In the 2022 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, Peter Hobday takes a nostalgic trip back in time upon discovering his old kit bag – Wisden writing competition 2021.
During lockdown, and contemplating moving house in a couple of years’ time, I look under the bed for items to get rid of, and find a large black bag labelled Gunn & Moore, long forgotten. I pull it out. The layer of dust betrays my infrequent cleaning, and its lack of use. My last match was when my elder daughter was a year old; she is about to go to university.
Suddenly, the years roll back as I slide the zip open, and once-familiar smells escape their long confinement. Leather. Sweat. Linseed oil. Dressing-room. I breathe it in, and close my eyes; my mind drifts away and recalls old sounds – the clatter of studs on the concrete floor, the laughter of team-mates’ mickey-taking, the silence of the changing-room when alone after dismissal.
Carefully folded on top of a pair of worn whites is a cream cable-knit sweater, ready for use in an April that never came again. As a young club cricketer, fed up with yet another edged boundary sailing unhindered between a pair of statuesque slips, I vowed to stop playing when my own lack of mobility made me a liability in the field. In what turned out to be my final season, I threw my shoulder out in August and, sticking with my decision, retired when I found it hadn’t recovered the following spring.
Back to the contents of the bag. Bat: a Gray-Nicolls Powerspot, well taped, the one that scored my only century, in 1998. Mostly off the edge, according to my more talented brother. In my hand, it still feels familiar: light and nicely balanced. I shape up, and imagine the opening bowler running in at me. I move back and across and, in my mind’s eye, that’s another push through the covers to the boundary. Helmet: worn at my wife’s insistence after the day I top-edged into my face, leaving blood on the pitch, and retired hurt for a visit to the minor injuries unit and stitches above my eye; inside the helmet are gloves, shiny with soaked-in sweat. Pads: still quite firm and new, the last kit I bought. Boots: marked with specks of mud from my last game in that final September.
Rummaging around, I find other oddments: a ball, some extra studs, and of course the vital box. From my spare shirt flutters an envelope with ten other names making up the team when I last stood in as captain. I can still remember nine of them: probably a Saturday Third XI, and a bit short of batting, by the look of it.
I replace everything as neatly as I found it, and slide the bag back under the bed. I may yet come out of retirement for one last hurrah. I’m only 54, and still fit, even if I can’t throw. I may even field in the slips.
Peter Hobday is an IT Consultant and former adhesive Second XI opening batsman for clubs in Surrey and Essex, whose team-mates preferred to read their newspapers than watch him bat