Cricket: Dark days, darker nights

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The Independent Online
THERE are dark days ahead for the habitual cricket fan. True, England haven't really blown it yet, although their strange inability to score runs or take wickets could yet let them down in the weeks to come. No, the days would be dark even if they were scoring 500 an innings and bowling out India in 20 minutes. It's got nothing to do with the cricket. It's just that we'll be spending so much time awake at night listening to it on the radio that we'll be spending most of the daylight hours fast asleep.

This problem of nocturnal sport can be severely injurious to the health, and no doubt a hard-hitting television documentary series is preparing a programme on it as I write. Fortunately, though, tours to India and Pakistan are not as bad as some. With play starting half- way through the night, at least you can wake up at a reasonable time - say 4.30am - and enjoy the familiar sound of Hick being out for 0 over an early bowl of high-energy Wheaty Puffs. Australian tours are far worse. In typically awkward beer-swilling Antipodean style, Australia has insisted on positioning itself in the world's most inconvenient time zone - the one that means start of play at bedtime and stumps at dawn.

And the West Indies are only marginally better. The sporting day may start at 8pm our time, so that we can catch at least a few hours of English batsmen having their noses and ears smeared all over Sabina Park. But what if the play is especially interesting? Just another half an hour, you tell yourself, just another 10 minutes . . . and before you know it it's breakfast time. What it all adds up to is weeks of well-nigh constant jet- lag.

So what's the solution? Ignore the Test series altogether? Not really an option, especially if, like me, you have been practising savage square-cuts with your plastic ruler since mid-October. Buy a Sky dish? Also impossible, if the idea of handing pounds 250 a year over to Rupert Murdoch sticks in your throat as much as it does mine. This leaves the radio, your lifeline to civilisation. It's therefore immensely important that you don't inadvertently damage your radio in any way at all.

Needless to say, this is what I did a couple of years ago, just as England were being mashed on the last Ashes tour. One moment I was listening to Henry Blofeld, the next I wasn't. Just to confirm the thing was properly broken, I threw it around the room a few times. Through carelessness, or possibly an early form of acute psychosis, I had denied myself the pleasures of midnight Test Match Special.

As a result, I spent most of every subsequent morning in a desperate search for cricket-related information. Needless to say, my television didn't have Ceefax, so that wasn't any use. There was no way of phoning up freelance friends who might have stayed up all night watching Sky, as they never surfaced before midday. Newspapers only ever reported the first few overs of the night ('Atherton survives Reid burst') which left the television news. And the ridiculous thing about television news is that they never know which news is important and which news isn't. Serious difficulties on the M25? So what? Major in new EC yoghurt-lake initiative? Fine, but what's the bloody Test score?

I just wish there was a cure for all this - the night sweats, the disturbed sleep patterns, the vague suspicion you may be losing your marbles. Even before the first Test has started, the condition has already manifested itself. Last night I dreamt that daily highlights were, after all, to be shown on BBC 2. It was one of the happiest dreams of my life . . .