Short Story Inspired by Sandi Thom Lyrics
Ian waited on the train station platform, immaculately turned out as ever, well fitted suit and shoes shinier than a brand new coin. He looked up and down the platform at Altrincham Station waiting for his train to Manchester, even though it was a Sunday morning there were plenty of people, some of them talking but none of them listening. Some were listening to music on their headphones, not willing to share the joys of the sounds, some were talking on the phone, others were texting and some were probably pretending to text to avoid any possible eye contact that could in turn lead to the horror of conversing with another human face to face. Ian moved a little down the platform to stand next to man reading the sports pages of The Times.
‘Hopefully that rain yesterday won’t completely scupper our chances of winning this Test Match,’ Ian said to the Times reader. ‘Great to see us on top of the Aussies though.’
‘More of a Rugby man myself,’ he replied after the quickest of glances at Ian, then shuffled slightly away from him.
‘Oh really, League or Union?’ Ian asked.
‘Oh okay, never mind,’ Ian said as the man shuffled further away and then broke into a walk as the train arrived.
Ian found a seat on the crowded train, sat next to a man in his early twenties, less than half Ian’s age but Ian continued unabated in his quest for a conversation.
‘Good to see the skipper get that big century,’ Ian said with boundless enthusiasm. ‘Can’t help thinking this will be the pivotal match in the series, if we win this one I think we’ll have a great chance of winning the series. Shaping up to be a magnificent series either way.’
‘No clue what you’re talking about mate,’ the reply came without the man looking up from his phone.
After an hour or so in the small office he worked in with three others, Ian decided to go for a little wander around the office. None of them were happy at being brought in to work on a Sunday, but the company had an important deal to close, and at least they were getting paid time and a half. The only female in the office had her headphones on and was staring at her computer screen with the intensity of sharp shooter looking at their target. So Ian walked past her, he also knew the older male in the office had no interest in Cricket, so Ian headed over to the desk of the youngest member of the office team.
‘Did you manage to catch any highlights of the skipper’s innings the other day Sam? He’s not the player he was, but when he’s on form still nobody looks more stylish. Even more encouraging is that for the first time in a very long time our bowlers look like bowling them out every time they bat.’
‘Sorry Ian, don’t watch the cricket, I’m waiting for the footy season to start again. That twenty-twenty Cricket looks all right though,’ Sam replied.
‘You moron!’ Ian sighed and shook his head, Sam looked completely taken aback. ‘Twenty-twenty could well destroy the great game of cricket. Test Match Cricket is the proper game, a game that requires skill, strategy, patience, intelligence and a great deal of mental toughness. Twenty-twenty encapsulates everything that is wrong with the modern world. Everybody wants to watch the film rather than read the book, send a grammatically horrible text message rather than craft a well worded letter, eat fast food rather than spend a couple of hours or so enjoying a meal whilst chatting with friends, download a pop song that has been created to be a ring tone rather than listen to a symphony.’
‘You’re not going to start talking about the war are you granddad?’ The young man laughed.
‘I’m neither old enough to be your Granddad or remember the war,’ Ian said as his head shaking returned whilst walking back to his chair.
Throughout his day at his desk Ian kept track of the cricket score via the internet.
‘Bowled them out for three hundred and two, that’s a lead of a hundred and forty two!’ Ian enthused just after noon.
‘No one cares,’ the woman in the office said.
Ian was out of the office at five o’clock precisely and instead of heading home he went to a city centre bar to catch the last hour and a half of the days play in the cricket. Ian sat alone at a table, but he didn’t mind at all, no company was required when he had a great view of an Ashes test match.
The train back to Altrincham was a quiet one, Ian found a seat to himself, but just as the train was pulling away a young lady sat opposite him, putting her hand bag on the small table that was between them. She certainly was eye catching, a slim figure with very long wavy brown hair and dressed as if she was on her way home from Woodstock, even down to the flower in her hair. Her appearance was such that it even took Ian’s mind of the cricket for a moment or two.
‘I can’t be a real girl,’ she said as she sat down. ‘I’ve been shopping all day and haven’t bought a thing.’
‘You certainly cut a most feminine figure if you ask me.’
‘I’m going to take that as the delightful compliment I’m sure it was meant as. Spending money is overrated anyway, I still had a fun day. How about you, how’s your Sunday been?’
