I couldn’t wait for Christmas 1982 to arrive. I had a sneaky feeling that Santa might be dropping off ‘Test Match Cricket’ a game advertised on TV by legendary cricketer Freddy Trueman. With its green hexagonal pitch and white boundary ‘fence’ it looked fabulous. From the moment I saw the advert, I had my heart set on this cricket game.
The designers of Test Match Cricket had produced a rather ingenious table top version of the sport. Fielders – some crouching - could ‘catch’ the ball between their feet, not quite cricket but it worked. The ball incidentally was a ball-bearing, silver not red, but you can’t have everything. I always meant to paint the fielder’s white faces a suitable skin tone, but never quite got round to it.
But the real genius of TCM lay in the bowler and batsman; the former bowled by way of a chute down which the ball would speed when the arm was raised. Skilled operators could even put a touch of ‘spin’ on the ball by swerving the chute while in motion!
As for the batsman, early models operated by pulling back a string attached to the bat which was connected to the shoulders. It really looked like the batsman was taking a swing at the ball. Later, the manufacturers improved the batsman mechanism. In fact, they improved the tension to such an extent hitting boundaries became a little too easy.
Runs were scored depending on which segment of the pitch the ball ended up in. I seem to recall that should the ball hit the white ‘fence’ i.e. a boundary, then that was a 4. Given that the action took place on the ground – no bouncing balls in this game – hitting a 6 was an impossibility. I wonder if anyone ever managed it?
So, on Christmas morning I tore the wrapping paper off the box I suspected contained TMC. It was packaged in a large box which depicted Mr Trueman playing the game with a couple of excitable kids. Crude almost by today’s standards, it’s amazing to think the effect this game had on me. I couldn’t wait to play!
Setting up was easy. No sooner had I opened the box than I had my own little Oval set up on my bedroom floor. Test Match Cricket was a wonderfully, innovative game – arguably a much more satisfying experience than any of the numerous football games of the time e.g. Subbuteo or Super Striker. My favourite footie game was Chad Valley’s ‘Big League.’ Compared to its rivals, this was an addictive soccer game. The pitch was simply huge - as big as a bedspread.
Although a table top version of cricket might sound unfeasible in theory, as a fairly static sport it lent itself rather well to the toy industry. The sweeping, frenetic nature of soccer provided an insurmountable challenge to table top renditions, which explains why Subbuteo and Super Striker were so, well naff. (Oh, come on, they were pretty damned awful) What no tackling, headers? And as for Subbuteo Rugby . . . Oh dear.
But the best thing about TMC was surely the fact that, provided you curled yourself around the pitch in a C shape, you could operate both bowler and batsman simultaneously – it took but a little practice. I invented a whole county league championship, including players. Matches were all 40 overs, results recorded in neat little notebooks including county championship table! Yes, you really could play both sides. Eventually I selected the best players to represent England against the Aussies . . .
Oh, those long-ago nights when I would happily go to bed early – much to my parent’s surprise. I couldn’t wait to get upstairs, switch on my bedside lamp and lose myself in the latest floodlit Ashes epic. I could stay up till the early hours totally immersed in this game.
Occasionally I’d come upstairs to find Snoopy, our little Yorkshire Terrier, had left a ‘present.’ I’d always thought dogs were colour blind – and maybe they are – so perhaps it wasn’t the green that attracted him, but the soft, spongey texture of the pitch. Cricket on velvet.
Test Match Cricket is right up there with my all-time favourite childhood games, which include the Alan Ball-endorsed Soccerama – a football game without players, balls or goals – imagine that! I can still recall the day my old man plonked this battered box down in the lounge, which he’d got from a jumble sale. A football board game? My brother and I were intrigued.
I spent hours, months and maybe even years engrossed in Test Match Cricket and Soccerama, lost in my own little worlds. I was manager, selector, commentator, player, spectator. Wildly enjoyable and yet not a keyboard or screen in sight. Happy days.