Written by Elizabeth Smith MSP on 17 December 2010 in Culture
The former Scottish international cricketer explains her love of the willow

On the day he left office, John Major went straight to the Oval to watch a cricket match. I remember thinking how totally relaxed and relieved he looked. All the stresses and strains of being PM seemed to have disappeared during the short journey across the Thames to the cricket ground where he had spent so much of his youth.

For Major, cricket is a passion and one about which he wrote so eloquently in his fine book More Than A Game published in 2007. It is my passion too and, more often than not, a wonderful tonic away from the rumbustious world of politics.

For me, the relationship with cricket began in my very early years. My father was an accomplished amateur player for a club side in Edinburgh and, along with being a junior school headmaster, he was also the master in charge of a schoolboys' 1st XI - a job he clearly loved just as much as being headmaster.

My mother, who was originally a teacher at the same school, was also interested in cricket and had established a well-deserved reputation for providing some of the best cricket teas in the country. As a result, I spent every Saturday and most Wednesday afternoons of my pre-school days parked on the boundary or in the nets picking up cricket balls. Apparently, even at this stage, I showed no fear of the hard ball and it was not long before I was dressed up in the full kit (looking ridiculous I suspect!), ready to bat and pretend I was the new Colin Cowdrey. I could recite the names of most of the test match sides in the late 1960s and 1970s and my first memories of watching television are those of the 1964 test matches in which the Ashes were retained by Australia.

As I grew up, cricket became a way of life. The game's spirit and traditions appealed to me just as much as the opportunity to develop my sporting instincts and my love of team games. Over the years, I have been enormously privileged to play, watch, umpire and coach cricket around the world, from the quintessential setting of an English village to the grounds of a French chteau; on the finest school grounds, to a dust track 12,000 feet up in the Himalayas.

I have seen some extraordinarythings: a groundsman, on all fours, making the finishing touches to his wicket with a giant pair of scissors, an opening batsman whose beard was so long that it had to be tucked inside his shirt (and it wasn't WG Grace!), a flock of seven sheep who munched through most of the cricket bags in a village club changing room and a publican who could still hold a straight bat after downing several pints of Scrumpy.

I have also met a range of county players and test match stars perhaps the most entertaining of whom was Sir Garfield Sobers who came to do a coaching masterclass in Edinburgh a few seasons ago. In the evening, I had the honour to reply on behalf of the guests at the dinner at which he was the speaker. All was going well until, after his excellent speech, a well-oiled member of the audience asked Sir Garfield if he could describe each of the record breaking sixes he had scored for Nottinghamshire against Glamorgan in 1968. Instead of responding, "two over long on, two over third man, one over long leg and one over deep point", he describedhow each ball was bowled, how the field was adjusted in each case and all the thought processes he went through. If the over had taken precisely four minutes to deliver, describing it took another 25 and so I finally got to my feet at 1am. Even politicians don't speak for that long!

Perhaps the best aspect of cricket for me, however, is that it has allowed me to work with young people. I have been coaching my own girls' team for 27 years, and I hope that in the years I have been an MSP, I have been able to use just some of my influence to help many other youngsters capture some of the magic of the game.

Liz Smith is the Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife. She won seven caps for the Scottish Women's cricket team between 1999 and 2001 and is currently working with ASDA to try to expand Kwik-Cricket in Scottish primary schools

Tags: Conservative, Cricket, Hinterland, Issue 31, Liz Smith

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