Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and boredom makes the mind work overtime. And so, with the sort of logical progression that makes sense only in these curious times, I found myself spending the first fortnight of lockdown hunched over a cardboard box, flinging ping-pong balls at my cat.
Initially it was an idea to keep the kids moderately amused for half an hour (or at least that's how I justified it to myself), but it soon spawned an unwieldy life of its own, involving YouTube rabbit holes, racked memory banks, and an increasingly bemused moggy.
So it all stemmed, of course, from the original #CatCricket clip - a stunning leg glance from Chris Lee's box-bound kitty, picking the ball up from outside off, playing so late and so true with savage timing and a spring-loaded paw, away through backward square.
I've invented a game of "cat cricket".— Chris Lee (@CMRLee) March 14, 2020
My cat has to defend the box from my ping pong ball.
If the ball hits the cardboard, that's a point to me.
If she bats it away that's a point to her.
First to ten wins.
Just look at that leg glance... #Caturday pic.twitter.com/FBAUGYbND2
The purity of that stroke got me wondering about our own pet cat, Lola, who, for as long as we have had her, has displayed no discernible skills, other than an ability to fit into any size of cardboard box, and a talent for imperious, withering disdain.
Might she, however, be tempted to cuff away an incoming projectile in a Ranji-esque manner, and thereby become the only thing that I'd like to go viral from within the Miller household? After all, she is possessed of a foul and sadistic temper - as all good attacking batsmen should be - so if she could only imagine that the ball was my forearm, she'd no doubt latch onto it like a Ricky Ponting pull shot.
But she is also a cat. And cats are perverse, individualistic, and acutely attuned to doing precisely the opposite of what you might hope or expect of them. And so, having successfully lured her into the first of many cat-traps littered around the house, and with the kids looking on with interest at this early stage, Lola duly watched a range of deliveries zip, swing, scuttle and roll gently past her box, and under her nose, with a look that conveyed pity as much as contempt.
The girls got bored within seconds and went back to nagging for screen time, but as I looked back at the first burst of videos on my iPhone, there was a seed of recognition in the midst of a ream of wasted memory. One delivery in particular stood out - as it curled, ever so gently, from outside the line of Lola's off stump (as it were), to thump the front edge of the cardboard with pleasing subtlety.
Sure enough, I had unwittingly recreated the one YouTube clip that I would download and save in the event of a zombie apocalypse: Simon Jones' sensational inswinger to a dumbfounded Michael Clarke at Old Trafford in the 2005 Ashes.
As far as I am concerned, everything about that original clip is perfection: the delivery itself, a vignette of the extreme bowling skill that sealed the greatest series of my lifetime. The "splut" of the stump being ejaculated from the turf (yes, I've used that line before but, goddammit, if that ball is not better than sex, then I don't know what is). And then there's Mark Nicholas's peerless staccato voiceover: "That. Is. Very. Good!" A self-fulfilling declaration if ever there was one.
Gadzooks. Hose me down!
And so, that moment right there is where a fun family project veered off into something more… niche. The kids may tolerate cricket, and they certainly love tormenting the cat, but the subtleties of grainy YouTube inswingers are as lost on them as TikTok dances are on me. And besides, they got all the amusement they were craving after realising that a cry of "Dad, the cat's in a box!" (whether it was true or not) was the most effective means of getting my attention that they'd ever come up with.
So, armed with a rudimentary knowledge of iMovie, a catatonically reluctant lead actress, and a tenuous but (in my line of work) oddly plausible excuse to skive off from homeschooling, I set to work on my short-lived #CatCricket project.
For a while I was obsessed with recreating Shane Warne's Ball of the Century, but perhaps not surprisingly, a satisfactory combination of Warne's drift to leg, massive rip to off, and pinpoint stump-thumping accuracy proved elusive - especially against the less-than-willing Mike Catting in my sights.
I even tried a range of different artillery to make it happen. Tennis balls bounced too much, and tended to send Lola packing after one take. Foam balls were better, and not too bad for replicating the drift either, but again, one misdirected flipper and she'd be off to sulk in her trailer for the rest of the shoot. Squash balls proved too skiddy, and ping pongs too hard to control, although she did seem to tolerate them for longer (which was a lesson learnt and stored away for later).
But then, I realised, incompetence is far easier to replicate than excellence, and so I ditched the Warne idea, and instead set up a couple of stools at first and second slip, and rolled a squash ball straight to the latter. In one simple shot, I had nailed Steve Harmison's infamous wide in Brisbane in 2006-07, and the fact that Lola was staring out of the window at the crucial moment made it (to my easily amused mind, at least) a pleasingly arthouse version.
Carl Hooper's grubber to Nasser Hussain in Trinidad in 1998 was a similarly simple retrofit, likewise Andrew Flintoff's caught-behind at Auckland in 2001-02 when he missed the ball by something close to a foot. But with Lola still determined not to play a single shot in anger, the joke was likely to start wearing thin ("start?" Ed) if I didn't find a new angle forthwith.
Fortunately, our national obsession with all things toilet roll swiftly opened up a new avenue - the DRS review re-enactment! By sneaking up on Lola while she was waiting to be fed in the kitchen, I was able to relive Moeen Ali's hat-trick delivery against South Africa in 2017, as well as Graeme Swann's shocker to Chris Rogers at Lord's in 2013, and - after an obligatory trawl through the aisles of @robelinda2's cricket-clip emporium - a humdinger of a failed review from the greatest lbw candidate of them all, the one and only Shane Watson.
For directorial satisfaction, however, nothing quite rivalled the recreation of Robin Smith's duel with Courtney Walsh in Antigua in 1989-90, as immortalised in the opening credits of Fire in Babylon. This was the moment the ping-pong ball came into its own, as Lola - so hard-as-nails I could weep with pride - stared down a savage fast-bowling barrage with barely a flinch, even taking in her stride Tony Greig's immortal line, "that may have broken (her) jaw", as well as Geoff Boycott's sadistically gleeful commentary over the slo-mo replay - "Oh yes, that is a fine, aggressive, nasty delivery!"
Truth be told, I was already struggling to top that when a new player, Adrian Mirfakhrai, strode into town with a blockbusting set piece that I could not begin to rival - Ben Stokes' winning boundary at Headingley last summer, played out in an arena of jubilant condiments, with a bag of (Pat) Cum(m)in(s) as the bowler, a boiled egg with glasses at the non-striker's end, and three crestfallen pots of Vegemite in the stands. And involving, crucially, a cat that had been coaxed (after numerous out-takes) into finally playing a shot. Definite proof, if ever there was, that it's a batsman's game.
#HomeTasking - Task 5️— Adrian Mirfakhrai (@AdyMirf) April 2, 2020
Ben Stokes (Loki the Cat) for England vs Australia in the Ashes at Emerald Headingley 2019. @YorkshireCCC @englandcricket @benstokes38 @AlexHorne @gdavies @taskmaster #HomeTasking5 #Ashes pic.twitter.com/2pVecoQlxd
The game was up (although I shall treasure my wife's arched eyebrow of recognition as Ady's masterpiece was given the big build-up on BBC News). My bolt was shot. And Lola was still bored witless. Long live the king of #CatCricket. I've got the rest of lockdown to find myself a new hobby.