Everyone remembers their first cricket bat.
1987 Sussex v Hampshire, Horsham
Up until the last ball, I couldn’t really tell you what was going or what was happening. 8 years old, having to sit still and quiet in the drizzle. Then, Garth le Roux, who even from the boundary looked like a man mountain, smashed the last ball for 6 to win the game by 1 wicket. I didn’t know what any of it meant, only the ball landed close enough to me to throw it back to a very disappointed Malcolm Marshall, and all of a sudden this game - watched in silence - had me gripped.
Very soon I was a regular at the out-grounds of Sussex, not really watching the action, just waiting for Lunch or Tea where I could jump onto the outfield to try and recreate the heroics of Le Roux with my Dad’s Gray-Nicolls Jim Parks special.
The game gave me some much-needed confidence. I found myself regularly asking someone for a game, bounding up to player to ask for an autograph or bravely ignoring the “No ball games allowed” sign, imitating Ian Healy ‘keeping to Shane Warne against the wall In my dad’s prized garden. I was addicted. Soul Limbo had become the soundtrack of my youth and VHS player was on constantly with repeats of the classic matches. The 1994 Gray-Nicolls brochure was better than any school text book. The Elite WK gloves would be mine!
1998 Sussex v Hampshire, Hove
Just over a decade later from that first game at Horsham, I’m playing as Sussex take on Hampshire again. My family sat in the same deck chairs up on the bank of the Cromwell Road End. I didn’t score as many runs as I did in the lunch hours years before, dreaming of playing for Sussex. The Jim Parks special replaced with a Gray-Nicolls Ultimate. The Elite WK gloves, hand me downs from Peter Moores, the Sussex Keeper from that game in 1987, clung onto a couple catches. Fortunately there was no disappointed Malcom Marshall to face. Unfortunately there were no Le Roux heroics’ to win the game.
The 640th player to represent Sussex CCC career didn’t quite go to plan. Never finding the form of the tea time outfield or the garden to inspire a new face the crowd.
The questions in my head now aren’t “am I good enough to bat with my collar up?” The worries aren’t “help, I can’t remember what pad I put on first last week as it helped me score a few!” They have been replaced with “is it time to bring back the Gray-Nicolls Elite” and “I can’t remember where I put that 1994 brochure to remember exactly what it looked like!”
I feel extremely fortunate to have had a career in sport I fell in love with back on that cold, cloudy Horsham afternoon. My role at Gray-Nicolls is somewhat the perfect job for a self-diagnosed cricket tragic. However, up until recently cricket had become wallpaper to me. It was my job rather than something I could enjoy. How was Cookie getting on? Did Bairstow get the Wicketkeeping gloves? Yes, I’ll be heading up to Lord’s tomorrow and I can bring you some new socks!
But, something happened last summer, that reignited the spark. Having arrived at my parents’ house to pick up my children following work, there was no answer when I entered the house. I could hear them in the garden so made my way out to find them. I was greeted with a series of extraordinary sights.
1, There was a full-on game of cricket being played on the hallowed turf of Mr Wilton Snr.
2, Mr Wilton Snr didn’t have a deep mid-wicket to protect the still very much prized garden.
3, My daughter was keeping wicket with a slightly open stance al la Jack Russell which could possibly be one of the proudest moments since becoming a parent.
4, My son was taking guard with a bat that I hadn’t seen in over 30 years. The Gray-Nicolls Jim Parks special.