Music was one of the distractions that brought about my exile from watching cricket around twenty years ago. For a teenage fan growing up in the city, ’90s Manchester had enough to keep you distracted for a long time. The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and, later, Oasis were probably the big three of that era. I’d managed to see each of them live at least once, but it was the bands that I was unable to see that had fascinated me more. Bands from a different time. Another Music in a Different Kitchen as the first Buzzcocks album put it. I can’t remember how or when it happened, perhaps a CD found in a bargain bin that called out to me or a record my older brother brought home, but punk music spat in my general direction, stuck a safety pin through my nose and I was infected.
When Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols was released in October 1977, I was a little over a month old. Yet fifteen or sixteen years later it could be heard playing repeatedly in my bedroom. The sound of Steve Jones’ guitar was abrasive and addictive. His Les Paul a buzzsaw spitting out sparks and Chuck Berry licks. That the band imploded only three months after its release, making this their sole studio album, felt like a swindle, but the benefit of being years late to the punk party was having a large body of work to delve into. The Clash, The Jam, Buzzcocks, The Damned, The Ruts, The Adverts, Stiff Little Fingers. Over to America for New York Dolls, The Cramps and The Dead Boys through to the hardcore of Black Flag and Bad Brains that came afterwards. Before going all the way back to 1969 for The Stooges.
I don’t know why it all appealed to me so much, I wasn’t a particularly rebellious youth, but I was drawn in by the urgency of the music and the snarled, often menacing, lyrics. For me, it didn’t seem a giant leap from listening to fast, aggressive songs to watching fast, aggressive bowling. Whilst the punk bands I loved railed against the establishment with electric guitars, the quick bowlers I admired would rail against the batsmen with a cricket ball. The towering West Indian duo of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. Allan Donald in his sunblock warpaint. In the park, I would fancy myself as a paceman in their mould. After an energetic run up that belied my status as a career asthmatic, the ball would regularly sail past batsman and wicket-keeper before taking up residence in the distant bushes for extras. My deliveries suffered from too much aggression and too little accuracy.
At the other end of the wicket, I don’t think I ever really appreciated the role of the batsmen which, looking back, is a shame considering two of the players that were around at that time. Brian Lara was the face of many a computer game back then, but I don’t recall ever watching him bat. His 501 runs in a single County innings for Warwickshire was a record first-class score. The 375 runs against England in April 1994 at St John’s, the Test equivalent – such was the extent of my exile, I only recently discovered that this latter record had been broken nine years later by Matthew Hayden before Lara reclaimed it with 400 not out almost ten years to the day of his original score, against the same opponents and at the same venue. India’s Sachin Tendulkar went on to compile more Test and international runs than any other cricketer, but the only memory I have of him is the infamous picture from his Yorkshire days. Sporting a flat cap and brandishing a bat and a pint of bitter. No doubt there was a whippet lazing somewhere just out of shot.
Having reacquainted myself with cricket this season, the game between Lancashire and Surrey would afford me the opportunity to see a modern batting great in action, albeit a modern great I hadn’t heard of until a few months ago. Kumar Sangakkara’s entire fifteen-year international career for Sri Lanka took place during my estrangement from the sport so it should come as no surprise that I’m entirely unfamiliar with his achievements. 28,016 Test, ODI and IT20 runs – only Tendulkar has scored more. A test average of 57.40. Second only to Don Bradman in terms of Test double-centuries. Twice Wisden leading cricketer of the year and currently the leading run-scorer in the 2016 County Championship.
During my time in the wilderness, the only display with a cricket bat I’d witnessed had come from repeated viewings of This is Spinal Tap. The fictional English rock band’s manager being prone to waving his willow about. He would wield it in a variety of ways, none of which were particularly graceful or, I imagine, in keeping with the spirit of the game. I now had the opportunity to watch a master at work. That I would miss the first day of play, however, was probably just as well. Whilst Surrey struggled their way to 191 all out in the face of a rampaging Kyle Jarvis, Sangakkara lasted just four balls before he succumbed to a duck.
Arriving at Old Trafford for the second day, I have to wait for eleven wickets to fall for the Sri Lankan to make another appearance at the crease. Resuming the day on 16-0, the Lancashire opening partnership of Haseeb Hameed and Tom Smith make calm and steady progress until Smith – in his first County Championship action for thirteen months, is out lbw for 59. After the sedate batting of the openers, Alviro Petersen cranks up the run rate. Despite taking 14 balls to score his first run, the South African reaches his fifty off 63, before claiming a century off almost a run a ball. It’s the most impressive exhibition I’ve seen so far this season and, although it ends shortly thereafter, his 104 0ff 108 balls has set down a marker. By the time play ends, I am only two wickets away from seeing Kumar Sangakkara bat.
Close of play: Surrey 191, Lancashire 342-9.
The third day starts poorly for Surrey. Lancashire manage to add a further 52 runs before they lose their final wicket, leaving the visitors 203 behind. 203 behind and, with Rory Burns ruled out though mild concussion, minus an opening batsmen. Young Tom Curran is bumped up to the top of the lineup and the home side need to take only nine wickets. I only require one to fall and it doesn’t take long to happen. Arun Harinath is caught behind off Tom Bailey and it’s 27-1. Enter Sangakkara. On his third ball from Bailey, he dispatches a drive to the boundary that looks effortless. Nine balls later he drives Jarvis back over his head for another 4 runs. Neil Wagner comes in for his first over of the morning and when Sangakkara attempts that shot again, he instead chips up to mid-on and the waiting hands of Jarvis. 23 minutes, 20 balls and 8 runs. Out.
My efforts to watch one of the great run-scorers of this era undone by the kind of bowler I so admired many years ago. Wagner may share his surname with a classical composer, but his bowling is pure punk – hard, fast and often very short. It couldn’t be any more punk if he was doing it with spiked green hair and a safety pin in his ear. Certainly no bondage trousers, they would just spoil his run-up.
As the visitors collapse in the face of another onslaught from Jarvis – the Lancashire bowler taking 5 wickets to give him 11 for the match – only Curran puts up any resistance. He reaches 53 with a boundary to bring the Surrey score to 107 before being removed next ball by Wagner to end the match.
Lancashire win by an innings and 96 runs.