Two boys watch the cricket

In winter, the sun shines brighter half a world away

© Getty Images

Dear Cricket Monthly,

Although I'm writing from the damp and cricketless depths of an English winter, those of you in sunnier, cricket-blessed climes should know that in these dark months of football and rugby it is your game that provides - much in the same way a sun-starved Scandinavian takes doses of UV light - a bright fantasy of hope. And particularly for the optimistic England fan whose team has yet to step off a plane in Australia.

Unfortunately it is a clichéd truth that the English winter can be a grim ordeal. Yet this is the time for dreams of summer to be indulged by a lack of cricketing reality - both professional and amateur. The club player, without the weekly failures on his village green, can spend the off season embellishing his abilities, convinced that the following season will be the one in which he scores that hundred or, like some players I know, finally takes a catch.

And because the chock-a-block summer of professional cricket fills our airwaves and televisions with fixtures both riveting and pointless, there is no better place to sit and read one of the many fine tomes of cricket literature than in an armchair by the fire. Last winter, I time-travelled to 1859 by reading Fred Lillywhite's The English Cricketers' Trip to Canada and the United States, voyaging with these pioneer tourists on a paddle steamer across the Atlantic, before fast-forwarding into the 20th century's most famous series with Duncan Hamilton's masterly biography of Harold Larwood. With Hamilton as guide, we journey from the barracking stands of the MCG to the quiet Sydney suburbs 50 years on, where the noble presence of Harold himself seems to lift from the page.

An English cricket fan's more immediate dose of sunshine arrives by radio, TV, newspaper or internet. That pre-dawn rise to pull on a pair of work boots or knot a tie is brightened by a Test-match commentary team describing the sea in Galle, or the way a gull rides the breeze in Perth. Or better still, hearing the rattle and hum of a crowd at Eden Gardens, the clatter of frenetically beaten drums enlivening a dark walk to the office and relieving that gloomy introversion that many of us suffer from in these northern climes. I hope southern fans know what therapy their cheers offer to the shuffling commuter on a wet and windy platform at London Bridge station.

Cricket down under in the summer is not always this boring

Cricket down under in the summer is not always this boring © Getty Images

This winter we have the 2015 World Cup, shining in the dark like a crystal palace on the plains of Mordor. Aged 13, watching the 1987 tournament was an awakening. Literally. I was forbidden to get up in the middle of the night, and had to creep down a creaking staircase to switch on the TV. Perhaps it was the radiation from sitting so close to the screen - I had to be ready to hit the off button should my stepfather rouse - but watching England live was a near out-of-body experience.

In the dark of my lounge, the only glow in the world was a bright green outfield in Pakistan or India, and Mike Gatting taking guard at a dusty crease, or Graham Gooch sweeping us to victory in the semi-final. I was transported. I was no longer a boy in a cold house on an estate in Leicester. Instead I was a fan in the crowd in Calcutta, one of the multitude in the dust and the heat and the sweat, certain that England were cruising to glory in the final, before Gatting derailed the England train by botching a reverse sweep. The ball ricocheted off his shoulder and into Greg Dyer's gloves. And England were done, despite Allan Lamb's late heroics.

I was 17 years old for the next tournament in 1992, and although TV access was easier and I now had a black-and-white portable set in my bedroom, for some reason the games were less memorable - at least from an England fan's perspective. Still, I have flashbulb moments of Pakistan from the final: Imran Khan crashing Richard Illingworth high into the stands, and Wasim Akram skittling Lamb and Chris Lewis in consecutive balls. It's hardly a surprise that both Imran and Wasim would become my role models; the dashing allrounder and the lethal swing bowler were the players I wanted to emulate.

This World Cup I won't have to sneak downstairs like a ninja. And I can eat all the sweets I want. But will, like in 1987 and 1992, England be there to compete in the final? I won't answer that question, because optimism shines bright, and I still have a month of rain and dark before the men in white light up my winter.

Nicholas Hogg

Nicholas Hogg is vice-captain of the Authors Cricket Club, a team of cricket-playing writers. His next novel, Tokyo, is published summer 2015. @nicholas_hogg

 

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