John Eccleston. Father to Fred, Volunteer, Scorer, Player, Cricket lover! Attendee at THE Lord's World Cup Final 2019!

Johan had asked me to write an account of Highgate CC’s day out at the World Cup Final. I said yes immediately ~ It saves time.

Previously, he has wondered if I might learn to score, do a bit of light admin, bat at eleven for the fifth eleven. I protested at every stage;

I really protested about actually playing, not having seen action since primary school; but it all came to pass anyway.

He gets things moving, doesn’t he? There are talented cricket people all over, even at our closest neighbour North London CC; but he gives us that x-factor in relation to youth cricket. Put simply, he works very hard to make our All Stars programme the best attended in the country. And it was in recognition of that, of course, that Highgate was selected to provide thirty children to accompany the players onto the field at Lord’s, in front of the eyes of the whole cricketing world.

What follows is a brief compilation of the kids’ own impressions of the day, with a bit of my own spin added.

I’ve been trying to bowl a bit recently, having reached the giddy height of seven not out, batting, but it’s not going very well; to be frank, I’m struggling to get the ball from one end to the other…. Hopefully, I can do a touch better with this. At any rate, even if I ramble in places, rest assured, we will reach that super over in the end!

….It was raining as we assembled at the East Gate. A cheery steward told the kids not to worry - it wasn’t raining inside. It was due to clear - had to, said all the weather apps, but there’s a dark sliver of pessimism inside the heart of most cricket fans.

Earlier in the season, on another day that was supposed to be fine later, Fred and I had watched Jofra Archer warm up at the Oval. Moments before the start, it began to rain. Not a ball was bowled all day. Well, we were due to see Jofra bowl today, but would we really?

It was time to go in. The bag searches were satisfactory. Even the cheekiest ones had nothing incriminating with them. It was early, but the ground was already buzzing. We were met at the indoor school by two staffers, who were charged with turning our raw recruits into a crack anthems squad.

There followed quite a bit of drilling.

Two lines in height order!

Walking together!

Standing in a neat line together!

More walking!

Distribution of special uniforms!

The Lord’s people were friendly, but impressed on the kids how important their job was: untold millions would be watching on TV around the world.

After the drilling was deemed satisfactory, there was a bit of nervous waiting around. Impromptu cricket began to take place, although, ironically, as we were in the heart of the home of cricket, all we had were plastic stumps for bats; and we could have done with another ball.

The start was delayed. Adults paced around, had a bit of free lukewarm coffee. Kids started throwing each other’s new caps around. But then, at last, it was time to go out.

First off, we watched the red devils parachute down, right in front of us on the nursery pitch! Some malarkey about bringing the match balls? The sort of pointless thing that gains its own momentum once someone has dreamed it up. And then we were off to the anthem ceremony.

The adults could only go so far. Free coffee - yes. An access-all-areas lanyard - no. The kids marched off on their own with the Lord’s staff, and the adults went to find their seats.

I’d been a bit pessimistic; I confess. Fred had done mascot duty at Lord’s before, at an ODI, England vs Pakistan. His seat then, he reckoned, gave a view of only half the pitch. But these were great. Lower tier of the Mound stand.

It began. The teams walked out. Each player took the hand of one of our kids.  They did us proud, didn’t they?

It was quite a moment for each of them. Isaac said: “I was glowing inside when I walked out with the players.”

Some of the younger ones didn’t know the big stranger they were paired off with. Some of the older ones were dumbfounded to meet idols.

Mostly, the players were great.

“Alright boss?” said Moeen Ali to Tom.

James was nervous, but Joe Root gave him a high five, and then he was all right.

Kiluv wished Johnny B good luck.

Fred met Stokes, who was “incredibly nice.”

Yevi met Jimmy Neesham, who gave him his NZ cap.

Connor met Henry Nichols, who said his son was a Connor too.

Jos Buttler asked Monty to give his wicket-keeper pads a kick, to test them out.

Samir walked out with Liam Plunkett, who was really kind.

Trent Boult asked Toby, who has a touch of Kiwi ancestry, who he’d be supporting. Toby said: “England!”

Chris Woakes said Lucy was a nice name. He had very big hands, Woakes.

Sanjay walked out with Jofra, who asked him the question, “Who do you think will win?”  Sanjay replied: “England, of course.”

A one-day cricket match is its own thing, has its own rhythm. I heard someone on the radio say that this was one match you couldn’t miss a ball of; but that wasn’t so for me. Even the World Cup Final isn’t like that, really. You watch; you go for a wander; looking for beer, coffee, ice cream. You’re not watching, but you’re not away. You still hear the oohs and ahs, the roars; a play-and-miss, a four, a wicket.

The kids didn’t need much looking after, if I’m honest, once they’d got their bearings. At first we took them on toilet trips, ice cream runs, souvenir expeditions; but soon they were happy to go off on their own, in pairs or small groups; even the youngest ones, perhaps with an older one to be in charge. It was very busy, and a large quantity of beer was being drunk, but the atmosphere, as it nearly always is at the cricket, was friendly.

The cricket, usually the Oval for us, was one of the first places were Fred went off to do things on his own. It’s a place where he feels safe.

You chat, of course, or listen to the radio commentary for a bit, if you like that. I do.

