Yesterday, responding to an invitation, I travelled to a village cricket game on the south coast in glorious sunshine – a journey sadly beset during its last four miles by having to take my place among a gridlocked stream of day-trippers and/or holiday makers on their way to the seaside.
I’ve been scouring my brain and my best estimate is that it must be thirty years minimum since I last attended an authentic village cricket game, as opposed to taking part myself in a game between two teams of pals playing a ‘hit and giggle’ contest.
By chance, never having previously been to the club/ground in question, I came upon an idyllic scene such as one imagines from times long gone. Teams consisting of chaps aged between eighteen and fifty; shapes along a spectrum from lithe/fit to grossly overweight; cricket whites ranging from brand new, draw-string secured, worn tight and stylish, to faded cream of twenty years’ vintage plus. Around the boundary there was a mish-mash of folding deck-chairs and benches housing fifty or more spectators, friends and casual attendees.
I was staggered by the pristine state of the ground and clubhouse – quite unlike anything I had played at in my heyday. It turned out that the club was had been the beneficiary of a trust that had been left a fortune by a deceased local grandee ‘to be used for the benefit of the community’. The ground itself was immaculate, right down to its side-screens, heavy roller, boundary ropes and fencing. The clubhouse was decidedly upmarket. Even the scoreboard was digital. There was a constant buzz of conversation leavened with laughter, smiles and general contentment. This club was a honey-pot where the locals habitually gathered together to socialise and hang out. There was nothing not to like.
The cricket itself was – well – average in quality. The team that batted first managed to post 201 in forty overs, largely thanks to a stand of 90 between a young tyro who began slowly and stodgily but later hit out with gusto to post a score in excess of 60 and an older gentleman, a left-hand bat, who played junior partner during their time together but ended making thirty-something on his own account.
The lunch and tea were outstanding, both prepared efficiently by a group of volunteers on duty for the day, and – had one been there for the fodder – one might have been forgiven for regarding what was happening out on the square as an unnatural interruption between meals.
As it happened, because I was scheduled to leave for London by the evening, I was obliged to withdraw at tea-time (5.00pm), at which point the replying team were ninety-something for five halfway through their overs allocation, and join the traffic procession back to the A27 and thence the M3. I did so with a mix of both reluctance and wonder at the perfect ‘cricket’ day I had enjoyed in the depths of West Sussex. It had reconnected me with memories of decades ago and reminded me that some treasured pastimes endure even when, struggling to keep up with Life’s headlong rush into the future, you become convinced they haven’t.