hitting out in 95; the Hollioakes wending their way to France, by way of 4 long wave, to illuminate, however briefly, an interminable camper van holiday - my memory of that period of humiliation is mercifully sparse. Thanks for a wonderful piece Emma. (And for further hammering home just how lucky I have been in my cricketing life.)

  • Nutcutlet on September 2, 2013, 17:16 GMT

    @landl47: You are generally right! I was feeling a bit gloomy when I posted first here. I concede now that my idiosyncratic list of current greats would take up most of the fingers of both hands. I would agree with your list, but Tendulkar is clearly no longer great as he is nowhere near Test class now. Dhoni is not a great Test player, IMO, as his keeping is below a good Test standard. He may cut it in format cricket, but that automatically excludes genuine greatness for me. Harris is a very fine player, but there isn't enough of a record to say more than that. England has two players of genuine greatness: KP & Swann, with Cook on the cusp on it. A significantly better series against a modest Oz side this summer could have moved him into the highest category. I'll accept your SA contingent. Glad to revise my opinion re: greatness overall. Who would you mark out as the 'characters' (not self-publicists) of the modern game, btw? I'm still scratching my head over that one.

  • Stuart_online on September 2, 2013, 14:41 GMT

    It is wonderful to read such an affectionate account of the steps that led to the author's following of cricket. I would love to spend an afternoon watching cricket not only with her but with the mother ! I would even take shifts wielding the iron.

    And as with many, it prompts me to recall the series that triggered my love affair with the game: perhaps too young to worry about who won, Sobers captivated me as a 6-year old in 1966. Unrestrained delight in later years if Richards was out for 0, disappointment when I took my family to see Lara scratch around for 2 in 20 minutes for the visitors, before before being caught behind in a County game, but always a deprived groan if Sobers was out for less than 100.

  • on September 2, 2013, 14:21 GMT

    The 1990's was really the start of the fitness era. The focus started moving away from raw ability with bat and ball and cricketers started to become athletes. I for one feel that the balance has gone too far toward the fitness side and the skill level has fallen away, mirroring the drop in ball-handling skill in rugby union as the pursuit of athleticism took over. Despite all the fitness routines and diet control and strengthening and skills coaches, slip catching is undoubtedly far poorer than it was in the 90's. There's nobody out there as reliable as the like of Marks Waugh or Taylor for instance. Wicketkeeping is another area that doesn't seem to be any better. Batting features more power and shots but overall quality is less and bowling is undoubtedly far poorer than in the 1990's.

  • on September 2, 2013, 14:07 GMT

    What fuels the nostalgia for the England cricket team of the 1990s is the POTENTIAL of what it might have done, if treated better by its own selectors, management and press. Every snatched victory, every end-of-rubber win, every surprise test match triumph over the West Indies, every reassuring series win over New Zealand (until 1999), every century made by Atherton, Stewart, Thorpe, Hussain, Hick and Smith...if only more than one of them could score one in an innings, every match the best bowling attack remained unchanged into the next one before Dexter, Illingworth, Fletcher, Graveney and Lloyd decided to mix things up, and those wins kept that monotone, depressing BBC sports reporter off our screens before he'd bemoan another bad day for the team. Probably not world beaters, but a team that would have mixed it up better with their opponents.

  • landl47 on September 2, 2013, 13:41 GMT

    @nutcutlet- surely you're joking? South Africa alone has enough great players to take up the fingers of one hand- Smith, Amla, Kallis, ABD and Steyn. Tendulkar is still playing, great by anyone's standards, and although Dhoni is a better short-format player, as an all-round player- batsman, WK, captain- he's almost unique. There's Clarke from Australia and if his physical limitations hadn't prevented it, who can doubt that Harris would have been one of the greats? As it is, we have his brilliant bowling in this series to look back on. SL have Sanga and Mahela, both great players.

    England is the most difficult to rate because although it has a squad of very good players most of them might be just short of great. However, with Cook, KP, Bell, Prior, Anderson and Swann, there's a lot to like and Broad is just coming to his best years.

    There's no shortage of great players to watch today. They might be spread around a bit more than in the past, but that's a good thing.

  • Nicholas09 on September 2, 2013, 13:22 GMT

    Brilliant, Emma. Though a few years younger, I too was converted to obsessive fandom in the course of that 1993 series, and it seems that for the next few years our bedrooms were extremely similar! You've reminded me how familiar that headline "Thorpe and Emburey postpone defeat" became - clearly seared into my retinae as I went to sleep each night!

