Saturday, 2 August 2014

Not just sheep and cricket!!

We're remembering the fifty-fifth anniversary of the Two Boy Test Match between England and India...or at least I am. I haven't a clue where the other obscure cricketer is now, so obviously I cannot say whether he is raising a glass in celebration this week.

I concede from the outset that this contribution may only appeal to a very limited readership. The Scottish Borders and the extremities of North Northumberland have never been cricketing hot-spots, and those who have played the game in these parts have tended to do so virtually unnoticed.

For those of us who love the sport there's an exciting Test series in progress just now with England and India level at one victory apiece with two matches to play. Perhaps it was the arrival of those Indian tourists earlier this year which triggered flashbacks to the glorious summer of 1959 when the Borders provided the backdrop for an epic contest between Willie and me.

It was an era when English cricket enjoyed near world domination with the likes of Peter May, Ken Barrington, Colin Cowdrey, Fred Trueman, Godfrey Evans and Brian Statham combining to thrash an emerging Indian side 5-0. But things were a little bit different in our back yard where fortunes fluctuated throughout the long, hot school holidays.

I wonder if many kids nowadays could be bothered to prepare for, then participate in their own Test series. The modern generation of emerging teenagers is surrounded by counter-attractions and the ever developing world of new technology. Down on the farm we had a couple of home made bats, a set of crude stumps and bails, a few battered tennis balls and very fertile imaginations.

Our cricket pitch wasn't so much The Oval as The Oblong; a concrete expanse measuring maybe eighty yards in length by 30 yards across. In winter it was home to piles of turnips or farmyard manure, but in summer it was available for cricket seven days a week.

An eight-foot high wall ran down one side while the other was bounded by a barn. A hit over the wall into the adjoining field of grain resulted in dismissal, and there were other quirky by-laws and restrictions which I've long forgotten about.

The physical shape of the 'ground' meant straight drives were the only scoring shot allowed. A single for getting the ball past the bowler; two if it ran on past the next marker, and so on to the boundary which doubled as the farm road to the outside world.

A faint air of authenticity was added to proceedings with the construction of a scoreboard fashioned from strips of discarded linoleum tacked on to plywood. Pieces of cardboard bearing the players' names were slotted between the lino, and scores were painstakingly updated at the end of each over.

Willie was a year older - and bigger than me - so he was able to 'be' England each time we took to the concrete. While Willie posed as May or Barrington I became Desai or Surendranath when bowling or Manjrekar or Borde when wielding the bat. An unusual collection of boyhood heroes for a schoolboy from the Borders in 1959, but they only stayed with me for one cricket season. Dennis Compton was the real star in my firmament although his Test career had ended in 1957.

Play at The Oblong was usually under way before nine in the morning, and continued until noon when the farm staff returned for lunch (or dinner as it was known back then). Whoever happened to be batting was also saddled with the task of providing a running account of play in the style of BBC radio's John Arlott, the greatest commentator of them all.

We were out on the square again after a 30-minute break, giving it our all till tea time. In the evenings it was my job to fill in the score book - a pilfered school jotter to be honest - in my finest copperplate writing, copying the style of the BBC's Maurice Ryman, the most talented of calligraphers, who lovingly crafted the TV score cards before technology rendered him redundant.

The outcome of the Two Boy Test Series may be lost in the mists of time. And Willie has probably forgotten all about our boyhood exploits. But it would be nice to think that somewhere right now a couple of lads are staging their own Two Boy Test Series having adopted temporary heroes from the current England and Indian teams.

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