First Up

Today is the first day of the first Test Match in the English season of 2010.  It should be one of the most exciting days of the year for cricket lovers, especially for young people for whom this day may become an abiding memory, a first.

That it is not the first of a five match series, that it is against an emerging Test playing country, that it comes when lovers of cricket may be dangerously divided by their reaction to and support for the very short and the long forms of the game, and that its reach and impact is much reduced because it is not being broadcast freely to all who may wish to view it may take the some of the shine off the day, but it should not.

Recalling the first day of a series is different from recalling your first Test Match glimpsed on a screen or your first visit to a Test match.  These will be deeply imprinted and have their own special qualities. 

But noticing the sudden hush in the hubbub as the crowd settles, feeling the freshness of morning air, watching that first ball, sensing the start of the fast bowler’s run, discerning the sometimes immediate impact of bowler’s boot on virgin Test turf, hearing the crack of bat on hard ball and joining in the spontaneous release in tension as anticipation transmutes into observance form lasting connections that become over time a broad well beaten pathway in the brain.

For those who were there or lucky enough to be able to view it, who can forget the first moments of the 2005 Lord’s Test against the Australians: Circus and Theatre, Bear Pit and Altar.

Third Man’s earliest memory of a first session of a first Test was the one played at Old Trafford in 1963 when Frank Worrell, having won the toss, chose to bat and Conrad Hunte took guard to Trueman.

Not so much hunting for runs as never rejecting any offered to him

Hope turned to disappointment, then, to inspiration and finally to awe as Trueman’s early dismissal of Carew brought Kanhai to the wicket to join Hunte:   Freedom and Responsibility (with not a sign of Fairness for the rest of the day).

Kanhai blazed with extraordinary intensity and virtuosity, showing the value of domination as he hooked often without attention to balance, cut with a flashing blade and drove as if at the last possible moment.  Hunte, disciplined as a Jesuit at a party, accepting and celebrating only what was proffered but refusing nothing, scored 104 carefree runs.

Between them they put on 151 with Kanhai making 90 of these before his wild and reckless running yet again ended their partnership.*

Rohan Kanhai - once seen, never forgotten.

But this was all part of the experience of cricketing abandon that we would come to know and treasure by the end of the series.  They left us in September yearning to see more.

Butcher joined Hunte and with the fall of his wicket there appeared the loose limbed Sobers like nothing other than the big cat on his sponsor’s bat coming to life before our eyes.   Soon after, bad light ended play with the West Indies on 244 for 3 and Hunte having just reached his century in four hours, forty minutes.

The next day, Hunte reached 182 out of 398 in eight hours, twenty minutes.  The West Indies declared at 501 for 6 and bowled England out twice before completing their victory before tea on the fourth day by making 1 run in their second innings, scored appropriately by Hunte.

The West Indies went on to win the series by three victories to one, but the home side’s defeat had been sealed in that first session on June 6th in Manchester.

As England begin their innings today the memory factory goes back to work.

*During the fourth Test in Adelaide against the Australians in the famous ‘60/’61 series, Kanhai was on his way to his second century of the match.  Hunte was on 79 when between overs they agreed that there was a run if the ball was pushed gently wide of mid-off.  Kanhai duly hit it strongly straight to mid-off and to Hunte’s surprise set off for the run.  Hunte responded and the throw missed the stumps to the relief of both batsmen.  Shortly after, Kanhai repeated the manoeuvre but this time mid-off’s throw hit and Hunte was run out. 

The selfless West Indian openner, a recent convert to Moral Rearmament, decide that before he left the wicket he would go down to console Zanhai.  In the emotional confusion that followed, Hunte made his way to the boundary and found himself amid the laughing crowd down by the ‘wicket fence’ far from the pavilion gate.]

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