6th April 2018
I woke up at four o’clock this morning from a dream…
I have been sitting on the wooden benches of the open terrace for some time now watching the players depart, down a slight slope, towards the far side of the ground. On the distant boundary edge, a mist seems to have descended, obscuring some of them from view.
The men are elderly, their progress slow and halting. A couple need some assistance.
When they had been in the middle – in my youth – they had been strong and robust. And skilful and determined. They had frequently argued amongst themselves, it is true – clashes of personality, as euphemistically described – but their collective will had prevailed. Six CountyChampionships and two Gillette Cups in the 1960s.
Tony Nick is the first whom I can no longer see – taken before he had even reached his half century. Hour upon hour, he had bowled uphill or into the wind: the master of seam and length, his radar permanently fixed on the top of off stump.
Some time later, Freddie is the next to depart into the mist: gruff and opinionated, but with a cricketing brain as sharp as a tack. Phil and Don have walked off together, as you would expect the two great friends to do. One was short and round with the hands of a magician at first slip. The other, tall and angular, had followed in the path of the county’s great left-armers.
Then, the captain. At once, both England’s youngest test match player, to whom the game seemed to come so easily, and the hardened veteran – and I mean hard – with bruises to show from West Indian fast bowlers and county committees. In the field, Brian Close would take the blow at short leg, but woe betide you if you didn’t catch the rebound.
John Hampshire is the most recent to have disappeared into the mist. The straight drive was his trademark: a wonderful synthesis of power and grace. How many times, from this seat here on the terrace, have I heard the crack of the rifle-shot as bat hit ball and then waited for the muffled echo to come back from the shadows of the Football Stand?
The remainder of the team continue to make their way slowly across the distant outfield. They are still clearly visible, praise be.
With affection, I recall their younger selves: Geoffrey’s turned-up collar and immaculate straight bat; the cheery Dougie Padgett’s ruddy face (and, later, his honest appraisal of my limited showing at the Indoor School); Ken Taylor’s athletic fielding and his double life as a professional footballer; Jimmy Binks standing back to Fred behind the stumps. And Raymond, the off-spinning all-rounder and, later again, Ashes-winning captain: the cricketer on whom I modelled myself.
Of course, I realise that, fairly soon, I will have to leave my seat and start my own walk across the outfield and towards the mist. It’s a journey that we all must make at some stage. Forgive me, however, if I delay awhile: I should like to cast my mind back and – with a smile of fond memory – take another look at this team in action in the middle.