Testing times – An Irishman’s Diary on cricket
I first watched cricket properly on the day of the Miami Showband massacre, on July 31st, 1975. The day before, my father had taken my young siblings up to the Dodder here in Dublin to fish for sticklebacks, or pinkeens as we used to call them. They were packing up nets and tackle when William, my brother, tripped and fell on a milk bottle and cut open his hand. The next day, a Thursday morning, my mother and father were in Jervis Street hospital looking after poor Will, while I was at home with an 11-, four- and five-year-old and an eight-month-old baby.
On our new colour TV at around 10.30 that morning there was the late Brian Cant and the round and square windows at Play School, and just before 11 there was the BBC Northern Ireland news with the most awful news of what happened to Fran and the Miami.
And then just after that, there it was – the first day of the Second Test match, England against Australia, at Lord’s. I knew a little about it but seeing it at Lord’s, at the highest level of play, just captured me. I knew almost immediately that something had happened, I was utterly intrigued by what was before me even if I did not understand it, and I knew it was not a passing moment. There were no anthems and no bias, and to everyone involved the game was everything.
David Steele, silver haired and crouched, made his debut that day, for all the world looking like a desk clerk gone to war, and it struck me that here was a game for all ages. That second Test ended as a draw, as did the next one when the Headingley pitch was dug up by friends of the prisoner George Davis, and the final Test at the Oval was also undecided, after six days. Australia knocked up over 500 in their first innings – a team batting nearly two days nearly beggared my imagination.
I was hooked, especially as the literature of cricket was so broad and so good.
I picked up a John Arlott book in the local library and I can still quote passages from it. He was a poet writing about the most poetic game. I began to follow the overseas tours – England toured India at the end of 1976. That summer they were cut in two by the West Indies’ terrifying fast bowlers and there they were, off around India, playing spin bowling on turning tracks.
A few years on from that my brother Niall brought me up to Civil Service cricket club in the Phoenix Park.
I was woeful as a cricketer, partly because I played every match as if it was a game of Test cricket.
We played recreational cricket, for the love of the game as we used to say, and as much as anything else because everyone knew how consumed I was by the game and indulged me for it. I was too pumped by half on match days. But I had enormous fun and made the most enduring friendships.
And now we as a country have been asked to take our place at the top table and play Test cricket. I see it as a fantastic affirmation of us as a nation of people and as a body of cricketers.
It’s an Irish characteristic too that there is a degree of pessimism about our climb to the top level. The major worry I have is our location on the most extreme western seaboard. If we are staging a home Test match, how in hell are we going to have five clear days without rain?
There are misgivings about the quality of side we can get out in the future. Granted in the short term we have an ageing team and the side and a few of its individuals are creaking a little. But I look at it this way – we have the same population base as New Zealand. They worked at their structures, and while it took them a lifetime to win their first Test match, nowadays they’re a top-class side. We finally have the right structures in place in terms of our own three-day cricket as preparation for the five-day stuff and the young players are beginning to come through.
The love of the game is flourishing in this county after a long spell where political pressure and the game’s identification with Anglo Saxon values nearly strangled it. We’re producing tough cricketers with built-in nous, and in recent years the economic boom has led to a welcome influx of immigrants from India and Pakistan, hotbeds of the game.
Looking ahead I can see the Tectors, the Delanys and the Richardsons, and maybe a few second or third generation Singhs, Kumars and Ahmeds rejoicing in the twists and turns of five-day cricket and lighting up the Test stage for us in a few years’ time. Above all else I’m convinced that we’ll prosper at Test level because, as in so many pursuits in so many walks of life, lack of resources and experience will count for nothing, as we, the Irish, as we always do in so many of our pursuits and walks of life, will punch above our weight and wear the green with pride.