Jane Merrick: It started with a six ... how I fell for cricket

Jane Merrick is bowled over by the sound of leather on willow
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The Independent Online

I can't pinpoint exactly the moment this summer when the switch flicked, the light went on, and I suddenly fell in love with cricket. Not the village green leather-on-willow cliché or that Twenty20 showbiz stuff, but the endless hours stretching into days of Test cricket. Hours of sitting still in front of the television with the blinds down, fluent in the formerly alien language spoken by Bumble and Beefy of "up in the block-hole", "silly mid-on" and "reverse swing". I am even getting to grips with the rules of lbw.

After more than three decades of resistance, at the age of 35, I have fallen for the highest form of cricket, and fallen hard. It's not as if I wasn't surrounded by the game when I was growing up. My father was captain of his school team and tried his best with three daughters (and no sons) to teach us how to play, totally in vain.

Our nextdoor neighbour taught a schoolboy Andrew Flintoff, and cricket was always played in the street. I even lived in Headingley for five years in the 1990s, within earshot of the, mostly in those days Australian, cheering crowds. But, nothing.

And it's not as if I'm a woman who hates sport – I love football and athletics. But cricket, well, it just seemed so impenetrable. Too many rules and baffling jargon. Time you're never going to get back. So what changed?

Before the Ashes series began, some commentators claimed that Test cricket was dying. The spoilt Kevin Pietersen and, now grown-up, Flintoff were ruining England's chances by making all that money and getting niggling injuries playing in the Indian Premier League. But the paradox is that it was a Twenty20 game that dragged me into this love affair.

In early June, I sat still for long enough to watch England beat Pakistan in the group stages of the Twenty20 World Cup, and enjoyed it. It was that sheer, crude excitement of such a concentrated run chase, the sight of the ball smashed skywards for six, time after time. It was this pyjama'd perversion of the game that the purists of the Lord's pavilion so hate that sparked my love affair.

That match left me wanting more, but in a more authentic form. By the time of the opening Ashes match at Cardiff I was ready for my first Test.

When last-wicket pair Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar somehow survived for 40 minutes to see England rescue a draw, there was something captivating in their heroics.

The Second Test at Lord's was extraordinary. We weren't supposed to skittle out Australia that easily. I loved Freddie's showmanship.

By Edgbaston, I was truly hooked. As the sun shone outside on the fourth day, the Sunday, the blinds in my sitting room came down and I watched the entire coverage, from the first ball to stumps. In one moment's eye contact between Flintoff and Australian fast bowler Mitchell Johnson I felt I understood more than a century of rivalry.

OK, so the Fourth Test at Headingley was terrible. But isn't that part of what watching England is about?

Am I in love with cricket because it's the Ashes? Will my heart still race when England play South Africa this autumn? I hope so.

What I do know is that this week, I will be glued to the television for the Fifth Test.

This Ashes series has shown that Test cricket is not dying. I think that if England bowl a good line and length, if Flintoff is as fired up as he was at Lord's and if the middle order comes good at last, we can reclaim the Ashes.

I know it won't be easy. I will be nervous. My heart will be thumping, with, as I think someone once said, that uniquely uneasy feeling that one Englishman has when another Englishman goes in to bat.