17 August 2001

CRICKET&HARVEST: SUMMERCONFLICT

Harvest can be a 24-hour-a-day

task. It can play havoc with

your cricketing career, too,

says Charlie Flindt

I HAVE a problem with harvest. Yes, I know its the climax of the arable farming year, the culmination of eleven months of blood, sweat and tears.

Im well aware that it should be the time for single-minded determination, for complete concentration to ensure that every last grain finds its way safely into the store. Its the time when, after weeks of preparing, the complete harvesting operation swings into operation more smoothly than a pair of Janet Regers finest.

Six or eight weeks later, after self-imposed exile, you can come out of the hell that is the grain store during a hot summer, and think about other things in life.

Like cricket, for instance. And thats exactly what Ive got against harvest – it clashes with the cricket season.

When, at 9am, Im down a 30ft pit hoovering a couple of tons of wet wheat from a jammed elevator, I cant help wishing I was enjoying a pre-match light breakfast, reading up on the oppositions bowlers, and calculating what score is needed to propel me another place up the all-important White Hunter Averages.

By noon, when Im covered in a fragrant mix of sweat, grease, diesel and barley awns, I often long to be in the Jolly Flowerpots, a couple of pints calming the nerves before facing another terrifying pace attack.

By 4pm, when a trailer has blown a tyre, the combine has been overheating and Ive sneezed without getting the dust-mask off in time, how much more pleasant it would be, I think, on the velvet green pitch at Brockwood, swashbuckling my way to yet another fifty off a demoralised pace attack.

By dusk, as another four hours work clearing the backlog of wheat starts, I could very easily swap places with my fellow White Hunters toasting another memorable victory with numerous pints of Diggers.

Let me make it clear: were not actually terribly good at cricket. We dont really deserve the honour of playing on one of the best squares in the South of England.

&#42 Good and bad

We have some good bowlers, some dreadful bowlers. Some of us can bat, some of us, eeer, cant. Few can catch, some cant throw, most cant run and I challenge any team anywhere to come up with a more physically varied selection of wicket keepers. Or a more flatulent slip cordon.

But we do know exactly how cricket should be played, which is not the same as how to play cricket. Not for us the game of war paint, points for winning, sledging, cries of join the dots! and on your arm!

Ours is the cricket of pleasant social intercourse, where batsmen coming to the wicket are welcomed as old friends (which can completely throw a serious cricketers concentration, so I suppose it does count as a form of sledging). There may be the odd shout of on your farm! as one of the many agricultural members of the team lumbers off after the ball. Most importantly, two seconds after the end of the game, the result is irrelevant. Far more crucial is whether or not we enjoyed ourselves.

Theres no doubt that summer brings a major conflict of loyalties. Perhaps choosing another hobby would be in order.

The consultant rheumatologist pointed to the x-ray of my neck and suggested that trying to put my scrummaging skills to use again could be very dangerous indeed, so rugbys out. Pheasant shooting has the same level of gratuitous violence, so Ill concentrate on that from now on as a winter pastime. Skiing is a great way to spend large amounts of money without any souvenir except sore knees, bruised ego and looking at the drawings column in the accounts, leaving a severely guilty conscience.

That still leaves the summer. Back in the days when harvest meant proper money in the bank and job satisfaction, rather than a temporary lowering of the overdraft, it wasnt too difficult to concentrate on the job in hand in the grain store, and put cricket out of mind for a few weeks.

With farming in its present state, and depression reaching even the most resolutely cheerful members of a once-proud profession, perhaps the Summer Game is actually more important than ever.

&#42 Escapism

Cricket is escapism: the price of barley is forgotten while youre trying to predict where – or if – the vice president will pitch this delivery. Cricket is therapy: sharing harvest horror stories with another farmer can send you home counting your blessings. Cricket gives you cause for laughter: you should see the vets flannels, fresh from the Lords museum.

Yes, from now on I think Ill cancel Sunday combining, on spurious religious grounds.

Church, pub, cricket ground, pub, bed; thats what I call a Summer Sunday. And if St Peter challenges me for it when I reach the Pearly Gates? Well, Ill show him how to spot a googly, and hell let me off.