Leading Edge: An old bloke walks up to a cricket ground …

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in Canterbury

AN old bloke in a hat whose brim, wide as it is, only just manages to keep his notable nose in the shade, creaks up to the gate at the St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury.

Lean and leathery, he could have been a not quite fast bowler decades ago. But, no doubt, given a prominent seam and an English pitch he would know what to do.

His hands roam the vast pockets of a jacket that might have fitted someone twice his size. He doesn’t find what he’s looking for.

So he delves into the pockets of the trousers billowing from just below his sternum, and comes up with the goods at last: a tenner and a fiver.

He collects his ticket, slips it into one of those unfenced pockets, where it probably won’t be seen until a relative goes through his clothes on a sad day not many years from now, and asks: “So, who are Kent playing today, then?”

No-one. At least, not at the St Lawrence Ground. They are more than 300 kilometres away in Worcester, and a day away from being beaten by four wickets.

But there is cricket where the old bloke is — England Lions versus South Africa A in a proper first-class game.

Our Kentish man nods, takes halting steps through the gate, eases his ancient frame into a seat hot from the dazzling midmorning sun, flops one knee over the other, rests his hands, fingers laced, on his thigh, points his nose towards the middle, and does that thing the English, especially if they’re old, do better than anyone else: he watches the game; properly, with all the intense elegance he would bring to watching Kent or England or his grandson’s club side.

It’s a moment of wonder for all those who don’t come from this world, where what’s important is that there is cricket to watch, not who is playing it.

South Africans should be relieved at the English’s lack of rudely competitive spirit, of their embrace of the game itself and less so the winning and losing of it.

Not before time South Africa’s main reason for spending the northern summer in England hoves into view.

The test series starts at Lord’s in 11 days’ time. If you have charted South Africa’s downward spiral in England, the thought of four tests at the end of a difficult tour will not cheer you.

The visitors are unravelling, and it’s difficult to fathom how they are going to arrest that process.

Players who are tried and tested have become as trying to watch as they are testing to listen to explaining another failure.

But if they turn away from this darkening place and find the light, an old bloke in Kent will tip to them a hat only just wide enough to keep his nose in the shade.

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