Cricketer's Diary: End of private jokes

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The Independent Online
THE last day of the season arrives with the players in a state of limbo, feeling a mixture of relief and sadness. What they will miss most is the camaraderie (or 'the crack', as Geordies call it) in the team - private jokes, evolved nicknames etcetera - meeting colleagues in the winter is just not the same; what they will miss least is another day in the field and the relentless travelling.

Commuting from London to Durham most of the time, I have covered nearly 13,000 miles never mind sent down more than 600 overs. The knees have had their fill of compacted pitches, the ankles enough of worn footholds. Adrenalin and pride maintain the energy levels through August and September, once the air of competition is no more the body goes into temporary hibernation.

Durham have finished where they began, with a home match against Lancashire. The personnel on both sides has changed little, but many players have different reputations, the season has either enhanced or tarnished them. For teams not in contention for prize- money, the last match is there to be enjoyed - a chance to sweeten the taste of earlier, less palatable memories.

It is also a time when all-night card sessions are indulged, when teams take part in local bungee- jumping exploits (usually organised by Ian Botham) or spend the season's pool money at some salubrious eating establishment.

THE relaxed atmosphere of the last game has a nasty habit of turning sour. Yesterday the weather was kind enough at Gateshead Fell for Dickie Bird, who had just umpired a match at freezing Seaton Carew, to exclaim: 'cor, it feels like t'desert art here in comparison.'

The Lancashire tail wasn't so accommodating and, recovering from 216 for 6 to 562 all out, consigned us to yet another trying day in the field.

The innings also provided a forecast of things to come when the full programme of four-day matches begins next year. Spectators are preparing themselves for tedious batting displays against tiring bowlers - fielding for two days and a minimum of 220 overs is beyond most mortals' reserves of stamina.

The tempo of a Test match is slower of course, and they bowl only 90 overs a day. Whether this ennui effect will be partly offset by the new Sunday League with coloured clothing remains to be seen, but certainly they will get a better deal in terms of identifying the ball (white) and the players (surnames on the back of shirts) unless the identical twins Keith and Kevin Parsons are in the Somerset team.

The two are almost impossible to distinguish between, even for the Somerset coach, 'and we have to wear different coloured helmets when we bat to help our scorer,' Keith said. Or was it Kevin?

MEANWHILE the grapevine is rich with the rumoured destinations of migrating players: Kevin Cooper to the most sociable squad, other dissatisfied individuals may stop their huffing and puffing come October and stay put. Many cast their thoughts to their winter employment - Paul Parker has been mugging up on Homer these last weeks in preparation for teaching Latin and Greek at Tonbridge School.

He will bring back his agile diving (and driving) on to the treadmill next year, others aren't so lucky. For those whose releases have been announced recently, it's the saddest time of all. Regardless of what they achieved they will never again be able to experience the unique intimacy, badinage and shared suffering, warts and all, of a county cricket dressing room.

IN last week's column I was misinformed about the disappearing club scorer: right story, wrong club. Apologies to all concerned at Ickenham CC.

Simon Hughes composed his last column, at Gateshead, with barely enough strength to lift a pen to complete his journal of the season, to be published in November.