My son, just turned sixteen, improved his batting sufficiently this summer to be invited to the county youth trials, held over several weeks at a local sports centre. Proud Papa took him down on Saturday morning.
We get in the car, heavy bag of kit in the back, batting gloves borrowed from a neighbour’s son, battered but expensive running shoes borrowed from his father (too lazy to swap the metal spikes on his boots) and drive a few miles towards town.
"(Sniff) - are those your socks ? Something smells in this car."
"No - they're clean"
"There's something mouldy"
"(Sniff) - it's these trousers ! I got them out of the cupboard - they've been there since last season"
"Were they clean ?"
"Yes. They must have still been a bit damp when mum put them away"
"Got any others ?"
Oh Lordy. At close quarters they're dodgy enough to necessitate opening the car windows. It's too late to go back for some trackie bottoms.
We arrive. The car park is filling up with Beemers and Mercs. I have a neighbour half a mile away, a club player for nearly thirty years, who has a son in the under fourteens (with a pair of batting gloves). His words come back to me.
"All the public school and fee-paying lot - they play twice a week and train twice a week. You watch their mums and dads at the trials, sucking up to the coaches to get their kids in. Some of what goes on you wouldn't believe. It's not as bad as it was though - at one stage you couldn't get in at all from a state school. The kids know the county coaches because half of them are employed by the schools - and they all know each other because they play each other so much."
Gulp. My son's (state) school team was disbanded last season after the games teacher announced an after-school match at two hours notice. When my son (the captain) said he already had a club game that afternoon, the teacher cancelled the fixture - and all the rest of the season's fixtures - in a fit of pique. My son was playing club cricket three times a week - but what of the other kids ? The neighbour's son thought it a blessing in disguise, as the school pitch was so bad you ended up not knowing how to bat on a good pitch.
He gets the bag out. The zip on the bat compartment is broken, so he has to carry the bat and the heavy bag. He looks nervous.
"Do you want me to come down with you ?"
"I'll be alright"
He's tall, but thin, still coltish as I watch him disappear through the hall doors.
A couple of strapping, self-assured young men come by, laughing and chatting as they haul their large 'wheelie' bags, like the ones the professionals use.
Another one with a wheelie bag. Daddy has blazer and tie on, Mummy is still yummy.
"Shall we come down with you, Benedict ?"
"I'll be alright, mater"
I'm starting to get worried as I think of my son, standing around in his stinky flannels and not knowing anyone.
"I say ! Jasper ! This chav's bags are rank!"
"I expect you'll find his batting's the same !"
"Where are you from ? ASBO Comprehensive ?"
The next arrival has a motorised wheelie bag which he controls with a button on the handle.
The one after that also has a motorised bag, which precedes him. He controls it from a small handset. His friends find this highly entertaining.
At least they're not all wealthy. A shabbily dressed man in his late fifties is lugging a huge holdall down towards the hall, accompanied by a tall, muscular, Head-of-the-School-and-Captain-of-Everything type. Amazing how a father like that has a son like that.
"Just put it inside in a corner, would you, Perkins ? Careful, man, that bat cost £500 ! I'm going to have a chat with old Fubsy"
Now three Asian guys arrive - for some reason carrying the cricket bags on their backs and walking one behind the other. Then another - and another. And another. Two more self-confident chaps in cricket whites are walking with them, chatting to the sirdar. I've never seen Hunza porters this far north of the Karakoram.
I get into the 1984 Toyota and drive away.
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