Paul Edwards sees in the New Year with another tale.
It is, after all, merely a tick of the clock.
The slightest of sounds, one which is noticed only in a room's great silence, prompts fireworks, singing and dancing in the street. Our planet begins another orbit around the sun and new calendars are pinned to walls. People talk of resolutions - then have another drink to stiffen their resolve. Diaries are unwrapped; there is looking back and gazing forward. Families gather and reflect before - most of them, anyway - surrendering to the general kerfuffle of midnight.
Unless one is on tour overseas, English cricket can seem somewhat entombed at times like this. This bright January morning it is 108 days since the most recent domestic first-class season ended and 99 before the next one begins. Unlike in Australia, Christmas and the New Year are not important times for the game: county players extend unspoken sympathies to professional footballers and then beetle off in search of another mince-pie and a glass of something fortifying.
Yet we are deceived if we think that nothing is happening.
When he was appointed the Welsh Rugby Union's first artist-in-residence the poet, novelist and playwright Owen Sheers asked to be allowed to sit alone in the Millennium Stadium as 2011 ended.
"I got in there at about 10.45pm and recorded some thoughts on my iPhone," he said. "It felt special to be at the heart of Welsh rugby, in a stadium built for 70-odd thousand people, on my own. I wanted to soak up the sense of preparation and anticipation. Everything in the game works towards these very few dates in the calendar.”
Inspired by what he had felt and seen, and by another Welsh poet R.S. Thomas, Sheers wrote a poem full of wonders and wondering Song at the Year’s Turning - After R.S. Thomas - The Millennium Stadium Cardiff, Midnight, New Year’s Eve 2011/2012. It begins as follows:
"The firework’s cannon-echo fades, the rocket’s falling star decays/as first with seconds, then with minutes the year begins to carve its ways."
Anyone who has sat in an empty cricket ground on the evening before a game has probably felt something of what Sheers suggests in his marvellous poem. Cricket is not a game of physical contact but it is rarely devoid of physical challenge. The smallest venue becomes an arena when a fast bowler is back at his mark. Likewise, while a county may use its home ground far more frequently than Wales employ Cardiff, there remains a sense of occasion in almost all sports, even the ubiquitous soccer. Lancashire's first team will play at Old Trafford on a maximum of 38 days next season.
But as Sheers makes plain, rarity only sharpens anticipation. In 2013 there will be an Ashes Test at Old Trafford for the first time in eight years and a county match at Southport for just the second time in 14 summers. Probably only the security staff will be able to tell us anything about the atmosphere at Lancashire's home on New Year's Eve but it was beguiling to walk a circuit or two of Southport and Birkdale's ground in the crepuscular light of yesterday afternoon.
One could place the various marquees and stalls on the ground and then envision the place, full to bursting, as it was in 2011. Perhaps Saeed Ajmal will be playing for Hampshire...maybe Lancashire will be pushing for promotion....or it could be that both sides will be near the top of the table. Such are the speculations that divert cricket people as the year turns.
Before long, though, the soaked turf and the darkness offered a reminder that winter has barely got into its stride. One's reverie was also interrupted by barking a shin on a misplaced bench, an incident that prompted some fairly unpoetic language. Even so, a combination of Owen Sheers's writing and an empty ground had been enough to kindle memory and embolden hope as our days lengthen ever so slightly.