Old Pro

The Cheltenham College cricket ground is a very British type of idyll. Not the village green of a million rustic fantasies, but the epitome of the Victorian public school playing field. Flanked by the school's chapel, it is an arena born of the ideal of muscular christianity which the British, for good or ill, took to the world.

On a weekday in July, with the sun streaming from an azure sky and a light breeze taking the edge off the heat, this, for the cricket lover, is as good as it can possibly get.

And, for Gloucestershire's cast of young pros, it represents a release from the barren characterlessness of the north Bristol suburbs, a chance to play in front of a large and appreciative crowd, and, even if they do not know it, an opportunity to connect with history.

Grace played here, Hammond played here, Graveney and Procter and Zaheer played here. Hundreds of other county cricketers have played here. Christ, this is a place.

With Northants dying a prolonged but terminal death in the field in the face of a withering assault by Gloucestershire's young all-rounder Jack Taylor, it is hard, as he patrols the boundary and tries in vain to stem the flow of runs, not to contemplate the thoughts of Stephen Peters.

Stephen Peters is 36 years old now. Once upon a time, when he made a century in the final of the Under-19 World Cup in 1998, he was, briefly, a kind of star. There were expectations, ultimately unfulfilled. His long career in the game has been spent exclusively on the county circuit. For his native Essex, in the shadow of the cathedral at Worcester, and, latterly, at Wantage Road in Northampton. Somewhere along the line he has undergone the metamorphosis from promising youngster to old pro.

But, while members of the crowd have the privilege of descending into reverie, Peters is unable to do so. Having been dismissed without scoring in his side's first innings, he knows that he will be on a pair when he eventually bats again. When he does, with his side facing a deficit of 126, Gloucestershire's coltish and impressive young seamer, Craig Miles, rips one through his defences before he has had a chance to settle. He has his pair, his part in the game is done, and his side too is not long for the match. By the end of the day they have lost, badly.

Not very far away, on the other side of the Welsh border, England and Australia have spent the day locked in combat in the first of the summer's Ashes Tests. The sights, sounds, colours and throbbing intensity of a Test match are things which Peters will never know now, for it is late in his time in the game.

He has never engaged the thoughts of his country's selectors, but, for nearly twenty years, places like this, on days like this, have been his place of work. True, there have been cold days at Derby and Leicester, grey days watching the rain too, but the opportunity to play, even if just once, in a setting such as this and get paid for doing so, is a far richer experience than most of us will ever, ever have.

At the moment, such sentimentality will be far from his mind. But, in time, he will value these experiences for what they have been.

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