Hilary Fannin: You don’t need a pony to play cricket
I had thought cricket grounds would feel exclusive, tight. I was wrong
The atmosphere around Pembroke Cricket Club was friendly, informal, mellow, unhurried. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Okay, first things first: if you know anything at all about cricket, if you’ve even sat on a bus next to someone who might have once thwacked a cricket ball, tripped over a stump or slipped into some alluring padding, this column is not for you. Are we clear?
Furthermore, they say that a monkey with a typewriter will, given enough time, reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. That’s as maybe. However, even an eternity under a burning Anglepoise, tethered to a laptop, with a cold beer and a visor, smoking a chewed cigar, my feet planted on the desk, encased in a pair of two-tone brogues, will not turn me into a sportswriter. Not even close, mate.
There are people in this world, lots of them, who derive great pleasure from ball sports. And there are people like me, who reflexively close their eyes when a ball is thrown in their direction and would rather sit down and read a book about the joys of taxidermy or the component parts of a washing machine than actually participate in all that running around and kicking and throwing business.
Unlike me, my friend Janice keeps her eyes open when balls are hurled at her, and now, having had a stellar cricketing career (she played for Ireland for more than 10 years, including two World Cups in Australia and the UK, and was once described as a “swashbuckling left-hand bat” ), is enjoying her third year as president of Pembroke Cricket Club in Dublin. One of her Ireland caps is even framed and hanging on the clubhouse wall.
“Oh, that’s nice. Did they give you that to keep the sun out of your eyes?” I asked, staining my gin glass with lipstick pearls. (Hell, it was a Friday).
“No,” she replied, grimacing into her pint, quite possibly ruing her invitation to me to come and have a look at the place. “They gave it to me in 1987. Three-day game against Holland. We won by an innings and 19 runs. Qualified for the World Cup in Oz. I got 50 not out.”
“Fifty not out? Goodness, that sounds tiring.”
We carried our glasses out to “the Wall”, Janice and her wife, Helen, and I. The Wall, a lovely old fortification, absorbs the day’s sunshine, radiating heat into the backs of spectators seated on the benches alongside it as evening falls.
We watched the game, which that night was a match between two women’s teams. In the hazy light, women aged between 15 and 45 batted and bowled and ran up and down, tapping their bats on the velvety green.
Every now and then there was a smattering of applause, and occasionally a whispered expletive, from the laid-back gathering of onlookers as the pink ball dipped and flew, spun and pirouetted, on its volatile trajectory.
“Why is the ball pink?” I asked.
“It makes it easier to see in the light,” Helen informed me patiently.
“The ball is made of wood,” I told Helen confidently. (I had this on good authority, I thought, from a man who spent many hours lying in his London bath listening to cricket on the radio.)
“The ball is not made of wood,” Janice corrected me. “It’s made of cork and leather and string and . . .”
“Rubber?” I suggested. “Balls are nearly always rubbery.”
The atmosphere around the ground was friendly, informal, mellow, unhurried. I had thought cricket grounds would feel exclusive, tight. I’d been expecting aficionados, all dressed in white, running around with teapots and strawberry jam, fruitcake crumbs littering their handlebar moustaches. Instead, there were young men with brown legs and broad-brimmed hats lolling around, and women and children cheering their mothers and sisters.
“We want people to join the club,” Janice told me. “It’s a fantastic place for families. It’s a great sport. Children play in the nets, the clubhouse is friendly. Families have parties here. There are all sorts of memberships, including junior members and social members; the fees are very reasonable.”
“And it’s not like you need a pony,” I enthused. Randomly.
“No,” agreed Janice steadily. “You don’t need a pony to play cricket.”
“We provide the stumps.”
“That’s a six!” someone shouted. “We’ve won on a six!”
I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about, but people seemed terribly pleased.
The players shook hands, and as dusk settled the groundsman prepared the three sets of covers for the wickets. My glass, alas, was empty.
I said goodbye, picked my way around the boundary. One foot in front of the other. Leg before wicket. Wicket before leg.