Friday, 23 May 2014

Column 12, 2014 – The family game

Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 84, Friday May 23, 2014.
[Full text below]

The first week of the Hampshire Cricket League was pretty much washed away. Our game was one of the last called off, and the local rag turned up, desperate for something – anything – for the first official day of the league cricket season.

The resultant picture, cajoled out of us on our sodden square before we trudged off for an afternoon of reluctant shopping or DIY or some other ignominy, exposed something about our demographic we mostly tend to ignore. But there it was staring back at us from the back page, thrown suddenly into sharp relief: it’s just possible we may not be in our prime.

The prime of your sporting years is 25-40. Guess how many of us there are in that age bracket? That’s right. None at all. Not one.

Sachin Tendulkar retired at 40, and he was about as late as it gets. A legend with 100 international hundreds, and still many thought he’d outstayed his welcome. Two other recent legends, Ponting and Kallis, were both 38. Mark Ramprakash managed to hold out till 42, domestic cricket being more forgiving than the world stage.

Bowlers tend to go earlier, the stress on the body a little more telling. McGrath and Warne were 36 and 37 when they strolled off into the Sidney sunset together for the final time.

Part timers, really. Last year we had to persuade Al, an off-spinner in his fifties (and a character generally known as anything other than ‘retiring’) that he still had a good decade left in him.

Because village cricket is almost exclusively contested by +40s and -25s. And it’s not just us. Most clubs we know are in similar straits. There may be a few, but they are the exceptions, when you’d have thought they’d be the rules.

Why this should be is not entirely clear. The almost complete absence of cricket in state schools surely can’t help, but doesn’t account for the -25s, who are to be found in healthy numbers at most clubs.

It must, I can only conclude, simply be the call of the family, the growing necessity of two working parents meaning most men in the prime of their cricketing lives are required around the nest at weekends. (For more on this, see my book, which derives its title from my wife’s attitude to cricket.) Good for families, perhaps. Bad for cricket, definitely.

Anyway. It turns out, this time of year is an excellent time to encounter any side relying on players in their early twenties, before they’re overwhelmed by the pull of the nappy.

We finally played our first league match on Saturday and won at a canter by eight wickets in half the overs. Bramshaw II were largely over 50 or under 18, but in a month’s time they’ll be bolstered with half a dozen 20-somethings back from university, and they’ll be a very different proposition indeed.

Like most things in cricket, it’s all about timing.

- ends 492 words -

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