Graham Brown | 10:41am gmt 31 May 2010
Bringing People Together
There are many things that have puzzled me throughout my existence on this earth. As a child I was bamboozled by the technological wonder of seeing myself on a television screen in an electrical shop's display window, and how they got the filling into my staple diet of sugar coated jam doughnuts. Since then, through my formative years, I mulled over whether tramps had a social scene. Most like a drink, do they ask each other if they are 'out tonight'? Do strippers still refer to their nether regions as their 'privates'? So many issues and posers have had my mind tied in a knot throughout the journey of my life. However, nothing has ever yanked on my stream of consciousness as much as this latest moment of clarity.
As I raise my head from the stud perforated lino floor to look around the sweat scented changing room, strewn with the grassy shrapnel of previous pitches, the dawning realisation slowly creeps up on me: how on earth did I end up here?
I roll back to my boyhood enthusiasm for the game: my aspirations to play at the highest level, to pull on the national team shirt and county colours, to have an interviewer ask me what I was going to do ('I'll stick them in'). To get paid to play a game that I currently pay an ever increasing price to play. To squirt sugar laced energy drink into my mouth supplied by an awestruck youngster rather than swig weak cordial from a chipped mug. I longed to have a wagon wheel, a highlights montage, to meet the queen, and now this- staring at a misspelt fixture list pinned to a wood chipped wall.
The sinking feeling that I could have done better, that maybe if I had practised more or bought some better kit that I might have made it, is quickly replaced by a more thought-provoking, unfurling realisation. Cricket is brilliant. As I scour the faces of the 10 other people in the room, I wonder if they are hearing the same penny drop that I am. As the self-professed brains of the group, and the fact that one of them is cleaning out their ear with a stud key, I presume not.
We have a car park attendant with a limp, a trainee vicar, a professional gambling addict, a West Indian mute known as Smiler, a Green grocer, a bodybuilder and part time green keeper, a big wig in local government, a magistrate and a serial washing line thief on probation. Never, in the history of man, would I be sat in the same room as these people, nor would they be sat in the same room as each other. However cricket's giant tombola has thrown us all together for six hours on a Saturday to share elation and despair, to feel tension together and revel in the relief of batting out a draw. Friendships forged, long lasting relationships set up, conversations that would never have been dreamed of, all played out on a Saturday afternoon.
These people wouldn't share the same pub in everyday life, never mind share a drink, and that is all down to the power of cricket. An all-encompassing force, breaching age, race, attitudes and social standing, thanks to twenty two blokes chasing a red leather missile around a field of a weekend. A camaraderie that is the envy of armed forces around the globe, the banter and capers that only a Dick Van Dyke movie can compete with, a cross section of the populace that a politician could only dream of reaching. All mixed together in a cricketing cocktail that appeals to over 20 million people across the globe.
The smugness of being part of something huge, the joy of realising that something bigger is going on than just the match on the pitch, is dampened only by that all too familiar nagging doubt that I could have been a contender. While it's great to get wet eyed over the cricketing family, I would still like to have had a shot at the big time, to become the idol for the young lad carving stumps and bails from broom handles in the shed.
But in my road to Damascus moment in a changing room whose aroma is becoming ever more drenched in deep heat and cheap deodorant, I have found my comfort blanket. It overcomes the disappointment every club cricketer covertly wrangles with each time they wince as they insert their somewhat inclement box and tighten the chord on their white trousers. Those professionals don't have this, the feeling of being part of a rich tapestry of backgrounds coming together under the parasol of village cricket. They aren't bringing people together.
They trundle in to bowl against their fellow pro, who's done the same training drill, the same fielding warm-ups and has probably eaten food prescribed by the same sports dietician. In their club tracksuits and their sponsored kitbag, will they ever know how it feels to pass the next man coming into bat and realise you are unsure of his real name? Do they turn up to play teams who they know nothing about, but instantly recognise their own parallels to? All thanks to the power of cricket.
Afghanistan featuring in the world cup has shown me that maybe it's not just these cold changing rooms that feel the spirit of cricket bringing people together. As a bitter war is fought out in their own country, the Afghan cricket side were roundly accepted into the cricketing world like hundreds and thousands of accountants, farmers, thieves, joiners, soldiers, sailors and glue stick makers have been before. World politics, wars, peace treaties, religion, hatred, prejudice and history, all undermined by the power of cricket.
As the world chases its tail in the midst of economic breakdown, wars on terror and political unrest across the globe, let's all just sit down, pull on some spikes, tighten up the straps on your pads, and have a game of cricket. That's what I did, and as my fellow opener limps out ahead of me, I smile inwardly at the pride I feel from the rag tag bunch of blokes in green kneed whites preparing to spoil my weekend. I just hope Smiler gets his name in the scorebook a few times this week, whatever it is.