Having reconciled himself to the fact that he would never get paid to play cricket, Jamie Alter decided on the next best thing – writing on the sport. Having ditched a stint at an insurance firm in Boston, Jamie joined ESPNcricinfo where he worked for five years, covering cricket apart from trying to improve – unsuccessfully, ultimately – his technique against the short ball in office cricket. After taking a break to author two cricket books, Jamie joined CricketNext as editor in 2011.
It's funny how stumbling upon an archived scorecard brings back certain memories, and how glancing down a team's batting innings facilitates nostalgia. With the gentle tapping on the cursor of a mouse you can be transported back to a precise date or particular passage of your life, your eyes reminding you how many runs a batsman scored or how many wickets a bowler told while your mind harks back to a different time and place.
Yesterday I stumbled upon one such archived scorecard. Twelve years ago, England and West Indies played out a gripping Test match at Lord's which ended with Dominic Cork cutting Courtney Walsh for four in the lengthening London shadows to seal a most remarkable victory, and cap a memorable personal achievement. It was Cork's first Test match in 18 months, at the hallowed ground at which he made his debut five years earlier, and it ended, as in 1995, with the Man-of-the-Match award. The 100th Test at the historic venue had seen a low-scoring but fully entertaining three-day affair.
I remember this match well, though I never saw it. I followed all three days on the Internet. It was during my first vacation since joining college in the USA, and I was away from campus working a summer job at a mall in Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania. It was a new awakening for me: a college student, away from India, living in a small two-bedroom apartment in a lazy, tree-lined neighborhood, earning my first dollar salary, commuting to and from work on the public bus service.
Alighting at the bus station, I would briskly stride to the Dauphin County Library in the dull-red environs of the Kline Village shopping centre to catch up on daily match reports and quotes. I would spend an hour - that's about all I could afford to pay for - pouring over the scorecard and match copy, soaking in each word and trying to imagine how a certain shot was played or how a wicket fell based on the description on the scorecard text. MA Atherton c Lara b Walsh - was Athers sucked into a tentative prod by a sharp away-swinger? Did Lara fumble the catch at first slip? Was the sky overhead grey and cold, aiding to movement off the Lord's surface?
I suppose much of my heightened interest in this match was that I was away from home and missing being able to watch and read and listen to cricket as easily as I had been able to in India, as well as, most importantly, play it. The absence of cricket in my life increased my eagerness to follow it. And, having been in England the summer before watching the county cricket at The Oval and both 1999 World Cup semi-finals, the emotions of watching cricket on lush grounds steeped in history had left its impact. Following a Test match at Lord's, therefore, became a must.
I was rooting for England, and it left me satisfied that the hosts had reduced West Indies to 267 for 9 by stumps on day one. There was something very English, very unique about the names of England's fast bowlers - D Gough, AR Caddick, MJ Hoggard, DG Cork - the way their names rolled off the tongue.
On the second day, 21 wickets fell for 188 runs - astonishing. England were bowled out for 134 with Walsh and Ambrose taking four wickets each. I imagined the two daunting West Indian bowlers pounding in; Ambrose, menacing and fiery and Walsh, languid yet hostile. At 9 for 3, what were Graeme Hick - whose footage as a youngster in county cricket I had seen on a VHS my father had at home - and Alec Stewart - the bat-flipping, blue-eyed, Paul Newman I had met the previous summer - thinking?
And then, the disastrous for West Indies. Shot out for 54, their lowest total in 123 Tests against England. Five wickets for Caddick, for 16 runs off 13 overs. Cork took three and Gough a couple, and England had been set a target of 188 to level the series. I imagined another overcast day, with Caddick moving the ball of the turf and a procession of ill-timed shots flying into the arc between gully and the wicketkeeper. As I logged off after getting my full of the match details, I could not wait to come back the next day and see whether England could seal the deal.
At work, behind a cash register on the floor assisting coupon-wielding customers ahead of the Boscov's Fourth of July sale, I replayed the batting card in my head, continued to wonder how Caddick and Co. had bowled, and how Lara, after playing 19 "uncomfortable" balls, would have poked a catch to Cork at gully.
Would Mark Ramprakash, a batsman whose career I had followed since England's tour of the West Indies in 1997-98, get some runs and keep his place in the side? He had made 0 in the first innings to follow scores of 18 and 0 in the innings defeat at Edgbaston and there were shouts in the British media for a youngster named Marcus Trescothick - again, what a surname - to be called up. Ramprakash for Trescothick, sharing a similar first name and role at the top of the order against Ambrose and Walsh and Rose - there was something endearing about it.
The next day, I sat down and logged on to find out that England had pulled off an incredible win by two wickets, Cork adding to his seven wickets with 33 not out. Atherton and Michael Vaughan - whom I had seen bowling offbreaks on TV in India as the commentators talked up his England prospects - scored in the 40s and Cork had kept his cool in a crisis. Walsh had fought tremendously, taking six wickets, but it was not enough. I pictured him pursing his lips and shaking his head just a little, before shaking hands with Cork and putting an arm around Ambrose, who had figures of 22-11-22-1 (Caddick, the last wicket to fall at 160 for 8). Ramprakash had a terrible match (0 and 2) and I knew Trescothick would be in for the third Test.
It was a fascinating Test match, if a short one. It was also a fascinating stage of my life, and perusing over the scorecard more than a decade later allowed me drift back to what seems like another era. Such is the charm of reminiscing over cricket, and of having bygone scorecards on hand in this age of digital wizardry. Just another reason why I love cricket.