Travelling tittle-tattle, tall tales and shameless name-dropping by Jon ‘Don’t Call Me’ Norman

About Me

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Ying versus yang

For the first time in my life Fulham are still in a cup at the same time the cricket season has got underway. It's a situation I doubt I'll ever have reason to get used to. And while thoughts of tonight's Europa semi final are almost all encompassing I recently took advantage of my Surrey membership, ECB pass and an irregular working week to take in a couple of days of county cricket.

Nearly as typical as an early Fulham cup exit is the media's annual treatment of the start of a new county season. If they can be bothered to cover it at all it will usually feature a photo of an elderly gent, possibly asleep, sitting alone in the expanse of an otherwise empty cricket stand. Just to keep the subeditors interested the scene will be mixed up a bit year on year. One season the old man will be holding an umbrella, the next he'll have a dog by his side, sometime he won't even be watching the cricket, choosing instead to complete a crossword.

Sadly as with most things in life the media may exaggerate somewhat but the truth is in their somewhere. And parallels between my experiences in the Ashes summer of 2009 with the opening salvos of the county season 2010 are difficult to conjure. But although my recent visits to Lord’s and The Oval where I last saw England set up, and then thrillingly finish off the Aussies, lacked the same exhilaration they did afford more than enough to keep my attention away from the Guardian crossword.

Taking my seat in the Upper Edrich stand at Lord’s to watch Middlesex play a side other than Surrey for the first time felt did make me feel slightly treacherous. But with the not so mighty Brown Caps resting and a whole afternoon free I was keen to check out Iain O’Brien, a Kiwi bowler who recently retired from international cricket. While his record at the highest level was modest the excellent blog he wrote while playing for New Zealand gave a unique insight into cricket life at the top. It also attracted a legion of fans he’d never have attracted otherwise. Myself included.

Iain was bowling as I got to the ground at just after lunch with Gloucestershire comfortably placed at 141 for 2. Several parts of the stadium were out of bounds as I peered out from under the Mound Stand as he raced in for my first ball of the day. It went for four. The second was a wicket as his fellow countryman Hamish Marshall mistimed a pull to long off. Who needs the IPL with action like this?

Taking my seat in the John Edrich Upper alongside roughly one hundred spectators I was immediately transported back to the grassy banks of Hamilton, Adelaide and Trinidad as the not altogether unpleasant aroma of suntan lotion floated on the breeze.
While the sight of ageing, sunburnt white men with tops off and pints at the ready added to the feeling that I had been in similar environments many times before.

I soon lapsed into a contended haze of cricket watching, sun bathing and eavesdropping the local cricket tragics. “They don’t listen to us,” remarked one Middlesex fan about the ECB before his group proceeded to disagree about every topic they raised. Shaun Udal’s captaincy, the reason for Middlesex’s poor start to the season, why Tim Murtagh wasn’t taking wickets, T20, Pro40 & 4 day cricket. “Corruption in India? I find that hard to believe,” said another sage about the current crisis affecting the IPL.

Meanwhile O’Brien was claiming wickets at regular intervals and ended the day with his second best first class figures of 7/48. It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon for us both. Affording the kind of relaxation and reflection I can only achieve whilst watching cricket. And totally out of sorts with the kind of experience I’m expecting tonight at the Cottage. Fulham versus Hamburg with a place at a European Cup final awaiting the winner is as nerve wracking as it gets.

In some ways the last week has helped me solve a conundrum I’ve never been able to answer. Which sport do I like the most, cricket or football? Up to now I’ve not been able to split or even compare them. They are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of playing or watching. The only similarity is the pain and joy they both bring. And while one could exist without the other it isn't a case of which one I love the most. For if cricket is my ying then football is most certainly my yang.