It was a perfect summer's day many seasons ago, a midweek game that, even when you had nothing else to do made you feel like you'd bunked off real life for the afternoon. I don't even know what made me think of it: maybe it was the sight of Junaid Khan laughing as he walked into bat against England in the last ODI in Dubai. His face was a picture, the look of a total chancer in love with the absurdity of it all.
The ground was deep in the countryside somewhere, a natural bowl out in the woods with an erratic boundary line dictated by the encroaching trees. We got changed in a stone hut with a thatched roof set side-on to the wicket. We scattered some plastic chairs outside. The peeling scoreboard still had the numbers from the last game hanging on it; someone was unhooking them and throwing them noisily onto a pile. A single, weathered sightscreen stood at either end.
We bowled first. Simon opened up. He marked his run. He was like a minor character from Blackadder, short back and sides in a severe parting, bumfluff pencil 'tache, big old bowling boots that looked like they'd been passed down through generations. He came in with knees pumping, quickish, but a little bit slower than he apeared.
The new cherry sang for him that day. A couple were bowled, I caught one at second slip. We stuck in a short leg and got one there too. They were four or five down for not very many. A brief stand, then a couple more. By now we had about five slips, gullies, close men, the works. Simon got another: that was eight. Every over from the other end had a strange tension - neither side actually wanted a wicket to go down. At drinks, we half-joked about deliberately dropping one if a chance came, but that somehow didn't feel right either. If it was going to happen, it couldn't be manufactured.
Simon did it. The last two, from memory, were bowled. We surrounded him. We had Junaid Khan smiles. He was a lovely guy, always great to play with. He deserved it. It had taken maybe an hour and a half. They'd only made 60-odd and we knocked them off quickly, on the ground surrounded by trees, underneath the perfect sky.
It's a melancholic feeling, thinking about it now. I wonder what happened to Simon, and to everyone that played that day. Have they had good lives since then? I hope so. Nothing ties us except that game, but I doubt that anyone who played has forgotten it. All ten. Not bad. Well done, mate.
First Ashes Test – The Report Cards
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