Tales from the Boundary
"Cheer Up, Mr Cook"
Few of us retain the enthusiasm to chase around after sportsmen seeking their autographs once we progress beyond the stage of youthful hero worship. The last time I did so was in 1982 at Castle Park, Colchester, and my experience on that occasion convinced me that it would definitely be the last time I’d try it.
Essex were playing Leicestershire in a county championship match in August of that year and had the misfortune to come up against Nick Cook, their slow left-arm spinner, enjoying a rich vein of form. Doubtless buoyed by the decision to play the match on the strip used for the previous game, because overnight rain had seeped under the covers that were ‘protecting’ the prepared pitch, he was virtually unplayable: he took 6 wickets for a mere 17 runs in a total of 140. So impressed was I with this young man’s feat that I decided to seek him out for his autograph.
As I slowly ambled around the boundary’s edge the visitors started their reply. They were soon in trouble when Russell Cobb fell lbw without scoring in Norbert Philip’s first over. A few minutes later I reached the area in front of the pavilion where most of the Leicestershire players were sitting in deck chairs watching the game. I spotted my ‘hero of the day’, but was surprised to see him looking strangely forlorn. I edged my way through to him, congratulated him on his performance and asked if he would be good enough to sign my scorecard. He gave me a very old-fashioned look as though I had committed a cardinal sin, but duly obliged nonetheless. As I retreated I quietly asked one of his team-mates standing nearby if he was always that miserable when he took a hatful of wickets. “Think you’ve got the wrong chap”, he replied, “the lad who signed your card’s just been out for a duck!”