Last year we finally left the Big Smoke and settled in rural Kent, bringing to an end my many years as a reluctant town mouse. Our village is straight from central casting: it has a 12th-century church next-door to a huge Georgian parsonage; you pass between the churchyard and the latter’s considerable grounds through the traditional cast iron kissing gate. On the other side of the churchyard is the village inn, and across the road from that is the green, on which stands a small wooden pavilion.
Ah yes, cricket. I was looking forward to joining the village team. In a place with a population of about 500, even my leisurely off-breaks and idiosyncratic batting might have been enough to earn me a place, and I am very keen to discover how they manage the complications of a steep hill at deep midwicket. But of course Covid-19 had other plans.
And so my cricket bag remains in the loft, my whites remain neatly folded, and my bat leans dejectedly in a corner. The idyllic summer afternoons in the field, and pleasant evenings in the pub, that I had anticipated so keenly, are on hold.
It’s not just as a player that the coronavirus has stymied my enjoyment. All county fixtures have been scratched until at least August, stymying the domestic season, although there will be some international cricket, with England facing the West Indies and Pakistan.
I had hoped to take my children to the St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury, one of the oldest first-class cricket venues in England, and to tell them the story of the St Lawrence Lime, an ancient tree standing inside the boundary rope and covered by special laws. Sadly it was blown down in 2005, after 158 years as part of the ground. It is one of those strange quirks that make me love the game.
I am not the kind of fan who could tell you who was the leading wicket-taker in 50-over matches last year. To me, getting to know cricket is like coming across a mildly decayed old mansion that has been in the same family for 500 years, full of curiosities and oddities and funny traditions whose origins no one can quite remember, but which add to the gaiety of the nation.
There’s a timelessness about cricket. The long form of the game in particular has an almost liturgical feel, with its ebbs and flows of momentum and energy, the way in which periods of quiet and calm build to moments of huge drama and import. The familiar rhythms of the thing give you the sense that all this has been going on for a very long time, and will carry on in more or less the same way long after you’ve gone.