    We moved house in 1997, at which point the pictures had to come down, but I kept collecting the cuttings until after university, meanwhile compiling albums to create a 'pictorial history', test match by test match. I managed 1993-96, and a contemporaneous 2003-06. I long to have the time to go back and fill in the gap - to rescue the heap of iconic (to you and I) images from 1997 to 2002 from the box in which they languish...

  • on September 2, 2013, 12:49 GMT

    What a great story. I was introduced to cricket through my Father and my Jamaican uncle. In the early 70's my hero was Dennis Amiss who always seemed to score hundreds against the West Indies but, alas, never against the Australians. During that long hot summer of 1976 when we were put to the sword after some defiance in the first two tests it seemed like Grenidge and Fredericks or Richards and Lloyd would bat all day. In the time before computer games etc we would collect our friends and go and play cricket in the park. Paddy the local park keeper would do his best for us by mowing and rolling a small bit of grassed area so we could have a decent game. One day we went out at around 11.10 and got home around 4.30 only to find Richards and Grenidge were still batting. I had almost forgotten what it was like to see a West Indian wicket fall. My Nan would also get excited and in 1977 she had her own "poster boy" in Derek Randall. Bless her.

  • scorpion-. on September 2, 2013, 10:43 GMT

    Emma! What a lovely article. This is what test cricket is or has been all about! As much as I kept asking myself also during that period, I just couldn't stay away from it. Now my interest has dwindled but it has nothing to do with England's success. It seems the financial side of the game is highlighted far too often, and that is crippling the sport.

  • mikeindex on September 2, 2013, 10:07 GMT

    This is the best piece of writing I have ever read on Cricinfo, and one of the best on cricket. Emma, is there more of your work online? Are you published?

  • Nutcutlet on September 2, 2013, 9:24 GMT

    A thoroughly enjoyable & most entertaining read. Thank you, Emma. As the years have rolled by, I've shed that heavy and frequently painful burden of over-empathising with England's cricketing woes. I think I lost them after being punched senseless in the nineties-- all of my strong cricketing patriotism died then. Now, I'm content for England to win, but it must be in style, with grace -- or the victory palls. Instead, I have stood back & basked in cricketing skills of the highest order only, whoever the player, whatever his country. Only be found in Test matches, of course.The other area that engages me more & more is the character (in the sense of Jack Russell or 'Rags' Randall) of certain players. It's probably something to do with age, but I see very little of the latter & the great players of today can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

  • ElDodo on September 2, 2013, 8:06 GMT

    Emma, this is seriously funny stuff. My mom would chop veggies in front of the TV when her favourite programming was on, and we would often get a multiple course dinner as a result... :-)

  • on September 2, 2013, 4:01 GMT

    what an irony that players lie Atherton.Stewart,Nasser,Thorpe ,Gough,Caddic,and a few others of that gen. could never lay their hands on that Precious ASHES Urn! Aussies used to swamp and trample em no end!The boot is seemingly on the other foot?! or is it really?

  • on September 2, 2013, 4:01 GMT

    what an irony that players lie Atherton.Stewart,Nasser,Thorpe ,Gough,Caddic,and a few others of that gen. could never lay their hands on that Precious ASHES Urn! Aussies used to swamp and trample em no end!The boot is seemingly on the other foot?! or is it really?

  • ElDodo on September 2, 2013, 8:06 GMT

    Emma, this is seriously funny stuff. My mom would chop veggies in front of the TV when her favourite programming was on, and we would often get a multiple course dinner as a result... :-)

  • Nutcutlet on September 2, 2013, 9:24 GMT

    A thoroughly enjoyable & most entertaining read. Thank you, Emma. As the years have rolled by, I've shed that heavy and frequently painful burden of over-empathising with England's cricketing woes. I think I lost them after being punched senseless in the nineties-- all of my strong cricketing patriotism died then. Now, I'm content for England to win, but it must be in style, with grace -- or the victory palls. Instead, I have stood back & basked in cricketing skills of the highest order only, whoever the player, whatever his country. Only be found in Test matches, of course.The other area that engages me more & more is the character (in the sense of Jack Russell or 'Rags' Randall) of certain players. It's probably something to do with age, but I see very little of the latter & the great players of today can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

  • mikeindex on September 2, 2013, 10:07 GMT

    This is the best piece of writing I have ever read on Cricinfo, and one of the best on cricket. Emma, is there more of your work online? Are you published?

