A cloud of guilt encroaches upon the introduction to today’s light-hearted tale. To think of my parents’ selfless grafting throughout their working lives, to think of the hardships they went through in order to give us the best possible start in life, the precious pennies my Dad wasted, yes wasted on tennis coaching, badminton lessons, hockey sticks, even a basketball lesson once, blinded by his hope that my sister and I would one day evolve into sporting champs.
That we had no hope of doing so was apparent to most (including ourselves) but my Dad ploughed on. Not all children are capable of all things but try telling that to a proud parent, whose judgement is shrouded in bias and heartfelt belief in their omnipotent babies.
Still, my Dad is an intelligent and deeply perceptive man and I suppose it wasn’t a ludicrous assumption in his mind that we would one day feel at ease in at least one sport, particularly when we were cut from the same cloth as he and his brother – university champions and trophy holders in badminton and tennis respectively. I may have spent my lifetime blaming my short stature for my lack of sporting abilities but shorter individuals have gone on to acquire greater accolades.
I paid homage to my high school music teachers recently here but I struggle to even recall the names of their PE colleagues, perhaps a reflection of my dis-engagement with games lessons.
It was a trend, however, that would extrapolate beyond the borders of physical sporting competences, merging seamlessly into sport-watching territories. I haven’t the foggiest how rugby works, or how anyone can keep a straight face when watching a scrum/huddle and my father stopped inviting me to the cricket after the time I asked him where the wicket was, whilst we were seated at The Oval, one of the most eminent cricketing grounds in London.
Fortunately, my unanticipated interest in tennis and football have spared me from complete disowned status by the men in my life. (For a glimpse of me in my football element, check out my night at the Maracana football stadium in Rio.)
Never would I have imagined, therefore, that 2017 would be the year I would play cricket with a former England international player.
Allow me to rewind.
An Exclusive Evening at Lord’s Cricket Ground
As a part-time blogger with a demanding career, the only thing more exciting than an invite to an exclusive blogger event is an invite to someone else’s exclusive blogger event! All of the fun without any of the commitment or obligation and if you enjoy it, well then the blog is still your oyster to share it so without further delay, I hurriedly opened London Kiwi Emma’s email one muggy afternoon to find her inviting me to a preview event in honour of the Royal London One Day Cup Final at Lord’s Cricket Ground. Sorry, what now?
The infiltration of pollen in my conjunctivae and my prolonged contact lens use resulted in a gritty feeling in my eye but the letters ahead of me were clear. Was she really inviting me to an event about cricket?!
If you have met Emma though, you will already know that she is every bit as sweet as she is savvy with her blogging know how. I may know diddly squat about sport but Emma is the kind of friend, who will stand by you in support, no matter how much embarrassment you cause, a theory that was about to be tested to the extreme.
I wanted to accept her invitation (mostly so that I could catch up with my buddy) but the trek from Greenwich to St John’s Wood seemed arduous for a sport I know nothing about. I turned to Pumpkin, a man well aware of my poor cricket knowledge but even he proclaimed I should “definitely go,” citing how “lovely” the grounds are. “Lovely” in Pumpkin lingo equates to “utterly delightful, magical utopia” in normal people lingo so without any further hesitation, I was sold.
Pumpkin looked at the itinerary for the night, telling me “he’s a really good player” when he read Matthew Hoggard would be at the event.
“I would imagine so” I pondered. He represented his country after all.
Under the impression that our session on “Introduction to Cricket” was going to be the sport answer to the didactic lectures I had at medical school, we arrived at the grounds half expecting to be seated in a conference room with a power point slide show. If we had paused for just a moment from our giggling, we would have realised how silly this was. Of course, they wouldn’t bring in a world-class player just to sit by a laptop and reel off historical anecdotes about cricket to a bunch of bloggers.
Our first hunch as to what was to come was when we were told we could leave our bags on the side. Side of what?
Cue the practice nets we had found ourselves walking into, surrounded by groups of boys, half our age but a hundred times our skill level, for whom surely the only potent distraction from batting would be the group of amateurs who had just rocked up beside them.
Those sceptical about whether this really came as a surprise to us only need to look at our attire. Ok, technically, I was in my whites (if you consider a floral splashed, pleated, knee-length dress with cut sleeves appropriate sportswear.) And in true Kiwi style, Emma decided to bring the All Blacks dress code to the British (and world) home of cricket.
The PR staff coordinating the event welcomed the two of us to join in, assuring us that everyone would have an opportunity to bat and bowl. I am all for the reach for the stars routine but I also believe that it is not necessarily a bad thing in life to be aware of your limits and with that ethos at the forefront of our minds, we politely declined.
At first, anyway.