‘Been stuck in work most of the day I’m afraid, but just spent a most enjoyable hour or so in a bar watching the cricket. Strauss’s ton and a perfectly timed declaration have helped set up a belter of a day tomorrow, the Aussies will be under pressure to save the game that’s for sure, such a shame we lost so much time to rain yesterday.’
‘Is that the cricket that’s going on at the moment?’
‘Yes, yes it is,’ Ian sighed. ‘Don’t worry, I can’t seem to find anybody who wants to talk about it.’
‘I don’t know much about cricket but I love enthusiasm and will gladly listen to you talk about it, besides I like learning.’
‘Oh fantastic, and extremely refreshing to hear someone talk like that.’
‘I keep hearing bits and pieces about these matches, what’s so special about them?’
‘Not sure if this train trip is long enough for me to explain that fully, but the thing is England versus Australia at Test Match Cricket is as big and as old a sporting contest as you’ll get anywhere. Even if both teams weren’t particularly strong then the history and rivalry would be enough to make it a fascinating series. What makes this one so special is that right now they are the two best teams in the world. Australia are the undisputed number one and have been for about ten years now. Since the turn of the millennium England have gradually turned into an excellent team themselves. So it’s number two at home to number one and so far both are playing close to their best. The Aussies outclassed us a little in the first game, but we fought back to win one of the best test matches of all time in the second, so now it lies at one match a piece with three to play.’
‘That does sound exciting, I’m not a massive sport fan, but the best taking on the best at anything sounds fun.’
‘So do you like sport in general or cricket in particular?’
‘I do like a lot of other sports, but Cricket is my one true passion.’
‘So what is it about cricket that captures your heart so much?’
‘For me it’s the perfect balance of skill, strategy, athletic ability and mental toughness. A bowler is constantly trying to get the batsman out by outperforming him in at least one of those categories. Whilst at the same time the batsman is trying to do exactly the same thing in order to accumulate runs. People laugh at the fact that a test match is scheduled to last five days, as if that means they can’t be exciting. Anybody who has ever lost themselves in a book knows just how exciting that can be, no matter how long it takes to get to the end of the story, the fact that it take so long for the drama to unfold only serves to add to that drama. The way the conditions of the pitch and the atmosphere can greatly affect the challenge the players face, mean that to be a truly great player one has to be able to perform in many different situations. A game of cricket is never won until the last wicket is taken or the winning run scored, you can’t get ahead early and then play defensively and cruise to victory, you have to keep pushing for victory all the way. Again people laugh at the fact that one team could be three hundred runs ahead at the end of the game and the other team only have one wicket left, yet the match is called a draw. But I think there is something honourable about battling to save a draw, even when you know you can’t possibly win, as far as I’m aware cricket is the only sport that offers that particular opportunity. For me there’s nothing more thrilling than when a Test Match comes down to one team trying to chase down a total of runs to win, whilst the other team is desperate to bowl them out before reaching their target.’
She was smiling throughout Ian’s monologue. ‘It must be fantastic to have something that you’re so passionate about. Do you play yourself?’
‘Not anymore, but I did when I was younger, about seven days a week when I was a kid.’
‘Were you any good?’
‘Not at all, I’m afraid I’ve always had the athletic ability of a Tortoise,’ Ian’s self depreciating line caused her to let out a little giggle. ‘It was incredibly frustrating at times, because my brain knew what I was supposed to do, but getting that message to my feet and hands was a task that often seemed beyond me.’
‘But you still enjoyed it though?’ She checked.
‘Loved every second.’
‘So are you still involved in the game now?’
‘Only as an avid watcher.’
‘That seems a shame.’
‘I know what you mean, what I’d truly love is to be a Cricket writer and make a living following the game.’
‘Why don’t you?’
Ian sighed and thought for a few moments. ‘That’s just not the direction my life has headed in.’
‘Been divorced for a while.’
‘Oh I’m sorry.’
‘Don’t be, it wasn’t an acrimonious split. I just couldn’t give her the attention and passion that she deserved. It was a classic cricket fan break up, in September I noticed that she had left me in May!’ Again Ian got a little laugh.
‘You guys have kids?’
‘A couple, but they’re both grown up now, already settled into their own jobs.’
