I have a new bat. It's a freebie, thanks to a friend of mine who has access to such things. I am in his debt, because this bad boy has every flavour you might crave: a true, straight grain on flawless white, slim shoulders, a long, sleek fin on the spine that reminds me of the old Slazenger V12 and a deep, low bow made for English pitches.
Best of all, it tips the scale at 2lbs 8 and a quarter of Her Majesty's ounces, a rarity in these days of railway sleeper cudgels. I've been given several bats over the years, and this one is the first I'd say I might have picked out myself. It sort of flows; it's a magnificent thing.
I've taken it to the nets and it's all that it should be, given the limitations of its owner. There's just one thing, a little thing, a daft thing that's never happened to me with any new bat before, ever. The first ball I faced with it, I nicked behind. It was only from the bowling machine, and the nets were packed and noisy, so I'm the only person on earth who knows it happened. But you know, I know.
I'm not superstitious in day-to-day life. I don't care about walking under ladders. I'd screw up any chain letter without thinking. I sometimes count magpies, but that's about it. I've never been superstitious about playing, probably because it's only ever been a bit of fun, an escape.
I always think of Vinod Kambli, though - Vinod, that glorious and doomed enigma, damned by hubris, caste [allegedly] and mental demons, the man who ended up with nine rubber grips on his handle. I remember too Graham Thorpe's endless tinkering with his bats, Steve Waugh's red rag, Sachin's right pad and so on, ad infinitum.
Batting, like anything that demands repetition, has elements of obsession to it. It requires something from your inner life. When you bat, ultimately, you are alone in a team game. Even someone as iron-hard as Steve Waugh took comfort in superstition, or at least in repetition.
So the fact I nicked that first ball kind of bugs me. Should I not nick the first ball I face in a match, maybe it will go. If I do, maybe it'll go too. I'm just telling myself I'm not superstitious, either way. You?