A friend of mine remarked some 40 years ago: “I like watching cricket. It makes the rest of my life so much more interesting.” That little jibe at our game has stuck with me because there is more than a kernel of truth in its barb. Cricket can be boring. But that, believe it or not, is a good thing.
My overwhelming memory of a largely happy childhood is boredom. School divided neatly into stuff that was too easy and stuff that was too hard (I mean, me – woodwork?) Both ends of the spectrum brought their own flavour of boredom.
Summer vacations were worse. Six weeks stretching into the distance with no alcohol, no girls, no television (Pebble Mill at One – really?). Pontins? Hated it. A week in a Lake District caravan? Hated it. Organised activities? Hated them. The egotism of the adolescent boy is truly boundless.
It wasn’t boring for all 60,480 minutes – though sometimes it felt like that – because there was cricket on the telly! Draw the curtains to keep out the light (though you still couldn’t see the ball very well – and that’s if the cameras picked it up at all) and there was a blazered Peter West or Tony Lewis welcoming us to Lord’s or Headingley, with England seven down and still 176 runs in arrears.
And it wasn’t just telly. There were trips to Old Trafford for Gillette Cup showdowns (Lancashire didn’t have mere matches back then), bus rides to Aigburth for the annual County Championship match, or a train past the golf links, hare coursing fields and sandhills to Southport for the other fixture within easy reach. I saw a lot of cricket – and played a lot too, most Saturdays and Sundays and many Wednesday night 20-overs-a-side thrashes (that’ll never catch on).
And here’s the thing – a lot of that was boring too, even for a fan. The Saturday of the Old Trafford Ashes Test of 1981 turned into an unforgettable day, but in the morning, Geoffrey Boycott and Chris Tavaré were completing a stand of 72 in 10 minutes shy of three hours. I was there, so I know it was as dull as the leaden skies overhead.
John Player League matches would fill Sunday afternoons on BBC 2 during which the lugubrious tones of Jim Laker would inform us that “203 in 40 overs is going to take a bit of getting.” Peter “Dasher” Denning in the covers provided most of the fireworks.
In my mind’s eye, three-day matches in the Championship would always finish the first day with a scoreboard that read something like “247-8 (innings closed), 25-1”. You might see a Ken McEwan, but you’d be more likely to see a Jim Foat.
On the field, as the junior opening bowler, I could be DNB with my side declared at 157-6, and then go for a few in my first three overs, spending the rest of the match doing midwicket, as a Saturday afternoon slides into a Saturday evening, the opposition finishing on 110-5 for another draw. That’s if you’re not stuck inside waiting for it to stop raining, listening to teammates discussing patios and golf handicaps.
Those teenage years spent looking across 80 yards of grass to see Bernard Reidy leave another outside off or watching Mick Malone sprawl across daytime television to the tune of 57-24-77-6 on a flat one at The Oval inoculated me against tedium.
All this proved to be invaluable experience however, because – and I hate to break it to you kids out there – you’re going to spend a lot of your life bored. In fact, unless you’re very lucky, you’re going to spend almost all of your working life bored (or about to be bored).
As for me? A three-hour strategy planning meeting? Bring it on. Sixteen dissertations to mark in a single day, all of which include the sentence: “The Sixties was a time of great social change.” No problem. Action planning a year-long project from conception to evaluation? Lead me to it.
This capacity to resist boredom served me well in other spheres of life too. The Scala Cinema in King’s Cross would show three-hour Russian epics back to back, with tiny subtitles to squint at, and I’d just lap them up. To the National Theatre for rarely performed extended versions of Shakespeare? If you can do three hours of Hendrick you can do three hours of Hamlet. Four hours of Bryn Terfel at the Royal Opera House? Come on – I loafed in the lounge while Mark Taylor and Geoff Marsh batted all day at Trent Bridge.
These are strange days indeed as we sit, confined to barracks, while a virus flits its fatal paths in the outside world. We may never have had more ways to distract ourselves, to hold back the boredom, to ease the passage of long days that we can’t quite fill. But it’s still tough, as March dragged into April and April slides on towards May. But for some of us, it’s not so bad. And for that, Chris Tavaré, I salute you.