It began as a steadily engrossing match. Some of the kids asked how many overs were left. The answer was always: a lot. You wondered if some would get bored later in the afternoon.

After about 45 overs, we took the kids back to the indoor school, so they’d be ready to take to the pitch during the interval.  Again, the kids passed through security, in their mascot’s uniforms, while adults waited at the side.

It was then, as they waited near a side screen, that they saw Andrew Strauss, and the little master himself, Tendulkar. Tom even shook his hand. There too, that Shane Warne strolled past, and said “Hello, mate,” to Fred ~that’s the sort of incidental fun you get when you’re a world cup final mascot.

They were on the field for twenty minutes or so. Highgate’s peerless coach Steve Blyghton has been working hard on their nurdling singles, but, on this occasion, most judged that a more expansive stroke was required, when it was their turn to hit a ball.

Six!

Gil said: “I hit a boundary at Lord’s, that’s something to think about.”

Nathan said, innocently, “Did you ever play at Lord’s, Dad?”

After lunch, the remorseless build-up of tension, but also... more beers, cokes, ice creams. Some kids began to collect discarded beer cups, to cash ‘em in for a quid each. Did Joel really find more than fifty? Respect.

We all know how the actual cricket went, what a rollercoaster of emotion it was.

I, for one, knew that the chase was impossible once Jos Buttler was caught….and yet somehow England got nearer.

The atmosphere was incredible.

“It was so loud!” said Harry.

I think I can say that Highgate adults and kids sang and roared as loudly as anyone.

That’s not to everyone’s taste at the cricket. It’s a touch too much like the footie for some. Before lunch, one such, Dave Proctor, confided to me that he wasn’t a great fan of the whole barmy army thing; all that chanting and singing; it all smacked too much of the football terrace for him…. This is, of course, not the same Dave Proctor that you can see in the video, arms upraised, belting out Sweet Caroline with Johan and Matt!

What happened at the end… can’t really be captured in a few words, but Ben Zohar’s txts home almost manage to (I omit the blizzard of emojis):

18.04 : It’s not looking good

19.03 : Super overrrrrrr

I’ve lost my voice.

This is crazyyyy

20.27 : Yesssssssssss

We stayed for the ceremony, of course. The captains spoke well. Williamson, in particular, was extraordinarily dignified, given the flukish circumstances of his team’s defeat.

We all went home elated. Some kids wanted to watch it all again on the telly, straight away. Some insisted on demonstrating certain moments in their bedroom, before they would get into bed: the Stokes catch which went for six when Boult put his foot on the boundary. The incredible moment when the ball bounced off Stokes’ bat and went to the boundary.

Harry said it for us all: “It will stay with me forever.”

We had seen, as Arthur wrote, summing up, “possibly the best game of cricket of all time.”

Who’s to say that, inspired by what they saw, one of our kids might not become another Stokes, or Williamson? That’s something to aspire to. Gil dreams that “next time I walk out, I’ll be the captain.”

Summer is upon us now, and summer means camp! We’re busy this year, but Shelley will try to fit everyone in who wants to come.

Highgate began for Fred with a taster day at a camp.

We used to holiday in Scotland every year, at his grandparents’ house in the Highlands. One day we left him alone with them, to climb a hill. We returned to find that he had spent all day on the sofa watching the first day of a test match. He wanted to play cricket.

His Mum emailed all the local clubs. No one replied except Lorraine at Highgate. Chronically snowed under with work emails, she still found the time to answer Alison’s queries. After a few exchanges they realised that Alison was the new colleague at UCL, who Lorraine had not yet met, whose office was just down the corridor. The universal rule applies, you see, that nice people are drawn to each other. That’s why so many congregate at Highgate.

So anyway, I brought Fred for a day; just a day, mind. I’d bought him a cheap cricket set and some whites. I was very nervous when I dropped him off, though the Highgate man, name of Matt Holly, was very welcoming. Fred had never played cricket and didn’t know any of the other kids.

When I came to collect, Fred ushered me away, round the back.

“Dad…” His expression was determined, pained.

“What’s up? How was it?”

“It was good, but…”

“But what?”

“Everyone has a wheelie bag, Dad. Everyone!”

He’d brought his stuff in a carrier bag.

“I see… should we go and get a bag?”

And so we did, there and then; for who can resist an impromptu visit to that bunker of shopping despair, the Wood Green Sports Direct?

In the years since then he’s spent a lot of his holidays at camp. He loves it. Sometimes he does earlies, and occasionally it’s just Matt and him until others turn up. And I cycle off to work, leaving them cricket-chatting, and starting to get the equipment out for later. And I think: gosh, what a long, lovely, outdoors day he has ahead, playing cricket, messing about with his mates.

And all this… Highgate, and world cup finals, and taking a wicket for the fourth eleven last week,… all this because we climbed a hill, and left him on a sofa, watching the telly.

There had been other crazes, for bicycle racing, for athletics - but cricket was the one that stuck. I’m glad.

I’m glad we found Highgate.

As always, Steve Blyghton put it beautifully, on awards night: if you play here, if your kid plays here, Highgate is yours. It’s your club.

 

John Eccleston.

Father to Fred, Volunteer, Scorer, Player, Cricket lover! Attendee at THE Lord's World Cup Final 2019!