It turns out, it ain’t much fun playing Billy No Mates in the corner, let alone at an exclusive event in a world-renowned premises in the best city in the world (total bias for my home town there) and so, despite our instincts warning us otherwise, we hurled our inhibitions into the non recycle bin and picked up our bats. Picking up objects is a skill I managed to master some time ago but the whole room, including the former England international player, Matthew Hoggard, would soon see that my bat-related capabilities would end there.
With far more patience than I have ever possessed, this jovial cricket celebrity (a man who was made MBE by the Queen in 2006 and who once featured on Celebrity Masterchef) gave me one to one coaching on how to hold the bat, how to swing, how to position myself. He demonstrated how he bats and gave me ample opportunities to have a go, whilst fellow bloggers including our very own Emma, bowled with zeal to set me up for my practice hits. Ten times the ball came my way, on some occasions with more vigour and might than others. Ten chances I had to stun the room into silence with my innate cricket skills, beginner’s luck streak or statistical fluke hits.
One time, one out of ten, ten measly percent of my attempts, my bat made contact with the ball and that too with the lackadaisical, droopy force of a defeated woman. Shame was the emotion that should have swept in about my poor performance but my mind was too preoccupied with wondering just how much cash Matthew Hoggard must have been paid to have to tolerate such antics with such novices, as a man who has already reached the pinnacle of his career. Thankfully for my delicate pride, he was an utter gentleman, blessed with a sharp & witty sense of humour and when he realised he had no chance of educating us on the skills he has spent his lifetime mastering, he instead joined in as we chuckled at our own hopeless progress!
At one point that evening, I decided there was no point evading the truth with artificial niceties and asked him bluntly, “Be honest, have you ever had to coach anyone more rubbish than me?”
“Yes,” he reassured me, much to my relief.
“My son” and just as I responded “oh really” with the high-pitched shrill of a desperado, he completed his answer with the clause, “….when he was about four!”
“Oh Lord”, I found myself sighing in horrified despair, right there in the centre of Lord’s, the very grounds that were responsible for founding the rules of cricket.
Evidently, the time had come to hang up my bat for the night and I would be fibbing if I told you I wasn’t a little grateful that the embarrassing portion was done with. From that point onwards, our foray into cricket felt all the more easy and breezy, as we toured the grounds on a scorching summer evening but not before doing something I have never managed before (and never will again) – I lifted an actual real live sports trophy in my very own hands (the Royal London One Day Cup for those of you in the know!)
One would imagine the sense of reward and achievement would be tamed by the fact that I hadn’t even remotely earned this moment through merit, skill or dedication but for me, even being within a 10 mile radius of a sports cup was reason enough to pop open the champers so hold it I did, emanating a smile that would delude you into believing that I had achieved far more in my high school achievements of yesteryear than being the reserve on the badminton team.
You know that old chestnut, “one
trophy thing leads to another?” Well, on our evening at Lord’s, that was truly how things unfolded. After our brief moment of glory with the Royal London Cup, we were led on to a room that mimicked a small museum, filled with highly sought after cricket memorabilia and an array of priceless trophies, including the original Ashes trophy as well as the shimmering World Cup.
There, the Indian within me would identify with her one and only remnant of pre-existing cricket knowledge, as she spotted Sachin Tendulkar’s jumper hiding behind the security of a glass screen. My extended family in India are often appalled by my lack of cricket understanding, a sport loved with such fervour and affection from children living on the streets to billionaire business tycoons. Perhaps now, with my gentle welcome into the sport during my evening at Lord’s, I can win back some understanding within the Motherland.
As odd as it might sound, the actual area of Lord’s I felt most honoured to be privy to was the broadcasting media room. Many moons ago, long before I realised my ultimate calling in life was to serve in a front-line caring role, believe it or not, I had aspirations to work in TV. And when I say in TV, what I really mean is on TV. Indeed, yours truly once hoped she would be the face of the 10 o clock news and whilst those rather self-confident media aspirations are a thing of the past, for a few moments in the broadcasting box, watching out over Lord’s as dusk started to set in behind it, I had a chance to dream out the life goals my 13-year-old self had penned out for herself and they weren’t too shabby, I can tell you that.
The same emotion which interfered with my introduction now rears its ugly head again, as I conclude and on this occasion, I feel a touch of guilt at knowing how much Pumpkin or my Dad would have loved to have been in my shoes that night but nevertheless, seeing the immeasurable cackle that leaked from Pumpkin’s mouth as I showed him the video of my futile attempts to bat together with the sheer joy on my Dad’s face that his hard work over the years had somehow resulted in his daughter being taught cricket by a top class player soon morphed the guilt I was feeling into gratitude to have been involved in such a surreal evening.
Have you ever been a fish on dry land?
Many thanks to Lord’s Cricket Ground for hosting us for this experience. All opinions and hopeless batting skills are entirely my own and all action shots that reveal an insight into my enviable bowling skills are entirely Emma’s!