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Cricket Tours
with Ralph Dellor

The story goes that Trevor Howard, a celebrated English actor, was so hooked on cricket that he insisted on a clause in his contracts that he would not be available for filming while there was a Test match being played in England. It was, therefore, no surprise when his wife, actress Helen Cherry, returned home one day to find a note on the kitchen table that read, simply, "Gone to the cricket."

What Howard had omitted to say was that the cricket in question was the fourth Test in Sydney! Cricket tours can have that effect on people.

Old Trafford
Melbourne Cricket Ground
.. or the MCG?

For anyone who enjoys travel and cricket, the idea of combining the two activities offers a marvellous prospect. This is especially the case when you think that overseas tours invariably take place in the off-season at home. So, this coming winter, a cricket-loving Englishman has a simple choice to make. Do I stay at home and suffer nothing but Manchester United on the television, the wrong sort of snow outside Croydon and grey, damp days, or do I trade in the M, C and g (Manchester, Croydon and grey - come on, keep up) for the MCG - Melbourne Cricket Ground?

There is no doubt about it, the world had shrunk with the advent of comparatively cheap air travel, and the once vague possibility of spending a couple of weeks in Australia or South Africa is now a distinct option. It is just that, if you are going, I strongly advise you to give your wife a little more notice than Trevor Howard did. You never know, she will probably want to come with you even if she loathes cricket.

There was once a cricket correspondent of a Fleet Street newspaper who gave up the job because he felt that, geographically, it was too restrictive and he wanted to use his job as a journalist to see the world. To be fair, at that time, he would have spent his winters on an endless treadmill of Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, West Indies, India and Pakistan. Poor chap!

Speaking as someone whose cricket involvement has taken me to 22 different countries around the world, I think it is fair to say that times have changed. The possibilities now are endless, and so rewarding. It is not just the cricket, which can be marvellous in itself, but the people, the culture and the wealth of experiences that come from these visits.

To have seen the game being played in developing countries where there are incredible difficulties to be overcome before even a simple game can take place, to the grandeur of a world cup final or a Test match played in one of the cricket world's great arenas, puts it all into perspective.

In the old days, when travel was by ship and train, cricket tours must have been even more enchanting. The pace was so much slower that it allowed time to see more of the countries visited. Certainly the complaint from the players nowadays is that they see the airport on the way in to a venue, the hotel, the cricket ground and the airport on the way out. Travelling supporters do not have to adopt quite such a regimented routine and they do get opportunities to take in rather more.

Even as a working journalist on tour, there have been chances to build relaxation and hedonism into the schedule. What a waste to be in Africa and not go on safari. How disappointing not to immerse yourself in the culture of Asia. And how inexcusable not to indulge in the pleasures of Australasia or the Caribbean. This is not the time or the place to, metaphorically, show you my touring photographs, but rest assured that there is more to touring than watching Ashley Giles bowl a maiden over.

There are so many possibilities to enjoy the country. If I can just show you one snap from an England A tour of Australia, you can appreciate how it is possible to expand your horizons beyond the cricket.

As a freelance, I had to make my own arrangements for travel and accommodation and to do so as cheaply as possible. Nobody was giving me a fat expense account as I was just getting paid for work done for a number of outlets and had to have the income column reading more than the expenditure column at the end of the tour.

The players and some of the travelling press corps travelled everywhere by air. I hired a car and drove. The distances were sometimes vast, but it did give the chance to see rather more of the country and to put a plus entry in the experience column that does not appear on most balance sheets.

There was one occasion when we finished a match in Canberra and had to move on to Sydney. It was probably no further than driving from London to Manchester. On the way I went through Bowral and took the opportunity to call in at the Bradman Museum. It was fascinating and I spent a full three hours there. When I arrived in Sydney and told of a pleasant day's drive and the Bowral experience, one of the players said "Yes, we flew over Bowral." They had got to their destination quickly. I had arrived in the same place a little later but with a memory for life.

Of course, it is not just overseas tours that make travel and cricket such natural partners. There is a lot to be said for travelling round England watching cricket. Whatever some might like to say, it is a wonderful existence to go round visiting different county grounds and experiencing the unique atmosphere of each and every one. The same applies to Test cricket.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that a day spent watching Test cricket in Leeds is the same as watching it in Nottingham. It is not even the same in the same city. Ask someone who has been to The Oval and someone who has been at Lord's. Because the grounds are not identical concrete bowls, they have character - and characters in the crowd.

At a more lowly level, there are club tours. Even with the growth in importance of the leagues, there is still usually one week a year when the club goes on its annual tour. The cricket might not be of a great standard at all times, but the social standard is usually world class. But even these might carry a government health warning.

Some years ago, I knew someone who got married for the second time. On arriving at their honeymoon hotel, he opened the boot of the car to take out the luggage and his new bride noticed his cricket bag in the boot. "Oh, I must have forgotten to take it out," he replied to her inquiry as to what it was doing there.

Then she noticed a familiar figure walking into the hotel. "Isn't that Brian - your friend from the cricket club?" "Yes, it did look like him, didn't it?" was the reply laced with suitable incredulity. It was only a little later that she discovered it had been Brian from the cricket club. Not unreasonable either, bearing in mind the cricket club were staying in the same hotel on the annual tour. It will come as no surprise to learn that the marriage did not last. But he did not make the same mistake the next time. Or the time after that.

Travel, when undertaken in connection with cricket, does not only broaden the mind. It can even broaden the list of ex-wives.


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