As far as cricket is concerned, I suppose I would describe myself as “old school”. I have no problem at all with (in fact I thoroughly enjoy watching) the shorter versions of the game – the entertainment and skill on show in the 50-over and T20 formats can be breathtaking at times; but for me, there just isn’t anything to compare with the particular tension and drama that test match cricket can produce.
Over the five days (because test matches occasionally last that long…), there can be so many individual battles, sub-plots and twists to savour as the game develops and one set of players tries to out-think as well as out-perform the other.
Of course some matches are more “dramatic” (if that’s the right word), but even quiet sessions or one-sided games offer something for the purist; and there have been plenty of examples of test matches where the result has seemed a foregone conclusion, only for something truly special to happen – an innings, a catch, a brilliant spell of bowling, a collapse … something that elevates a game into an event that will remain in the public consciousness for years.
There will be people who look at this summer’s series against India and assume that the 4-1 scoreline represents a fairly comfortable victory for the home side – but I found this to be one of the most intriguing contests of recent years, and far closer than the bare figures suggest.
Frailties in England’s top order were exposed – India’s seamers were superb. The tourists’ talented batting line-up consistently failed to fire, meaning that skipper Virat Kohli’s performances were even more impressive. England’s lower order batsmen were magnificent, but only so many players can bat between 5 and 8. England’s slip catching was embarrassingly bad at times; in contrast India – KL Rahul in particular – were fantastic. Sam Curran emerged as a real talent (quite possibly a batting all-rounder of the future?). James Anderson became the most successful fast bowler in the history of test cricket…
And then there was Alastair Cook.
The fifth and final test, which finished yesterday, was an outstanding match on so many levels. At the end of day four, the tourists were in disarray, yet by tea on the last afternoon, all three results were possible. It was just a wonderful game that ebbed and flowed and just when you thought that the home side were in total command, back came the Indians to such effect that a ridiculously late England declaration began to look a stroke of tactical genius (which it wasn’t..!).
Much has been written about Messrs Anderson and Cook – surely two of England’s finest ever cricketers – and there’s precious little that a very average former club slow left-armer can add; other than to say what a perfect way for Alastair Cook to bring down the curtain on his outstanding test career. If he had been granted three proverbial wishes, a ton in his last knock, an England win, and his friend passing Glenn McGrath’s haul of test wickets may well have been his choices. It was simply brilliant.
What I would say though is that it takes two sides to make a great game and much as the Indians played their part with both bat and ball; it was the way they reacted to Cook’s second innings dismissal that will stick in my mind. To a man they went and shook the hand of the departing left-hander. Not one or two of the players … all of them. One even removed his hat prior to offering his hand.
This was pure class from Virat Kohli and his players – a gesture that I’m sure wasn’t lost on England’s former skipper as he walked from the field. Even in the heat of sporting battle, an entire team showed total respect for an opponent … it was a magical moment that was emotional to watch on a television screen; it must have been amazing to witness in person.
Those five days encapsulated everything that makes test cricket great … and, perhaps more importantly, still totally relevant. It has been a wonderful summer.
Saturday 22 September will mark the end (for the foreseeable future at least) of the series of “challenges” that has dominated so much of the past five years. Since the start of 2014, I have completed in the region of 120 tasks with the aim of trying to raise mental health awareness; to show that it is fine to talk openly about mental health and to ask for help if you are struggling.
So much has happened since a Tweet from former Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm got the proverbial ball rolling; and much as I’ve met some wonderfully generous and inspiring people, shared some great experiences and hopefully (but most importantly) made a small difference along the way, the time has come to take a significant step back.
The planning and preparation for so many varied tasks took a lot of time and energy (and over 8,000 miles on the road), but it was probably the work involved in writing my book that tipped the emotional balance. I fully accept that no one forced me to tell my story but the possibility (however remote) of helping someone absolutely justifies the decision to share my experiences in so much detail.
That said the process of recalling long-suppressed memories and committing them to paper (and the editing that follows) is tough … almost brutal at times. It’s nobody’s fault, and I suppose everyone will react differently … I just feel drained; and very much in need of a chance to deal with how I’m feeling and regather my strength. Luckily I have Elaine (and our new puppy Ruby) and I know everything will be fine; it will just take a bit of time.
All of which brings me to 22 September.
Two of the 2014 challenges were to play darts and netball – since then, those involved have enjoyed amazing success. Glen Durrant has gone from being ranked no.7 in the BDO to a two-time world champion; and Grangetown have been promoted (twice) into the top-flight of English club netball … making them one of the top ten clubs in the whole country.
Obviously, I am not claiming the credit for their achievements (well not all of it), but Glen and everyone involved with Grangetown Netball Club have been so supportive; and this final event recognises their help … and friendship.
On 22 September, at 8am, I will be at the Cleveland Inn (on Cleveland Street in Normanby) with my trusty 29g darts, aiming to hit 300 scores of 100 or more in less than 12 hours. To put it into context, it is effectively a three-figure score every seventh visit to the oche – not too difficult for a decent player…
Grangetown Netball Club open their Prem 1 season the following day, but members of the squad will be popping in on the Saturday … and you are welcome to come along too. I’d certainly appreciate a little bit of company. As far the event is concerned, I’m hoping to achieve four goals…
1) Reach the target of 300 scores of 100 or more
2) Raise £300 for the Grangetown senior squad, who are flying the local flag for national elite women’s sport
3) Highlight the messages that it is fine to talk openly about mental health and to never be afraid to ask for help
4) Still be able to walk at the end of the day … I’m reporting on the game on the Sunday and the ability to move would be a real bonus
If family, friends or anyone within the local or netball communities would like to help me towards no.2, I would be so grateful. I have set up a Crowdfunding page - https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/richard-kirby-3 - but it’s fine to donate in person (to me, or any of the Grangetown coaches). I’ll also be doing a “blind card” with the first prize being a Loughborough Lightning netball signed by the club’s Ugandan star shooter Peace Proscovia. It is a great prize and a very kind gesture from Loughborough (who are now officially my favourite Super League team!).
And that’s just about it really. If Ruby lets me, I’ll get in a bit of practice before the day, and hopefully with your support, the event will be a success. Here’s to a great season for Grangetown. Thanks for everything x