The classic way to get off to sleep is to count sheep – so that’s imagining white objects moving in repeating patterns on grass with a little gate in the distance, to the accompaniment of numbers ticking over. Which might explain why so many doze at the cricket too – well, that and the lunchtime gin and tonics.
The coincidence of England’s tour to New Zealand and Australia’s tour to India has made for some long days at Test Match Sofa, the online cricket
commentary service run in partnership with The Cricketer magazine. The Sofa has been on air at 9.30pm GMT for England’s attritional battles with New Zealand’s cricketers and its weather, only coming off air at 11.00am the next day after stifling giggles at the Australians’ latest calamities in India. (For Red Nose Day, the Sofa covered the daylight hours with South Africa vs Pakistan and pretty much segued from that into the next day in Wellington in a 38 hour commentary marathon – for charity of course!)
This Looking Glass world, in which day becomes night thanks to the 24 hour
Tesco round the corner and a worldwide tweeting listenership for whom it’s
always mid-afternoon for someone. And it does strange things to The Sofa’s commentary team – your writer included.
At 3.15am, I swing a leg over the motorcycle and hear the familiar throb of its
engine remind me that I need to concentrate. Two foxes as thin as Sikander
Bakht, scamper away either side of the road to fling more rubbish about and our cat casts me a disapproving look for my invasion of its time to be out lording it. The cold air does its job and I’m 100% awake by the time I’ve reached Tooting High Street.
London looks fantastic at this hour. Open all night shops, fronted by fruit and
vegetables, pass by in peripheral vision; street lamps’ cold light is reflected by
wet tarmac; buildings glow, illuminated by spots cleverly placed for exactly
that effect. And the river glints as it wobbles silently, something both in time
and outside time, a ribbon of nature in a world of artifice.
If London looks fantastic, Londoners don’t. Half-standing, half-falling the
patrons of nightclubs are looking for taxis, fast food and that girl or boy they
said they would meet outside. And they’re doing this very, very loudly indeed.
Everyone seems to have morphed into guests from the Jeremy Kyle Show. I remember that I was one of their throng not so long ago and spike the Daily Mail editorial beginning to unwind in my mind.
After the usual anxiety about whether anyone has heard me ring the bell, I’m
into the studio and – as ever, whether day or night – the first thing I’m
told is the score. For some of the team, it’s still last night and there might be a beer or glass of wine at hand – for others, like me, it’s this morning and time for an over-strong coffee, the first of half a dozen in the day.
To someone growing up in the 70s, the television screens are too big, too bright and too packed with information, but the eyes squint and get used to it and a gloriously blue Punjabi sky is on camera and I slip into cricket time for the morning session.
Cricket time is something we all share on The Sofa – it’s the rhythm of a Test
match day. No matter the actual hour in London, the morning session requires the batsmen to get a start against fresh bowlers, a new or newish ball to be countered and a judgement to be made on which side has had the better start come the first drinks break. Stalwart UK-based tweeters are up with us and complaining of sore heads or their own madness in rising so early; overseas tweeters are cracking jokes or making pithy observations for which my mind isn’t quite up to speed. But the outside world has now slipped away completely and the magic of satellite broadcasting and the internet has brought a community of friends together to watch the cricket. It’s almost St John’s Wood – with a lot of additional wires.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get something spectacular to talk about – Shikhar Dhawan’s debut ton will still be spoken of in a hundred years time – but often it’s the ordinariness of Test cricket that catches the eye. There’s the singles consistently taken to the man too deep at mid-on; Ravi Jadeja’s ever-changing hairstyle; Steve Smith’s fidgeting at the crease. Tweets take the conversation forward, adding humour and challenge to those of us privileged to have a mic in hand. Runs are scored, wickets are taken, words, words, words are spoken.
Shockingly soon, the 90 overs are up and the match has been re-shaped by its heroes and villains. It’s not yet lunchtime in London and the roads are busy and noisy and, after the night-time ride, too familiar and too dull. I look at the people and wonder what they’re doing tomorrow morning. And I wonder if it’ll be one hundredth as much fun as being in a virtual cricket world with virtual cricket friends having virtual cricket conversations. It won’t be.
You can tweet me @garynaylor999