Andrew Strauss had just creamed his second ball for six – if that wasn’t unusual enough, the first had dismissed him but turned out to be a no-ball – when the ugly side of the game reared its head: the ugly side of Howzat! that is.
“I’m watching telly,” shouted my partner Sue, irritated by my exclamations at such an exciting start to the third Test, and threatening to propel a salt cellar of significant size in my direction. “Can’t you go and play somewhere else?” It was a hurtful sledge and, wounded, I picked up the 8x8ins square of green baize, the twin dice that pass for bat and ball, and casting one last fond glance at Becky trying to lure Jason into her lair in Coronation Street, sloped up the stairs to continue England’s first innings in the bedroom.
And a remarkable first innings it turned out to be: after losing their first four wickets for 44, presumably to the seam and swing of Chris Martin and Kyle Mills (although the “Classic Desktop Game”, as the promotional blurb describes it, really needs a third dice to identify the wicket-takers: I’ll get on to the manufacturers), the home team lost four wickets in a row to the lightning-fast reflexes of Brendon McCullum behind the stumps. Collingwood, Ambrose, Broad and Sidebottom were all tempted out of their ground as Daniel Vettori (presumably) made a nonsense of pre-match claims that the pacier men would dominate.
Broad, however, who this week declared his determination to become an international-class all-rounder, hit a career-best 84 on his home ground, sharing in an important seventh-wicket partnership with Ian Bell (75), before Sidebottom, with 28, Panesar with 17, and Jimmy Anderson advanced their team to a respectable 282 all out.
Statistics play an important part in cricket lore and students of that discipline might be interested in what came next: Tim Ambrose, quiet behind the stumps in the series so far, surpassed McCullum, his six stumpings in a disappointing New Zealand first innings of 178 bettering Kieran More’s world record of five in India’s 255-run thumping of the West Indies in Chennai more than 20 years ago – although his final victim, Iain O’Brien, will point to the stray toe-nail near the waste-paper basket that consigned him to his fate after a wayward roll. Truth be told, the dice was balanced precariously between Howzat and Six but recourse to the third umpire was not necessary: I simply lifted the offending nail from under the dice, deposited it in the bin and allowed gravity to take its course. O’Brien had to go.
So what was I doing playing Howzat in the first place? It was, like the game itself, pure chance. I was wandering around Waterstones in Wimbledon this afternoon, ostensibly hunting for Jospeh O’Neill’s Netherland, the much-lauded novel linking 9/11 with the New York expatriate community’s cricketing exploits (they didn’t have it, and apparently they’re not even going to get it), when my attention was captured by a stand of novelty items next to the cashier’s desk. There, among the Kama Sutra trivial pursuits, the miniature travel scrabbles and Lord of the Rings magic sets I spotted it, packed tightly into a dark green box the size of a pack of paracetomol.
Instantly, in fact as surely and swiflty as if someone had bottled the smell of the changing room after boys’ PE and invited me to have a sniff, I was transported back to my school days. The game that I had coveted above all others since jealously watching two of my friends playing it under a tree in the playground and ignoring my pleadings to be allowed to join in, was staring me in the face.
Then, rejected, I had been left to improvise. While they played on, regularly attracting a gaggle of classmates to form a circle around them – it must have been the deciding rubber of an Ashes series (all the time) – I was forced into a corner on my own with an ordinary dice, an exercise book and a Bic biro, my batsmen scoring with anything from one to five, but facing automatic dismissal when I landed on a six. For realism, whenever the tail threatened to wag in a Jason Gillespie-against-Bangladesh-sort of a way, I simply cheated and ignored all throws until it landed on the six.
But now, about 35 years later, was my chance to make up for those days – and for the princely sum of £4.99. It was too good an opportunity to miss. Especially because tomorrow I’m heading to Trent Bridge for a couple of days, but with the BBC website warning of light showers on the first day and light rain on the second, the chances are that John, a friend who I’m meeting there, and I will eschew the delights of the alcohol-free stand we’re booked into, and head back to the Holiday Inn Express, Nottingham, for our own table-top series. And wash it down with a curry.
I hadn’t intended to get it out tonight, but with the TV offering only The Apprentice or Trinny and Sussanha prancing around trying to create a mass naked sculpture on the Sussex Downs, my hand was forced. It proved to be an unpredictable evening – Sue called tails for New Zealand and put England into bat before returning her attention to Corrie, while Jacob Oram and Daniel Vettori threatened to pull off a remarkable turnaround with the bat in the fourth innings – but in these days of Hawk-Eye, Hotspots and Brian Lara’s Sony Playstation computer simulation – one of nostalgic pleasure.
HOWZAT SCORECARD: Third Test, England v New Zealand, My Bedroom, June 2008, play began at 7.45pm
England 282 all out (Broad 84, Bell 75) and 278 all out (Collingwood 76, Pietersen 54, Broad 43 not out) beat New Zealand 178 all out (Redmond 85) and 336 all out (Oram 60, Flynn 57, McCullum 57, Vettori 43) by 46 runs. (Full scorecard will be printed according to demand).