The Cricket Paper - - OPINION - MARTIN JOHN­SON

One of the great bonuses of play­ing cricket for Eng­land is get­ting to see all those new, ex­cit­ing and ex­otic places. We’re only just into this win­ter’s tour to the Sub-con­ti­nent, but al­ready the lads would have been re-in­forc­ing the old adage about travel broad­en­ing the mind with vis­its to the ho­tel gym­na­sium, guided tours of the third um­pire’s room, and sev­eral re­lax­ing hours gaz­ing at the Shah Ana­mat Chit­tagong In­ter­na­tional Air­port flight de­lays board.

There are, of course, well-doc­u­mented se­cu­rity is­sues re­strict­ing what Eng­land’s play­ers can do with their leisure time in Bangladesh, but it doesn’t much mat­ter where they are given the way mod­ern tours are put to­gether. Leisure time has pretty much been abol­ished.

Seven Test matches in nine weeks is the lat­est aber­ra­tion in an in­creas­ingly lu­di­crous sched­ule, and Eng­land’s re­lent­less pro­gramme of ho­tel, nets, cof­fee shop, and air­port doesn’t leave a lot of time for sight­see­ing wher­ever they pitch up. Some of them might get a glimpse of the Taj Ma­hal dur­ing the In­dia leg of the tour, but only if there’s a framed photo of the place hang­ing on their ho­tel bath­room wall.

Once upon a time, the first cou­ple of items an in­ter­na­tional crick­eter used to pack for an over­seas tour was a tuxedo and a bow tie, for all those embassy din­ners and fly-the-flag colo­nial re­cep­tions. And in be­tween matches, they’d be off on cruises, or­gan­is­ing golf out­ings, or strolling around lo­cal bazaars for a spot of hag­gling, be­fore or­der­ing lo­cal pot­tery or hand wo­ven rugs to be shipped back home.

These days, though, when an Eng­land crick­eter gets back from tour and is asked about the var­i­ous places he’s just vis­ited, there’s a limit as to just how spell­bound his au­di­ence will be when he’s re­gal­ing them with tales of all those fascinating sights he’s wit­nessed through the win­dows of the team bus on the way back from the ground.

It’s a shame re­ally. Even tours to Aus­tralia are be­com­ing, com­pared to what they used to be, the equiv­a­lent of a week­end break, and there is none of the ‘up-coun­try’ sched­ul­ing where you re­ally did see peo­ple wan­der­ing around in corked hats, and no­tices ad­vis­ing you to check un­der the toi­let seat for un­pleas­ant spi­ders.

The 1986-87 tour lasted for 136 days, in­volved 31 in­ter­nal flights, and scarcely a week went by with­out Eng­land find­ing them­selves in Croc­o­dile Dundee coun­try lis­ten­ing to the lo­cal mayor wel­com­ing them to their town, and be­ing of­fered, by way of canapés, bits of os­trich on a stick.

Vis­its were made to places like Lawes, 60 miles north of Bris­bane, with a pop­u­la­tion of 900 peo­ple and 900 mil­lion flies. The size of cocker spaniels some of them. The match was held at the lo­cal agri­cul­tural col­lege’s ground, and play­ers like Ian Botham and Al­lan Lamb, well used to grand en­trances, came out to bat from the back of a hot dog stand. To face a lo­cal charg­ing in to bowl from – well named given the foul aroma waft­ing across the ground – the Pig­gery End.

On the other side of the coun­try we went to places like Kal­go­or­lie, ar­riv­ing just in time to join in the cel­e­bra­tions for the in­stal­la­tion of the town’s sec­ond traf­fic light. The home team’s open­ing bowler thun­dered to the ac­com­pa­ni­ment of a bloke on the tan­noy:“And here comes Stormy Gale, hop­ing to the put the wind up the Poms!”

Stormy was quick all right, but the only player who ended up in A&E was him – stretchered off when he ricked his back aim­ing an ugly heave at one of Eng­land’s less reg­u­lar bowlers. Re­sult­ing in a col­lec­tors’ item en­try on the score­card: N. Gale b Gower 5.

There was plenty of spare time in which to play the tourist card, as Gower him­self once did tak­ing the train from Sydney to Perth, spend­ing three days look­ing out of the win­dow at pretty much noth­ing at all, but keep­ing the wine waiter pretty busy.

Then there was the time a cou­ple of us hacks de­cided to drive from an Eng­land game against New South Wales down the coast from New­cas­tle to Sydney and passed through a town called Mount White. On the out­skirts was a large wooden no­tice board headed:“LO­CAL NEWS”, un­der­neath which was writ­ten: “There is no lo­cal news this week.”

Eng­land tours to the West Indies used to be full of vis­its to small sun-drenched is­lands in be­tween the Test matches, but on their last tour there was just a sin­gle warm-up match be­fore three back-to­back Tests. No St Lu­cia, no Gre­nada, and no Guyana, which is not a Caribbean is­land at all, but on main­land South Amer­ica and pretty run down. The cap­i­tal, Ge­orge­town, had one restau­rant back in the early Nineties, and one golf course, where all the green keep­ing staff had four legs. The grass was kept in check by herds of sheep and goats, and af­ter your round you sat down and drunk a very warm beer. The cooler had bro­ken down 20 years ear­lier, and they were still wait­ing for the spare parts.

You could also have had a game of dart, as op­posed to darts, as the lo­cal moths had come to re­gard the flights as some­thing of a del­i­cacy, leav­ing only one ser­vice­able pro­jec­tile.

It’s not like that any more, not for tour­ing sides com­ing to Eng­land. There was a tra­di­tion of a gen­tle opener on the Dutchess of Nor­folk’s back lawn at Arun­del Cas­tle, and there were games against all, or nearly all, the coun­ties. Nowa­days, though, there’s barely time to em­brace the lo­cal cui­sine, which is per­haps just as well.When Sri Lanka vis­ited a fish and chip shop in Cleethor­pes on their first ever visit in 1984, half a dozen of them went down with food poi­son­ing. Must have been the mushy peas.

Just think of some of the won­der­ful things we’d have missed had all cricket tours been as they are now. The Tiger Moth busi­ness for ex­am­ple. The look of in­dig­na­tion on the tour man­ager’s face when he found out the bloke in the gog­gles im­per­son­at­ing the Red Baron was none other than D.I. Gower. Not to men­tion the look of dis­ap­point­ment on Gower’s face when the pilot re­fused to let him take a cou­ple of wa­ter bombs up with him to drop on the Eng­land bats­men.

Cricket tours may be fitter, faster, and more stream­lined, but they’re nowhere near as much fun.

Once upon a time the first cou­ple of items an in­ter­na­tional crick­eter used to pack for a tour was a tuxedo and bow tie for embassy din­ners

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