Man & Boy

Esquire (UK) - - Giles Coren -

I have al­ways wanted Sam’s sport­ing life to be more Corinthian than that. I wanted him to play the game I love. The game of white clothes to mir­ror white souls, straight bats and straight backs, the game of length and com­plex­ity, more like a sym­phony than a pop song, a game of in­tel­lec­tual rigour and ca­ma­raderie that helps you grow into a gen­tle­man, rather than a game which is merely an out­let for the an­i­mal in­side.

So, since he was two I’ve had Sam in the back gar­den, hold­ing a tiny 10in Au­to­graph bat and swat­ting away at foam balls lobbed gen­tly into his hit­ting arc, grad­u­at­ing slowly to a larger but su­per-light plas­tic bat with a sawn-off han­dle with which I en­cour­age him to play for­ward and straight.

But all I can do is en­cour­age. For what Sam re­ally likes to do to a straight ball of good length is clear his front foot and smash the ball cross-bat over ex­tra cover (and the gar­den fence), which I started off try­ing to coach out of him un­til Mike Ather­ton (a col­league on The Times) pointed out that this was ex­actly the shot that has made T20 stars of Vi­rat Kohli and Jos But­tler.

So I’ve in­tro­duced the con­cept of a “Sammy shot”, the cross-bat whack over the house, as op­posed to a “cricket shot”, which ac­counts for the for­ward de­fen­sive prod and the cover drive. As long as Sam knew the dif­fer­ence, I reck­oned, and could play them to or­der, he’d be fine.

But grad­u­ally he has dropped the Sammy shots and gone full cricket. Mostly due to watch­ing an hour’s play ev­ery morn­ing be­fore school on Sky catch-up, in line with the Coren house­hold’s “no tele­vi­sion be­fore 6pm un­less it’s cricket” rule. And this view­ing pat­tern is what had him de­mand­ing a Stokes cos­tume for his fifth birth­day. He called it a “cos­tume”, of course, be­cause he had Stokes down as a su­per­hero.

So I called the shop at Lord’s, “the home of cricket”. But no­body an­swered. I tried the web­site, but it didn’t work. It was all just so English cricket. So ECB. So why cricket is dy­ing on its feet.

Af­ter a week of try­ing, I even­tu­ally got some kid at the Lord’s shop grunt­ing, “Yeah?” I asked if they had T20 or one-day Eng­land strips: “Don’t think so.” I asked if I could get “Stokes” put on a shirt: “Nah”. I asked if they had kid’s sizes of any­thing: “Dunno, you’ll have to come in and look.” Click, br­rrr…

When we went down there, they wouldn’t let us in the ground. “There ain’t no shop. Closed down, in­nit?” said the man on the gate at the 204-year-old Home of Cricket.

Af­ter half an hour’s ar­gu­ing, a sweet bloke who clearly felt my pain of­fered to walk me and my tiny son — who just wanted a fuck­ing cricket shirt — round to the shop to show us it had in­deed closed down.

It hadn’t. Al­though it might as well have done for all the help I got from the track-suited trainee on the till. Shy fel­low, harm­less, prob­a­bly a solid open­ing bats­man, but not a fuck­ing clue about run­ning a shop. Still, left to my own de­vices, I found Gray-Ni­colls branded white trousers, shirt and jumper in Sam’s size. So cute. And then a size O wooden bat for which he is now big enough, if not quite strong enough. And some gi­ant bat­ting gloves and a hel­met. God, how he wanted the hel­met. And how gor­geous he looked in it. Part Stokes, part stormtrooper, part jelly baby.

On the way home, dis­heart­ened, I told Sam the truth about Eng­land’s re­cent test woes (this was be­fore the an­nounce­ment of a new dawn un­der Ed Smith), the prob­lem with Stokes (who, like Sam, is full of tal­ent and charm but a bit bashy) and the crim­i­nal­ity and self-pity of Aus­tralia. He sat silently. I wasn’t sure if it was sink­ing in.

Back home, Sam got straight into his whites, tra­di­tional ca­ble-knit jumper in­cluded, donned his hel­met and gloves and picked up his new wooden bat. Then he walked out onto the ter­race, to where I had chalked the po­si­tion for his feet as well as ar­rows in­di­cat­ing the cor­rect foot move­ment to a ball of good length, and asked to be thrown some de­liv­er­ies with the new red, com­pos­ite cricket balls we had bought to re­place our old foam ones.

And for­ward he came, ball af­ter ball. Left el­bow high, front knee bent, bat unswerv­ingly straight (due to the size of the gloves and the weight of the wil­low), push­ing each ball along the ground, in clas­si­cal man­ner, into the rose bushes.

Af­ter a few min­utes he stood straight, leant on his bat and said, “So Dad?”

“Yes, Sam?”

“Who are the best team in the world who aren’t cheaters?” “South Africa, I sup­pose. Or pos­si­bly In­dia.”

“And Dad?”

“Yes, son.”

“Will Eng­land ever be any good?”

“I’m sure they will Sam. One day.”

“And Dad?”

“Yes, boy.”

“Who is the best English player who doesn’t punch peo­ple or cheat and wears the right clothes and plays the way that you like?”

I thought about that one for a while and then I said, “You are, Sam.”

Sam, like most kids, is bom­barded with foot­ball year round and in­hab­its a snowflake world in which cricket is den­i­grated

as old-fash­ioned, posh, slow, bor­ing and over­com­pli­cated

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.