Sporting triumph at school is even sweeter than the smell of napalm in the morning

Quite possibly the greatest moment of my life so far — better perhaps even than pills in the late 1980s or riding to hounds on Exmoor or getting into Oxford or finding that the huge purple mite I’d discovered clinging to my left testicle during a cold bucket shower in the Western Sudan appeared not to have done any lasting damage — was watching Boy play cricket in a school house match the other week.

Like me, I’m half-proud to say, Boy is a total spaz at cricket. But I’m only half-proud to say it because obviously there’s another part of me that would love him to be captaining the first XI, like I dearly wish I’d done when I was at school. Good school cricketers, it’s true, are some of the worst people on earth: cocky and bullying but otherwise bland, humourless, tediously straight and generally quite thick. God, though, it must be magnificent while it lasts to be looked up to by everyone, including the masters, for such even now is the weird status of cricket at an English private school: the sport that trumps everything including wit, charm, intelligence or academic achievement.

Anyway, we’re hanging about on the edge of the field with Boy waiting to bat and it all comes flooding back. The hay fever. The extreme boredom. The lingering in the outfield making daisy chains and fantasising about when the Russians invade and having my very own Harrier Jump Jet hidden in a nearby hangar. Boy has been chosen to go in at number 7, which seems an accurate assessment of his abilities.

As his time draws closer, I give him a quick pep talk. ‘If you get less than 15 runs, you’re off TV for a week,’ I say. His friends think I’m joking. Then, as he puts on the hard hat that all schoolboy cricketers have to wear in these ’elf-n-safety-obsessed times, I give him a few tips I’ve picked up from my NLP guru. ‘Imagine you’re out there, hitting the most amazing shots. How does that make you feel? Now keep playing that scenario, with those feelings, over and over in your head.’ Boy gives me a look that goes: ‘Yeah right, Dad.’

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