Indoor nets are a sanctuary where the promise of summer never dies. They are the residence of the eternal Saturday afternoon, of thoughts of long shadows and the thick orange glow of the August sun. In the depths of winter they are the only place the thirsting cricketer can go to hear the percussive crack of bat on ball. They are where memories are sustained and fresh hopes conceived.
It is between the meshing and the matted floor that stout bodies are prepared for their longest afternoons. There is the creaking of joints and unfurling of limbs, the fragile patter of feet searching for unfamiliar rhythms. Then come the misdirections and the apologies, the benign, accidental bouncers delivered by bewildered arms.
Each week’s allotted hour passes in increments, time registered only by the rotating cast of batsmen. The smack of leather on willow – an uneven symphony – blurs through the air. Plans are hatched, discussed and revised. Fitness, or what passes for it, is tested and reviewed in heaviness of breath or a shake of the head.
As the daffodils appear and the leaves emerge on the trees, the nets become less a stage for liberation than an oppressive stockade. Time drifts forward in anticipation of summer and the evenings become luminous. Precious days of sunshine come and go. The walls and the artificial lights of sports halls become a constraint, but they are what there is. Time moves as it does and we stand, buoyant and ambitious, on the precipice of a new summer.