To the cricketer, his or her bag is an object of comfort and reassurance. It contains all the essential equipment – bat, pads, gloves, whites, spikes – as well as spares. It has cricket balls – shiny new cherries to rotten old apples. It has tape, oil and rags, the materials for looking after kit. The bag may even have a pack of cards for rainy days or a toilet roll for windy ones.
To the cricketer’s spouse, the cricket bag is a hulking presence. It is lumpy with the strange objects obsessed about by the other half. The bat protrudes from the bag, tripping and catching anyone trying to step past it. It has an aroma, picked up from the changing rooms and bars it inhabits and seasoned inside its canvas skin. For heaven’s sake, there’s even a toilet roll in it.
I like my cricket bag to be in the hallway, where it sits among handbags, school bags and lunch-boxes – like an elephant trying to be inconspicuous in a flock of sheep. My wife doesn’t like my cricket bag to be in the hallway. Rarely does it manage an overnight stay there. The study, where it is placed between the exercise bike and the gerbil cage, is just behind the front-line, but vulnerable to sudden eviction.
In retreat, the bag spends time in the car boot. For very practical reasons, I don’t like this. I can’t justify the carbon emissions it adds to every journey. And when I have a match, I find it too easy to head off incompletely equipped if I haven’t unpacked and packed the bag indoors. I carry this fear with me to every match ever since my debut (also my swan-song) for Buckinghamshire Under 12s. I arrived in the changing room, unsure when to swap from school uniform into whites. At the sign of my teammates changing I reached into my bag for my cricket kit. All present and correct.. except the socks. I thought I was going to have to play the biggest game of my life in grey school socks, already sweaty from my anxiety. Another boy had a spare pair, which helped my appearance, but not my confidence.
After that game, my Dad taught me the skill of packing a cricket bag by imagining you are getting dressed and padded up for an innings. Over 30 years later and I still do this, each time my stomach turning as I am taken back to a Northamptonshire pavilion, finding my bag devoid of white socks.
So what is it that my wife has against my cricket bag? There’s the general virtue of tidiness and that she doesn’t want the house turned into an obstacle course – particularly one where the hurdles smell. I am also convinced that the bag, large and with protruding bat handle, symbolises for her the obsession that draws me out of the house, or in front of screen or by radio, my attention on the family severely compromised.
I have come to realise that I like to have my bag visible around the house because it reinforces my belief that I am a cricketer. It validates my self-image. It would be so easy not to be a cricketer. I don’t offer a great deal to my team. Personal success, despite a very flexible threshold, is a rarity. In my mid-40s, a season-ending injury is never more than a quick single away. There’s the demands of family and the guilt of not fulfilling them. There’s work. And there’s a newer creeping occupation, offering another title, fulfilment and obligation: junior coaching. While the bag’s there, I have withstood those counter forces and maintained an identity that I care about.
For over a year now, my cricket bag has had a little cousin – an accomplice. My older son plays cricket in the team I coach. He has a bag, slimmer and more streamlined than mine. He also has my storage practices – if anything, he’s worse. After a match, he steps inside the front door and drops his cricket bag, before heading to TV or PlayStation. His bag, propped against the front door isn’t just an obstacle, it’s a fire hazard, blocking our evacuation route in (the unlikely) case of emergency. He can be forced to carry it to his room, but he does it in a weary, out of control manner that scuffs the walls on the stairs.
The harmony of my family is at stake. We need somewhere to store our cricket bags that is out of sight of the forces that would banish them, but accessible for those of us that take comfort in them – or just have a regular need to use them. Somewhere of the house, but not in the house; secure, weather proof, but out of the way. I have an idea – it is, as my younger son would say, a Beast of an idea.