Former Gloucestershire Media sports writer of the year Rob Harris has been playing village cricket for nearly 40 years. In the second of three extracts from his book Won’t You Dance for Virat Kohli? an honest and funny account of sporting obsession, he recalls finding himself among a well-oiled and eccentric cast at England’s T20 showpiece at Edgbaston
Eric Hollies bowled fast leg spin for Warwickshire for 25 years and took over 2,000 wickets. However, his name lives on not because people remember his bowling, but because the stand bearing his name has become an infamous bear pit where opponents fear to tread and livers scream for mercy. Anyone who thinks cricket is dull and stuffy should be made to sit in the Hollies Stand for the duration of the T20 Blast Finals Day.
What makes a man choose to go for a day at the cricket dressed like a chicken? Or a nun? Or as Luigi, one half of the Super Mario Brothers? Or as a giant banana? The first time I went to a Blast Finals Day I found myself sat next to an articulate, well-spoken man dressed as a fox. He politely enquired if his tail was in my way and offered to keep it on his lap so it did not bother me. It was a very English conversation and I naturally told him not to worry as his tail wasn’t troubling me in the slightest, even though I found it hugely irritating. Rather than cause mild offence, however, I was prepared to sit there, being irritated, for eight hours or more.
I guessed this man was in his 30s but I could not be sure, because I never actually saw his face. His fox’s head stayed on throughout the day, though the mouth opening was large enough for him to suck copious amounts of lager through a straw. We made small talk for a while before the sound of a bugle interrupted our flow.
‘Excuse me, can we pause things there for a second?’ he enquired, before leaping out of his seat and charging like a wild animal around the inner perimeter of the stand, chased by a pack of assorted-shaped men dressed in the full red and white regalia of foxhunters, whipping themselves as they ran.
The rest of the stand turned its attention to the chase, willing Mr Fox to his freedom. Suddenly, the whole ground was buzzing and cheering on my friend the fox’s efforts to avoid being captured. His escape was being shown by Sky on the big screens and piped into family homes all over the cricketing world. What would they make of this in Bangladesh and Afghanistan?
On the field, the players temporarily stopped playing in order to watch a little imitation bloodsport in real time. My friend the fox was a fast mover and he eventually opened up a decent lead over the horseless leather-booted hunters to make it back to his seat.
I congratulated him on his survival as he swished me in the face with his tail and breathlessly thanked me, adjusting his genitals and snuggling into his seat to drink more lager through a straw. The foxhunters didn’t seem too bothered that he had gotten away and were now leading a procession of 20th and 21st century pop culture icons, as portrayed in fancy dress by working and middle-class heroes.
Strangest of all was a large, hairy trucker of a man in a Donald Trump mask and a flowing bridal gown, carrying red high-heeled shoes and a golden handbag in one hand and a pint of American Shipyard beer in the other. He looked happy, as if he had found his true and rightful place in life.
I wondered if he had someone waiting for him at home.
Tomorrow: Think Bob Willis on a ride-on lawnmower: the unique character of the club cricket groundsman
More information: pitchpublishing.co.uk
Yesterday : I’d seen Scum and knew I wouldn’t cut it in a dorm with Ray Winstone: how a post-match curry left me in a sweat