‘So you live on your own and have nobody else dependant on your income, I’m also guessing that you’re financially reasonably secure. You speak so eloquently about Cricket that even I’m engrossed, so there’s no reason why you couldn’t write well enough about it to capture people’s imagination. So I’ll ask again, why can’t you spend a year or so at least writing about Cricket?’
Ian sighed again, pondering the question.
‘You can’t think of a single reason can you?’ She asked with a smile.
‘Certainly not a good one,’ Ian conceded.
‘As far as we know, we only get one chance at this life, may as well at least try to do what we’d most like to do with it.’
‘You’re most wise and philosophical for one so young.’
‘This is my stop now,’ she said as the train started to slow down. ‘Imagine if we met again this time next year and I asked how the Cricket writing was going, how would you feel if you had to admit you hadn’t done any?’
The next morning Ian was back on that train platform at Altrincham, dressed for work, with the young ladies last question ringing in his ears. Ian had so much inner dialogue that morning that he wasn’t searching out any conversations. Once on the train he stood up, holding onto a metal post and staring blankly out of the window. When the train got to the Old Trafford station, Ian looked at the station sign for a few moments, then peered in the direction of the Cricket ground. Just as the doors were about to close Ian ran through them onto the platform. Although it was only just gone 8.30am and play wasn’t scheduled to start until 11am, people were already queuing to buy a ticket for the last day of the Test Match. Ian smiled broadly as he joined the back of the queue, wearing his suit and carrying his brief case. He queued for a long time and he was beginning to wonder if he was going to get a ticket, but he really didn’t mind, because one way or another he was going to be part of Ashes folklore, either he would get in to watch the potentially thrilling final day, or he would be one of many thousands locked out on the day.
He didn’t quite allow himself to believe he was going to get a ticket until he actually had one in his hand. When he did he looked at in awe for a few moments before heading through security at the entrance to the ground.
‘Can I check inside your brief case Sir?’ A large gentleman on security duty asked Ian.
‘Tell you what,’ Ian said. ‘Let me grab a writing pad and a few pens and we can throw away the rest,’ he said as he opened the brief case and took out the pad and some pens.
‘Yes, I won’t be needing it any longer.’
Ian got to his seat in plenty of time to witness the first ball of the day. Before play commenced he had time to write a short letter.
Please accept this letter as my resignation. I’ve spent fifty years doing what I need to do and was supposed to do, now it’s time to start doing what I want to do.
Ian did indeed get to witness a thrilling final day. A wicket in the very first over set the tone, then along with over twenty thousand others, Ian had the joys of seeing fast bowlers smash the ball into the stumps, a wicket keeper take a magnificent reaction catch – the sort Ian’s Tortoise like body could never dream of taking, England taking wickets throughout the day to press for victory, a herculean captain’s innings of 156 from the Australian skipper, and the result was in doubt until the last ball of the match when Australia survived with one wicket left to hang on for one of those honourable draws that Ian loved so much.
Ten years later Sam had an office all to himself, he was the area manager for the company. His secretary came into his office with a bag of shopping.
‘Got the rest of those Christmas presents you needed Sir,’ she said as she put them on his desk.
‘Oh excellent, you even manage to get something for my nephew? He’s a nightmare to buy for.’
‘Yes Sir, I remembered you saying he likes Cricket, so I got him this book,’ the secretary said and handed it to Sam. ‘It won an award and has some great reviews on the back.’
Sam looked at the book, on top of the front cover it said “William Hills Sports Book of the Year 2014”. The book was called ‘Breaking the Curse – A Season Worth Waiting For’, it followed Lancashire County Cricket Club for an entire season, it turned out to the season when they finally ended their wait for a County Championship Title, a title they hadn’t won outright since 1934 and at all since 1950. Sam glanced at a couple of the reviews on the back cover.
“Even if you don’t like Cricket, you will love it after reading this book.”
“I.J. Smyth has produced another classic, one of the best sports books ever written, he makes you feel like you are in the dressing room yourself, nervously waiting for your turn to bat in the big match.”
Inside the front cover there was a dedication.
“To a stranger on a train.”
fantastic music, thought provoking lyrics and great merchandise from singer/song writer Sandi Thom: http://tiny.cc/loveablelyrics