The concept of the club kitbag has almost died out, but back then most sides had a couple of guys who weren't bothered about owning equipment of their own and who were happy to delve around in the club bag for a pair of mismatched pads, some sweat-stained gloves, maybe a mildewed thigh pad that they could use and then chuck back in at the end of the day.
Within this particular bag, it lay. A stitched-in manufacturer's label described it as an 'abdominal guard' but that hardly did it justice. It looked like something Henry VIII wore to the jousting, a great tin codpiece attached to a wide, padded v-shaped belt that had to be stepped into like a jockstrap and then secured around the waist with a couple of long ties.
It was universally known as 'Cyril's Box' after the only man who would [or could] wear it, the first team wicketkeeper Cyril. He was a remarkable man, mid-fifties, squat, powerful, with giant, hooked hands permanently ingrained with grease. I never discovered what it was that Cyril did, but it was some kind of hard physical labour that had produced both great strength and admirable stoicism. He barely ever said anything; just turned up in the dressing room every saturday, stripped off his streetclothes, retrieved the box from wherever he had thrown it the week before, strapped himself in, pulled the rest of his gear over it and walked out onto the pitch.
Like Rod Marsh, Cyril had iron gloves. The ball often used to fly off of them at tremendous speed, accompanied on crucial occasions by a muttered oath. He'd sometimes stand up to the opening bowlers, usually without explanation, and it was then that the abdominal guard earned its corn. The ball would smack Cyril in the vital area, and then richochet away with a metallic clang. On one famous occasion, a batsman was caught at second slip direct from Cyril's box and the game took a while to restart: several people were actually crying with laughter.
After a match, Cyril would silently remove it, sometimes pushing out a dent with a thick thumb. He'd get changed back into his streetclothes and then wander up to the pub, his love for the game expressed perfectly and eloquently in the slow satisfaction of his walk.