Monday 28 September 2015

Reflecting on the light...

The notion of light in cricket almost always comes with its dread prefix 'bad': it's forgotten until it's barely there. And yet its beauty is such that it sometimes breaks the heart, especially as the season ends. We played our two last games in the chilterns. The first was at Stonor Park, a ledge of a ground that sits across the road from the entrance to Stonor House, a grand gate and a one-track road that weaves between two hills which rise steeply on either side. Deer threaded their way through the trees. Red Kites flew overhead; late in the afternoon they flushed scores of crows - a murder? - from their roost in the woods behind the ground. All of this was washed by the autumnal sunlight of England, low and soft and luminous. The shadows grew almost impossibly long. Everything seemed like a race against time.

The following day we played at Aston Rowant. The air already felt colder. The ground was damp from a week of rain. Halfway through the afternoon the clouds blew out over the valley and the same light came down as the last overs ticked away. It was a perfect end really, the setting and weather and game all in sync to produce those ineffable feelings of sadness suffused with deep and lasting enjoyment.

I've played in Australia, where light flares upwards from the wickets and everyone squints like Steve Waugh against the brightness. Earlier this summer, in one of my greatest days on a cricket field, we had a match on the Nursery at Lord's on a perfect summer day. The light then was rich and golden, the outfield dappled with shadows from the trees in one corner and the groundsman's house. I looked through the gap between the stands below the media centre and out onto the main ground, which shimmered in the heat. It was magical.

The most evocative time to play can be on a long English summer night, when the light holds and holds and then seems to disappear almost as soon as you're done. I played lots of those games as a junior, often on the old village grounds of Hampshire and Surrey. They're never flat, and the swales and hollows of the outfield catch and trap the light in a way that newer grounds never can.

It may be a trade-off against the rain and the cold and the cancellations, but when the English light does its thing there's nothing else like it.