Thursday, 1 May 2014

Low-level Cricket

For many years I took part in a "lads-and-dads" cricket team which played occasional matches in the evenings and at weekends. Some of the players were genuinely talented, others were not, and took part solely to make up the numbers. These, of course, are the ones I remember best.

We won a few matches; others we lost. Our most alarming moment came when we had a fixture at Keele University. We found the pitch occupied by a team of gigantic West Indians: one looked exactly like Clive Lloyd; another looked exactly like Charlie Griffith. They were hurling a ball around at 100 miles per hour and snatching it out of the air. They took one look at our motley crew and burst out laughing. "Oh, man, we're not playing you, are we?" they chortled in disbelief. It turned out they'd gone to the wrong pitch. We weren't half relieved. At the opposite level of ability, we once played against a team who did not possess the standard white kit. We never found out all their names, so our score-book contained entries like "Bowled Brown Trousers"

Aran, an Indian, impressed us at the start because he had an M.C.C. coaching certificate, but our favourable impression waned when we actually saw him play. For an enthusiastic sportsman, he was quite the slowest on his feet I have ever come across. Once when I was at the non-striker's end when he was batting, the ball eluded the wicket-keeper and I called him for a bye. He moved so slowly that fine leg had time to throw to the bowler's and and run him out. He was furious. "It is never the non-striker who calls for a run! It is always the striker!" he berated me, incorrectly. On another occasion he contrived to tread on his own hand whilst attempting a sweep shot and decided to retire hurt. He was scathing of the way I held the ball for bowling an off-break, telling me I'd never get it to turn. But the only time I saw him bowl was in a practice knock-around. Tony, who was a strong batsman, tended to dispatch anything on his pads into the trees; but when Aran bowled, Tony said the ball came through the air so slowly, and with so little rotation, that he could read the maker's name on it. Tony simply hadn't the heart to smash this bowling, and played every delivery with an exaggeratedly-correct forward defensive stroke. "Well, at least I kept him quiet!" said Aran afterwards.

My principle, when I was captain, was less to ensure a win than to make sure everyone who had volunteered to take part should get a chance to do something. Thus those who could bowl well might have to bat after the non-bowlers, and any volunteering would always be accepted. This sometimes led to odd results. Geoff had played very little recent cricket, but wanted to have a go at bowling. His first delivery, right-handed,was a wide. He then switched to the left hand: another wide. Finally he abandoned these attempts and said he would have to complete the over bowling underarm. Result: more wides! I don't think he played again.

Bill was no cricketer, but such an entertaining character when sober that it was always worthwhile picking him. He generally had difficulty in pushing up his batting average for the season to more than about 2. In one match he was told it was essential for him to defend his wicket as long as possible and not to bother about scoring runs. This suited Bill's unusual defensive procedure, which was to ignore any ball wide of the stumps; staying completely motionless at the crease and not even deigning to pick up his bat. He found this could be quite demoralizing for the bowler. On this occasion, Bill followed the instructions for some time, until eventually he received a ball which actually bounced twice before it reached him. Bill thought he was justified in having a swipe at it, and was duly caught. Once when Bill was bowling it occurred to him that the non-striker might have ventured out of his ground, and calculating there wasn't the time to turn and look, he held the ball behind his head and performed a back-dive into the stumps, driving them violently against the umpire's shins. Bill looked upwards amidst the wreckage with a smile on his face and enquired, "Oh, by the way, umpire: how's that?" First slip was so convulsed with laughter that he actually fell over. I used to have a photograph of Bill executing a square cut, which would not have been out of place in a coaching manual, so perfect was his position; but a spoilsport friend who also knew Bill asked whether there was any reason to believe that the bat had actually made contact with the ball. When I discussed this with Bill, he told me how he once overheard a conversation between two fielders while he was batting:- "He's only got one stroke". "He hasn't even got that!"

Most cricket is played at a much higher level than this, but we could hardly be bettered for entertainment value.  

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