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Monday, 6 August 2012

A Day at the Test Match with Wasim Khan

Let’s start with a health warning. This may hurt. I’m going to update any British readers on my day at the Test Match. I’m afraid that my American readers, once they realise that a Test Match is a cricket game played over five six-hour days, from which we (England) will be happy to get a draw (tie), may as well switch off now. I somehow doubt that you’ll ever really get it. But who knows? People have been won over - although for every convert to the great English summer game you can point to a P G Wodehouse, that consummate English gentleman, who had the gall to declare that baseball was superior. But then I suspect he was losing his marbles at the time.

Some years ago I wrote a book with Wasim Kahn, a very personable young guy who grew up in inner-city Birmingham, the son of Kashmiri immigrants, and went on to become the first British-born Asian to play professional cricket in this country. It was a true delight to help him write his story from the original short manuscript he’d put together - and to point out to him that the tale of how he acquired his first bat could NOT be dismissed in a single sentence. Once I got the full details - how he pinched his Mum’s only knife (the family didn’t possess cutlery, preferring to use a folded chapatti to scoop the curry into their mouths), how he then wrenched a wooden board out of the fence when his Dad wasn’t looking, and how, over the course of the following month, he whittled a bat in the outhouse - I had a whole chapter’s worth of material. There was too the story of his loosening a board in the fence at Edgbaston, wriggling through, then charging his buddies 20 pence each to follow him inside to watch England play Pakistan. 

Anyway, when we working on the book, back in 2005-06, he kept promising me a day at a Test Match - that is, a full international between England and one of the other major national sides. For various reasons, it never happened. Then at ten thirty Thursday evening, just after we’d got back from the Scottish borders, I received a text. Was I up for a day at Headingley? Ha! Does the Pope wear a funny hat? I was up next morning at 0600h, on the train to Leeds and outside the East stand at 0945h to meet Wasim, now retired from playing and working as CEO of the largest sporting charity in the country, Chance to Shine (
We were in a private hospitality box - and as soon as I walked in at ten o’clock it was, ‘Champagne, Sir?’ I am able to report, however, that I didn’t over-indulge. Could have done, but chose not to. Just a couple of glasses prior to a very nice three-course lunch, and then it was coffee all the way - apart from the tea interval, that is. Well, I mean….

The picture at the top of the page, I should point out, was taken before play started, when the teams were warming up on the field. Here’s a shot of the game in progress, some time after tea - or shortly before - with England openers Andrew Strauss and Alistair Cook piecing together a handy partnership that reached 48 before bad light stopped play or the day.

The cricket had been rather on the dour side. This was Day 2, and a fair amount of time had already been lost to rain and bad light. South Africa, vying with England for number one spot in the world rankings, had accumulated about 260 for 5 overnight, and the first two sessions were about England trying to winkle out the last five batsmen, which they finally did - but not until the total had reached 410. 

One of the delights of being the guest of a guy like Wasim is in the company he keeps. As well as a number of friends, and a couple of benefactors to his charity, he played host to former England captain Mike Gatting, ex-Yorkshire and England batsman Jim Love. There’s a story for which Love is renowned - namely, how he ran out the great, the legendary Geoffrey Boycott in the latter’s final innings of a twenty-three year career - and sure enough, after lunch he was persuaded to tell it for the umpteenth time. I won’t go into details here, other than to say that Boycott never forgave him. According to Love, Boycs was four runs short of hitting the 1,000 mark for the 19th consecutive season, and was so angry at his dismissal that he’s never spoken to him since. Remember, we’re talking here about guys who batted for the same county for about ten years. In fact, Love told us that as he walked into the ground that morning he passed Boycs, now aged 72 and surely mellowing, and greeted him. Did the new President of Yorkshire County Cricket Club return his ‘Good morning’? Did he hell.   

Ah well, nowt so queer as folk, as we say up north…. It was a true delight to be at a cricket game again, and remember just how much I used to love the game - and how much I used to know about its history and traditions. How opportune, then, that A is treating me to a day at a county game tomorrow: Durham, who play just down the road at Chester-le-Street, versus Surrey, my old home county. We’re packing smoked salmon and freshly baked bread (my job, tonight), a bottle of champers, a box of strawberries, and I dare say we’ll pick up a cake en route; all to be loaded on our bikes for a forty-five minute ride each way. Let’s hope the weather behaves, and I get one or two decent pictures.

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