Help me make it through the night: the twilight world of an Ashes Guerilla

It’s been a long time since Gary Naylor felt a throbbing between his legs at 2 o’clock in the morning. But when a Guerilla Cricket all-night Ashes calls, he can’t wait to mount his mean machine and fire it up towards Guerilla Towers in south-east London. And he knows, as he sets off, he’ll soon be happily operating in “cricket time”.

The classic way to get off to sleep is to count sheep – so that’s imagining white objects moving in repeating patterns on grass with a little gate in the distance, to the accompaniment of numbers ticking over. Which might explain why so many doze at the cricket too – well, that and the lunchtime gin and tonics.

As the calendar flicks over to another Ashes series in Australia, Guerilla Cricket are girding their loins for the first all-nighters since the whitewash of 2013-14, a depressing end to the existence of forerunner Test Match Sofa, which once went on air from 9.30pm until 11.30am the next day as New Zealand v England in Wellington segued into India v Australia in Mohali. On Red Nose Day, which fell in the middle of those series, the Sofa followed through in daylight hours to cover South Africa v Pakistan, a 38-hour commentary marathon.

This Looking Glass world, in which day becomes night thanks to the 24-hour Tesco round the corner and a worldwide Tweeting listenership for whom it’s always mid-afternoon for someone. And it does strange things to your Guerilla Cricket commentary team – your writer included.

Bewitching hours: everyone seems to have morphed into guests from the Jeremy Kyle show

Two Tests in the coming series start in the early hours of the morning UK time – 3.30am for the day/nighter at Adelaide, 2.30 for Perth – so as everyone else snoozes, I’ll swing a leg over the motorcycle and hear the familiar throb of its engine remind me that I need to concentrate. Two foxes as thin as Sikhander Bakht scamper away either side of the road to fling more rubbish about and our cat casts me a disapproving look for my invasion of its time to be out lording it. The cold air does its job and I’m 100 per cent awake by the time I’ve reached Tooting High Street.

London looks fantastic at this hour. Open all-night shops, fronted by fruit and vegetables, pass by in peripheral vision; street lamps’ cold light is reflected by wet tarmac; buildings glow, illuminated by spots cleverly placed for exactly that effect. And the river glints as it wobbles silently, something both in time and outside time, a ribbon of nature in a world of artifice.

If London looks fantastic, Londoners don’t. Half-standing, half-falling the patrons of nightclub are looking for taxis, fast food and that girl or boy they said they would meet outside. And they’re doing this very, very loudly indeed. Everyone seems to have morphed into guests from the Jeremy Kyle Show. I remember that I was one of their throng not so long ago and spike the Daily Mail editorial beginning to unwind in my mind.

After the usual anxiety about whether anyone has heard me ring the bell, I’m into Guerilla Towers, and – as ever, whether day or night – the first thing I’m told is the score. For some of the team who have arrived earlier, it’s still last night and there might be a beer or glass of wine at hand. For others, like me, it’s this morning and time for an extra-strong coffee, the first of half a dozen in the day.

To someone growing up in the Seventies, the TV screen is too big, too bright and too packed with information but the eyes squint and get used to it and a gloriously blue Brisbane or Adelaide sky is on camera and I slip into “cricket time”.

“Cricket time” is something we all share at Guerilla – it’s the rhythm of a Test match day. No matter the actual hour in London the morning session requires the batsmen to get a start against fresh bowlers, a new or newish ball to be countered and a judgement to be made about which side has had the better start come the first drinks break.

Stalwart UK-based Tweeters are up with us and complaining of sore heads or their own madness in rising so early – or not going to bed; overseas Tweeters are cracking jokes or making pithy observations for which my mind isn’t quite up to speed. But the outside world has now slipped away completely and the magic of satellite broadcasting and internet has brought a community of friends to follow the cricket. It’s almost St John’s Wood – with a lot of additional wires.

Virtual cricket

Virtual cricket: the magic of satellite TV, like St John’s Wood but with extra wires

If you’re lucky, you’ll get something spectacular to talk about – a debut Ashes ton for Mark Stoneman that will still be spoken about in a hundred years’ time – but often it’s the ordinariness of Test cricket that catches the eye. There are the singles consistently taken to the man too deep at mid-on, David Warner’s ever-changing facial hair, Steve Smith’s fidgeting at the crease. Tweets take the conversation forward, adding humour and challenge to those of us privileged to have a mic in hand. Runs are scored, wickets are taken, words, words, words are spoken.

Shockingly soon, the 90 overs are up and the match has been re-shaped by its heroes and villains. It’s only just breakfast-time in London and the roads are busy and noisy and, after the night-time ride, too familiar and too dull. I look at the people and wonder what they’re doing tomorrow morning.

And I wonder if it’ll be one hundredth as much fun as being in a virtual cricket world with virtual cricket friends having virtual cricket conversations.

It won’t.

This article is adapted from one first published on 99.94 with permission.