Last week, I passed the Officer's Club at Aldershot. It looked magnificent in the painterly autumn light; its white brick pavilion worthy of a county ground, the long covers and the golden trees the only reminder that summer has gone.
It's actually two grounds, a small nursery separated from the main pitch by a long terrace. I played there as a very young batsman, co-opted into a police side by a neighbour. All I remember about the game is an intense determination to still be batting at tea, which was probably about twenty minutes away when I got in. I desperately wanted to know what it felt like to be one of the not out batters. I made it, and kept my pads on at the table. That's how not out I was.
Not far from there, also on army land, was an old shed with nets in it that we used in winter. It was always cold; a floor of hard, polished wooden boards with mats laid over the top. Bowlers had room for their full run, and because of the surface, got a fast, skidding bounce, not steep but rapid.
There, I tasted real pain for the first time. One of the bowlers was a couple of years older, a decent, slingy quick with a fast arm. The surface was made for him. One day I inside-edged a short one into the fleshy part of my thigh. It hurt so much I actually couldn't breathe for a minute. Two balls later, he did it again, on the exact same spot. It felt like a knife blade going in. You could see the stitches of the ball in the bruise mark, which went from groin to knee, a glowing black in the middle, going through all degrees of purple out to yellow at the edges. I can almost feel it now.