A mere 36 hours without cricket and I was already suffering withdrawal symptoms And I don't even like cricket.Let me put that differently. It isn't that I don't like cricket, it's that cricket doesn't like me.At school I believed I had it in me to be a good and maybe even spectacular middle-order batsman I was a flamboyant stroke-maker in the nets Out of the nets was a slightly different story. Out of the nets there were fielders taking catches and throwing down my stumps. Whereas in the nets - the nets being virtual reality cricket - every ball I hit had six written on it I square cut, I drove, I even leg glanced for six I moved better in the nets, too I felt compact and impregnable in my pads and box. Out of the nets, though, you have to run, you have to calculate distances, it's you against 11 others And 11 seemed about 10 too many to me. In the nets it was one against one, which was how I liked it."If we had matches in the nets I'd have you opening the batting and captaining the side," the sports master told me.
"But as we don't, you're dropped."Those words were cruel, but not without their consolation. It hurt not to be batting for the school, but it would have hurt more to be fielding for it That was the downside of cricket for me You couldn't bat and then go home You had to field And I was the wrong religion to field. A cricket ball coming at you at a hundred miles an hour is like an Exocet. In my faith it is forbidden to knowingly put yourself in the line of fire.I did open the batting, years later, when teaching briefly at a school in Manchester Staff against pupils I was out first ball In the nets it would have been a six Straight over the bowler's head But on the field, sides cheat They put a fielder behind the bowler. The sound of 800 schoolboys roaring on your first-ball dismissal - to a loosener, at that - is not something you forget easily if you are given to self-doubt. I am not saying it is the reason I went from being a good, even spectacular sleeper, to a poor one, but it contributed.Sleeplessness is a terrible thing, but it would be worse without cricket to listen to on the radio. My first bout coincided with an Ashes tour to Australia, the year Lillee and Thompson broke English hearts I listened to every ball of every test The timing couldn't have been better.
Round about midnight English time I'd switch on, and round about four in the morning English time we'd be all out. This gave me time to feel my way to the kitchen and make tea before we put them in. By end of play on day one the Chappells were 200 without loss, and I could fry myself some breakfast.Whatever the subsequent disappointments of the day, there was always the greater disappointment of English cricket to look forward to at night. It acted as a sort of blotting paper, soaking up all lesser griefs and irritations. Looking back at that period of my life now, I can't remember what I did or who I did it with.