  • scorpion-. on September 2, 2013, 10:43 GMT

    Emma! What a lovely article. This is what test cricket is or has been all about! As much as I kept asking myself also during that period, I just couldn't stay away from it. Now my interest has dwindled but it has nothing to do with England's success. It seems the financial side of the game is highlighted far too often, and that is crippling the sport.

  • on September 2, 2013, 12:49 GMT

    What a great story. I was introduced to cricket through my Father and my Jamaican uncle. In the early 70's my hero was Dennis Amiss who always seemed to score hundreds against the West Indies but, alas, never against the Australians. During that long hot summer of 1976 when we were put to the sword after some defiance in the first two tests it seemed like Grenidge and Fredericks or Richards and Lloyd would bat all day. In the time before computer games etc we would collect our friends and go and play cricket in the park. Paddy the local park keeper would do his best for us by mowing and rolling a small bit of grassed area so we could have a decent game. One day we went out at around 11.10 and got home around 4.30 only to find Richards and Grenidge were still batting. I had almost forgotten what it was like to see a West Indian wicket fall. My Nan would also get excited and in 1977 she had her own "poster boy" in Derek Randall. Bless her.

  • Nicholas09 on September 2, 2013, 13:22 GMT

    Brilliant, Emma. Though a few years younger, I too was converted to obsessive fandom in the course of that 1993 series, and it seems that for the next few years our bedrooms were extremely similar! You've reminded me how familiar that headline "Thorpe and Emburey postpone defeat" became - clearly seared into my retinae as I went to sleep each night!

    We moved house in 1997, at which point the pictures had to come down, but I kept collecting the cuttings until after university, meanwhile compiling albums to create a 'pictorial history', test match by test match. I managed 1993-96, and a contemporaneous 2003-06. I long to have the time to go back and fill in the gap - to rescue the heap of iconic (to you and I) images from 1997 to 2002 from the box in which they languish...

  • landl47 on September 2, 2013, 13:41 GMT

    @nutcutlet- surely you're joking? South Africa alone has enough great players to take up the fingers of one hand- Smith, Amla, Kallis, ABD and Steyn. Tendulkar is still playing, great by anyone's standards, and although Dhoni is a better short-format player, as an all-round player- batsman, WK, captain- he's almost unique. There's Clarke from Australia and if his physical limitations hadn't prevented it, who can doubt that Harris would have been one of the greats? As it is, we have his brilliant bowling in this series to look back on. SL have Sanga and Mahela, both great players.

    England is the most difficult to rate because although it has a squad of very good players most of them might be just short of great. However, with Cook, KP, Bell, Prior, Anderson and Swann, there's a lot to like and Broad is just coming to his best years.

    There's no shortage of great players to watch today. They might be spread around a bit more than in the past, but that's a good thing.

  • on September 2, 2013, 14:07 GMT

    What fuels the nostalgia for the England cricket team of the 1990s is the POTENTIAL of what it might have done, if treated better by its own selectors, management and press. Every snatched victory, every end-of-rubber win, every surprise test match triumph over the West Indies, every reassuring series win over New Zealand (until 1999), every century made by Atherton, Stewart, Thorpe, Hussain, Hick and Smith...if only more than one of them could score one in an innings, every match the best bowling attack remained unchanged into the next one before Dexter, Illingworth, Fletcher, Graveney and Lloyd decided to mix things up, and those wins kept that monotone, depressing BBC sports reporter off our screens before he'd bemoan another bad day for the team. Probably not world beaters, but a team that would have mixed it up better with their opponents.

  • on September 2, 2013, 14:21 GMT

    The 1990's was really the start of the fitness era. The focus started moving away from raw ability with bat and ball and cricketers started to become athletes. I for one feel that the balance has gone too far toward the fitness side and the skill level has fallen away, mirroring the drop in ball-handling skill in rugby union as the pursuit of athleticism took over. Despite all the fitness routines and diet control and strengthening and skills coaches, slip catching is undoubtedly far poorer than it was in the 90's. There's nobody out there as reliable as the like of Marks Waugh or Taylor for instance. Wicketkeeping is another area that doesn't seem to be any better. Batting features more power and shots but overall quality is less and bowling is undoubtedly far poorer than in the 1990's.