It’s been 48 hours now since it happened, as I write this. And I can still hear Sweet Caroline on an endless joyful repeat loop in my brain. If you are wondering what I’m on about, it isn’t that I have suffered a blow to the noggin and suddenly become a massive Neil Diamond fan, but rather I’m still celebrating the astounding way that a bunch of Englishmen became cricket’s world champions.
If you watched it unfold in all its jaw-dropping, heart-stopping melodrama you’re probably hearing the same tune. If you didn’t... well, we all march to a different drummer.
I’ve always loved the game since learning it as a Norfolk schoolboy. One coach was Ken Taylor, of Yorkshire and England, but mostly Yorkshire.
I once did rather well batting in a school match, or so I thought. “’Ow many did tha get, lad?” enquired our Ken. “Seventy, sir!”
“If tha’d moved tha feet, tha’d have got ‘undred and seventy!” came the motivational response.
After school I played in the basement of the Norfolk league, with occasional moments of low comedy. The first weekend I played for a new club on the coast I wore my old school whites; flannels really. Lycra hadn’t made it into sportswear at that stage.
As I swooped to pick up a ball in the field there was a startling sound, akin to light machine-gun fire, as the stitching surrendered and my whites were converted into a rather airy pair of cricketing chaps. Mortifying for a rather shy 19-year-old and a rich vein of mickey-taking for the
grown-ups who were, genuinely, in stitches.
I spent my happiest summers with Shropham CC, a club in a little village near Attleborough. We scuffled about in the lowest league of Norfolk cricket, Division Six, though we did once get ideas above our station and won promotion to Division Five. We descended to our rightful place next year, of course.
They were a lovely bunch of people, funny, good-natured, social and kind. We came from a pot-pourri of backgrounds from company MD to gardener but were all as equals at the club.
Most of the regulars are in the photo above from 1985. I can still name almost all of them, hear their jokes and excuses for failing again with bat or ball, or dropping a catch. We travelled around the county to the smaller villages, often home to some of the prettiest little grounds and the loveliest teas.
I went back to Shropham a couple of years ago on a summer Saturday, hoping that maybe there was a home match on and a familiar face around. But the pitch, once lovingly tended, was gone, subsumed by long grass. The club folded a few years ago, I was told. No youngsters, you see.
It’s a familiar story across the country as gaudier pursuits draw the attention of the young. Maybe England’s World Cup win will help people fall in love with the game again and bring some youth into this joyous sport and fill Norfolk’s fields on sunlit weekend afternoons.
My only advice to anyone thinking about taking up cricket is; make sure there’s some Lycra in your trousers.
Shropham Cricket Club, summer of 1985. Back row, far right if you’re wondering...