Sooner or later we all fall prey to the pitfalls old cricket club sages warned us about. You know the kind of people? The unreconstructed types that played cricket every Saturday and Sunday for 40 years despite being married with 6 kids. When asked for their secret they’d simply reply that they “tell the wife, straight…”
These people are always a curious combination of Geoff Boycott’s boorish self-confidence laced with the pungent aroma of roll-ups and Ralgex. Try their aforementioned pearl of wisdom when you get home tonight. Come back tomorrow and tell me how you get on.
The wilier ones would slowly embroil their wives or partners into the fabric of the club. The odd tray of sandwiches slowly morphing into full responsibility for 100 overs of scoring every Saturday – a rather dexterous feat of skill and low cunning.
Unfortunately I failed to take heed of the old masters; therefore my own cricket career collapsed around the 2006 mark. There it may have lurked forever, being gradually enhanced by my own fractured memory and self-glorification. Greatness is an easy virtue to exude when it’s never challenged by the faintest dose of reality.
Anyway, about 6 weeks ago an email dropped into my work inbox trying to gauge interest in a staff cricket team (there’s a local T20 league we could join). The invitation itself should have been manna from heaven, however I approached the offer with a little trepidation – much like Mo Farrah might have reacted when asked to compete in a 60 metre dash.
You see, I can only play cricket at one speed. Opening the batting for my old club I was saddled with the unwanted nickname of “Geoffrey” due to my consistently careful approach at the crease – a name that stuck after I made a watchful 51* from a full 45 overs.
As a kid I always dreamt of being a fluent stroke maker but with limited natural ability I was ultimately forced to cut my cloth accordingly. Thus I was forever consigned to the critical yet boring role of anchor-man – minus the Ron Burgundy moustache.
My technique was set around a rock solid forward and backward defensive. I was adept at cutting anything that presented a hint of width and interspersing it with the odd nurdle down to Third man. This was combined with a reasonable pull-shot and a metronomic leg glance that whipped away anything on my pads. Unfortunately this was the full extent of my attacking repertoire.
Against average teams that served up a reasonable quantity of bad balls I could score at a decent tempo. However, when faced with quality bowling I would sink into an existential nightmare – one where my defence was proficient enough to stay in but my attack so limited that I couldn’t actually score any runs. This made for some listless Waiting for Godot afternoons, where I often batted like Trevor Bailey after a full prescription of mogadon.
However, despite fears that history might repeat itself, I put my hesitance aside and declared my interest in the new T20 enterprise. And so it came to pass that last week I ambled into a local sports hall and attended my first net practice in a dozen years or more. It was just me and 8 or 9 young and welcoming Indian guys from our IT team.
I crawled in to bowl my first ball off 3 or 4 paces and carefully turned my arm over hoping that the ball would at least land somewhere on the mat. It ended up being a desultory half volley that the batsman had the good grace to feather through to the non-existent keeper.
But that was as good as it got. Over the next ten minutes the batsman latched on to absolutely everything and hammered me all over the hall – all to the crunching beat of the latest Indian chart classics (courtesy of someone’s iPod).
It was all a far cry from the lectures I’d received at net session in the past. The ones that used to go… “Treat it like a proper innings” and “don’t just whack everything”. I don’t think I saw a proper defensive shot in the entire session, even though there were a couple of seriously good batsmen in attendance.
It was all change, of course, when it was my turn to bat. My technique couldn’t have looked more out of place had I been wearing a set of wicker pads and smoking a pipe. The theme tune to Steptoe & Son would have been more appropriate than the Bhangra soundtrack my colleagues had put on.
Having said that, to my pleasant surprise I was actually getting in-line pretty well and playing some fairly sharp bowling competently. Left to my own devices I might have been good for an imaginary 70 not out from 45 overs. In modern T20 parlance this would translate roughly into carrying my bat for a solid 31 not out. Possibly not quite what my team was hoping for!
Eventually the time came when I felt compelled to go after everything. The wheels fell off almost immediately as I ‘unleashed’ a series of agricultural heaves and ever despairing air shots. And my fitness was so inadequate that I could hardly swing my railway sleeper of a bat towards the end.
It struck me how, within the space of a few minutes, I had regressed from a solid, unflashy and welcome addition to the team into someone that looked completely hopeless. Thank you T20!
For the rest of the session I performed like a shattered marathon runner. The 10 minutes of batting wrecking me to such an extent that all I could bowl was an ever increasing supply of slow and loopy full tosses – the kind that come wrapped in a little bow with “hit me” emblazoned upon them.
Passing a shop on the way home to the station I shelled out on a couple of cans of beer. After an hour’s exercise I clearly deserved to imbibe more calories than I had expended. I nailed the first one on the train in near shotgun style, like Popeye with a tin of spinach. The body immediately reacted and recalibrated to its accustomed level following the near fatal shock of light exercise.
When I awoke the next morning it felt like Freddie Kruger had invaded my dreams and run me over with a steamroller. From ankle to neck, every part of my body came equipped with a slow, dull ache. For several days afterwards I felt like a rustier and less dynamic version of The Wizard of Oz’s Tin Man.
But, despite all this, I loved every minute of being actively involved in cricket again. Perhaps, for those of us with families and weekend commitments, T20 presents our best opportunity to stay involved. To me it will always be a poor second to the long game. But a poor second is significantly better than not being involved at all.