Catherine Zeta Jones, Michael Vaughan and me

Do you know how many times I’ve been asked to tell the tales of my cricketing life?

To talk of the games I’ve played in, the famous players I’ve met?
Not once.
What’s wrong with you people?
Aren’t you even the merest bit curious at how I once got thrown out of a net session with Graham Gooch? How I once shared an uncomfortable lift ride with Shane Warne and a very suspicious smell? How I bowled Michael Vaughan first ball while a young Catherine Zeta Jones watched from the boundary edge?

Obviously not.
But it’s too late now.
You’re here and I’m standing between you and the door. So read on as I recount Kemp’s life in cricket in this first in a (possible ) series of blogs…

Initially, incredibly, I achieved some minor cricketing success in my youth. Really.
A youth, it must be said, that seems as long ago now as the Industrial Revolution.
I was as thin as a racing snake and my hair as luxuriant and as bountiful as a post-salon visit Sidey Sidebottom.
Now, when it takes me a good couple of rocks to lift me up out of the sofa and the bonce gleams like a newly boiled egg, all I have is my memories.

Memories like the time I was first selected to represent Middlesex.
It’s true!
This obviously came as quite a shock to me. And to my team mates. I was hopelessly out of my depth. I had only really played village cricket before- me: a very keen kid with no real friends and an unhealthy obsession with cricket; the rest of the team: world-weary men around the age of retirement who probably just wanted to get away from their wives for an afternoon.

I got the feeling I was only picked for Middlesex as the coach of the under-16s seemed to take a rather curious shine to me. None of the rest of the team did. The coach once told me that I reminded him of a young Simon Hughes. I imagined he meant I had a bit of pace and zip about my bowling and good cricketing sense, so it came as a bit of a blow when he continued “yes, he had a habit of irritating everyone on tour too”

But still the coach picked me. Including that fateful day that I was to bowl at a young Michael Vaughan.
Now, as I said, I wasn’t really good enough to be playing in a team that included the future Oasis Shah, and the players would look at me with undisgusied contempt as yet another ball trickled through my legs for four, but I don’t think the coach- a man well BEYOND retirement age- really cared about all that. In fact, the only advice I ever remember him giving us was one day at Northampton when he stood at the dressing room door and said “Big game tomorrow lads, big game. I want all of you at your best. So…boxing gloves on in bed tonight, eh lads?”
I had to ask the wicketkeeper, who looked to have the beginnings of a goatee, what he meant by this.

Anyway, we were playing against Yorkshire in a beautiful field somewhere in the Dales.
I spent most of the game down at fine leg, hands in pockets, taking in the scenery really.
When a couple of wickets fell there was a mumur in the mid-pitch huddle.
“Good player, the next bloke in. I don’t fancy bowling at him”
“Me neither. I hear he takes you to the cleaners”
“I’m not bowling at him. Think of my average”
By the time I’d sauntered up from the boundary, whistling away, a decision had been made.
“Kemp, you’re on next over”
So this is how I got to bowl at the future one-time “No 1 batsman in the World”

As Vaughan took guard and I rubbed the cherry furiously on my backside, trying to look the part, I noted the field seemed to have set themselves back rather deep. I could hardly see them they were so far back on the boundary rope.
As I peered myopically into the distance, trying to spot my man on the sweep, I did notice something very odd.
It appeared that Catherine Zeta Jones was sat on a bench out there, waiting to see my first delivery.
I later found out that the Darling Buds of May was being filmed in a field over the way, but the whole thing was really beginning to take on a surreal aspect.

I waved fine leg round a bit. Just for something to do really.
I started my run up- always too long. Trying to impress. I always marked out a run up that left me knackered before I’d even passed the umpire.
I leapt into my action.
Planted my front foot down.
And sent down a PEACH of a delivery. Fast, swinging, just catching the seam and jagging inwards. Vaughan didn’t stand a chance. The stumps were splayed like an over-elaborate flower arrangement.
Clean bowled.

After an understandable moment of stunned silence, I was mobbed.
Never again would I be so lauded in my cricketing career. Zeta Jones even looked like she was weighing up the idea asking me out on a date.
Life couldn’t get any better.

Fast forward 10 years and my cricketing career had ground to a halt, and as with everyone who fails at playing the game, I’ve started to write about it.
I’ve been sent to interview Michael Vaughan on his appointment as England cricket captain.
I get to Lords and am told that Vaughan is running a bit late. I repair to the Lord’s Tavern and wait for the call.
40 minutes and 4 pints go by, suddenly my phone rings.
“Michael is ready for you now. Hurry up!”
I sprint round to the pavilion, arriving out of breath, over-weight and smelling of the pub.
Also, due to an unfortunate earlier holiday incident where the bald pate had caught the sun and I’d rubbed a cream with a tanning agent into it, my head has turned a luminous shade of bright orange.

I’m again eye to eye with my old adversary (or rather not as Virgil has grown a good foot taller while I seem to have stayed stunted at 5 foot not much).
“Remember me?” says the orange headed, wheezing journalist.
“No? I once bowled you middle stump…”

I suppose, thinking about it, the best way to sum up the look was probably.. withering.


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