It’s the night before the start of the 2023 cricket season.
Not the most inspiring opening line to a new blog, I will readily admit. Though one suspects that the first delivery from our opening bowler, the first tentative lunge into a forward defensive from either of our two opening bats or the first attempt at some proper fielding will be equally inspiring tomorrow at around 13:00.
Most people heading into the start of their very-much village season are possibly not giving it much thought the Friday night before – but then they are not getting up at 04:30 (03:30 in English money), driving to the airport, catching the first flight to England, getting a train down to London, heading to Waterloo via the tube where I am likely to see more people in 60 seconds than I have seen all year here in Spain, getting a train down to leafy Surrey to be greeted by whichever (un)willing teammate who has agreed to pick me up from the station.
Yes, I’ve signed up to another English season of leather on willow (on a good day) despite living some 1,867 KM away in Spain.
“You must be very good or loaded”, suggested one of the guys I play veterans football with during the week.
Actually, neither. I just love cricket and, for me, there is only really one place to play proper village cricket and that is in England. Call me old fashioned, but a coconut mat or artificial track in Spain just doesn’t do it for me in the way that I hoped it might.
This isn’t my first season doing this 24-hour dash either. I managed to play each and every minute of Divison 7 cricket (yes, I said – definitely not very good) last summer which involved 15 trips back to Blighty (16 games played, managed to get away with a Sunday match one weekend after my return flight was cancelled) and a respectable 8th spot in the club runs scored table (349 at 29.08 in the league, must do better) and 6 wickets from 22 overs at a nudge over 20.
We’d have been promoted to the heady heights of Division 6 if the chairman and 2nd XI skipper hadn’t selected an illegible player for the penultimate match whilst sunning himself on holiday in Bordeaux. The sanction administered saw our band of merry 2nd XI talents finish third instead of the morally correct 2nd and condemned to another season in the basement league which, if we are all being completely honest, we don’t mind too much as we should win more than we lose.
Last season was punctuated with the belief of probably moving back to the UK just as soon as somewhere affordable materialised – given tomorrow morning’s alarm clock it is clear that such a place has not magically appeared leading to what Micky Flannigan would call “a long run-up” to get permission to leave the wife looking after four dogs (last season started with three and dropped to two tragically in mid-May) in likely 35+ heat every Saturday for the next four and a bit months.
Somehow, it has been signed off again and the only potential hurdle is the fact that RyanAir, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to bin off the 08:05 flight which used to get into Gatwick at a very convenient 10:00 if there were no delays. Enough time was there to be able get disembark, get through passport control and on a train to the destination at 10:30 – perfect timing to be picked up at the station and off to whatever local village ground we were disgracing that day.
Given that flight was always full, it was a bit of a shock that when it came to booking the first batch of flights for this new season it had disappeared. Leaving the house at 06:30 and 04:30 are two different beasts – even if it does leave a more leisurely stroll after landing in England (factoring in an extra hour on the train as well, actually – boo).
Into Stansted it is – and out of Gatwick again at 06:00 Sunday morning.
Why do I do this?
I did give cricket in Spain a fair crack – I played three full seasons out here when we first moved out and was quickly given the burden of captaincy in the second season. As I said, coconut mats or astroturf wickets just didn’t do it for me (though they did provide many excuses for getting out cheaply – which happened far too often, another reason I probably knocked it on the head in about 2017). That and the travel, which I know sounds utterly ridiculous considering what I am doing tomorrow to probably get an inswinging yorker removing off-stump at around 13:02. As daft as it sounds, driving two and a bit hours to most away games (and we’d probably only play every other weekend given the lack of teams) to play at understandably poor facilities was another reason I gave it up. Believe it or not, it is different jumping on a plane and knowing you’re heading off to a match in-and-around your comfort zone of level in a well-organised league at (mostly) beautiful English village grounds with guys that you’ve played cricket with for years.
So the main reason is I missed it and given that I am one of these immigrants here who doesn’t go out on the beer every night out, eat at every restaurant in town and generally live life like I am on holiday 24/7, I don’t really do much other than kick around at home with the clan and work. Other than playing football three times a week, I mean (ahem). So it’s my hobby, albeit one that seems to rack up 54,000 air miles or so a season.
Last season was truly awesome (once I get my thoughts away from losing one of our beloved dogs when I was away for a game last May). I batted OK – finally getting a long-awaited 50 in the last game of the season and putting to bed the fact I was the highest run scorer in the division without a 50 to his name. I bowled surprisingly well too (given my starting point of being a very, very inconsistent, average, worrying-action bowler) and enjoyed developing that over the season. I kept wicket twice too many and was definitely better the second time around (but then, so was the bowling given we had the club’s young quick in the ranks as he was coming back from injury). And I can still catch most things that come my way.
But other than the statistics, it was being back around people like me who are delighted to give up the majority of their Saturday to stand in a field and hopefully contribute to the game in one way or another.
Our 2nd XI evolved into an actual team over the course of the season and will probably be one that many of us look back on in a few years and talk about with pride.
On to this season, and the weather is already winning – both preseason friendlies were impossible given that the groundsman hasn’t been able to get near the pitch. The first 2nd XI league fixture of the season (tomorrow) is also in the rain gutter meaning I’ve been called up to the 1st XI. Naturally, this is because they are short but I didn’t realise how short until I saw that our 2nd XI skipper (also club chairman) is also in the team. I am also grateful he is playing due to the fact that he is picking me up from the station and has the key to the clubhouse meaning I can pick up my kit (providing I can remember where in the storeroom I hid it for safe-keeping).
Last season, I never checked the weather forecast – after all, if the game was off before the day then I’d know and if it was off on the day, well there’s not a lot I could do about it. And, not a single ball was lost to the weather. However, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the weather app this week. Tomorrow is forecast to be mostly cloudy and a high of 17 – literally half of what we’ve been hitting fairly frequently here in the last seven days.
Spain has seen a record April in terms of average temperature – as I commented in the club WhatsApp group earlier today, an average that would top the 2nd XI batting averages come the season’s end no doubt.
I’ll pack a sweater or two.