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Bat, ball and family will sustain cricket

All you need is love: a father and son knock the ball about at Castle Ashby House Cricket Club Getty Images

Last Bank Holiday weekend I was on a small campsite that had three separate cricket games in progress. Family knockabouts, facilitated by those bargain picnic sets consisting of four stumps - which my ten-year-old niece would later arrange in a single row, so confident of her ability that she baited me with an extra stump target - a tennis ball and a thin bat, roused the campers from their deckchairs. I saw a granny fielding at silly mid-off, and three-year-old tyros swiping length balls over caravans.

Campsite cricket was the Bank Holiday sport of choice: gentle, good-humoured, a cheer for gran pouching a top edge, and for any contact made by the aunt with a bad leg. And in the midst of doom-laden news about declining county game attendances, and the ever-present threat to Test cricket, it seemed like we were partaking in an old-fashioned pastime. With one eye on my niece's six-or-out every ball swing, and another on the nearby ad hoc games, for once I was warmly optimistic about the future for grass-roots cricket.

Football is easier to set up, and anyone can chuck and catch a Frisbee. Yet here we all were doing that difficult thing called cricket. Even when most of the adults had sat down and given in to a cold beer, or lit the barbecue, many of the kids competed in their own mini-Tests until bad light, or a grilled burger, stopped play.

What each game did have in common was a family member of 40 years old or more. The boys and girls belting the ball into twilight probably hadn't spent their pocket money on a cricket set, and it was most likely an enthusiastic mum or dad who had decided on cricket as entertainment. How many of these families had bought cricket sets after watching a game on a pay-per-view channel, or on a buffering stream stolen off the internet, I don't know. But I'd bet that most were passing on the joys of cricket acquired in a halcyon era from their past.

Like many kids with a cricketing dad, I owe my love of the game to my father's passion. Before I watched Ian Botham swat Geoff Lawson into the stands at Headingley in 1981, I'd hooked a few tennis balls off my dad's bowling into next door's back garden. I loved the game long before I saw it on a screen, because it was a thing to do with my father.

Born and bred in the fertile cricketing grounds of Mansfield, within a cricket ball throw of Harold Larwood and Bill Voce, he grew up with a trusty Gunn & Moore bat in his hand from the day he could walk. And he has never really stopped playing. In his seventies now, last week, batting on a bumpy, uneven wicket against a tennis ball, he laced delivery after delivery through the covers.

"Prior to examining the severity of my father's fracture, the doctor examined the Gunn & Moore splints. And then swished, no doubt picturing his middled drives ricocheting off the theatre door"

When I twinged my back in a "proper" game the next day, I very nearly talked him into batting for me. I could see the glint in his eye, the promise of being out in the middle once more. And then common sense prevailed. That and the memory of him breaking his leg in the regional final of the 1980 National Village Cup.

He was halfway down the track, darting for a quick single when he was sent back. One set of spikes stuck, and the other slid. A calm, mild-mannered social worker during the week - I've only ever heard him swear in whites - he swore like a docker when his ankle cracked and the swooping fielder whipped off the bails. Luckily the opposition was a colliery club. Their pit medic took one look at my father's ankle and called for a stretcher, forgetting that the first-aid facilities were no more advanced than a bucket and sponge. However, several enterprising players cleared the tea table and jogged it onto the pitch.

Still, the medic wasn't happy about moving his patient without setting the joint. It looked like a nasty break, and he felt my father should stay on the wicket until the paramedics arrived. Then the skipper reminded the medic this was a knockout game, which they were winning, and that the grand final would be played at Lord's.

Using two bats and a roll of tape, the medic hastily bound my father's leg into a willow cast. Rolled onto the tea table by the helpful opposition, he was hoisted from the game. Meanwhile, the incoming batsman was nearly timed out. He couldn't find his bat - firmly attached to my father's leg as a splint, and so now speeding away in the ambulance.

After arriving at casualty and hearing the doctor was a keen cricketer, my father hoped for sympathy and professionalism. The doctor tutted at the run-out, and then cut away the tape and removed the bats. Now, as any cricketer understands, and perhaps only a cricketer understands, once an unfamiliar blade is lifted, the overriding instinct is to feel the pick-up and play a couple of air shots. Prior to examining the severity of my father's fracture, the doctor examined the Gunn & Moore splints. And then swished, no doubt picturing his middled drives skittering along the corridor and ricocheting off the theatre door.

These were both men of an era when love for the game was passed down viscerally. Hand to hand. In a backyard with a dad and a ball. Perhaps a couple of fielders invented out of things in the garden. If families play cricket together, the terrestrial versus satellite argument is less important. Kids will take up the game because it's fun. Not because of what's happening on a screen.

A day after the campsite cricket, hobbling, stiff and sore while my father seemed to bounce around, I tried to talk him into a try-out with the Nottinghamshire over-70s, a team he'd skip into on current form.