This match report is, I’m afraid, going to be almost all about me. Immodesty doesn’t come easily to me, and I’m always wary of talking up my own performances a little too much; as captain, I don’t think it’s right to write the theme tune, sing the theme tune, then award the Brit for it.
For once, though, even I have to admit that a little self-congratulation would be justified in this case.
I think we’d all been looking forward to the game against Barton with a little excitement and a lot of trepidation. Barton are by far the best team we’ve faced so far, and many of us – myself included – just hoped we’d give a reasonably good account of ourselves after the thrashing by Mark Park Larkers the previous week.
For once, we seemed to have a full side; in fact, Andy seemed to be spare and even offered to score the match for us. I lost the toss as usual and we were sent out to field, and it was only as we took the field that I realised Karl hadn’t made it. A quick phone call to the inestimable keeper yielded only an answerphone, so I rushed back in to put the pads and gloves on.
Meanwhile, the lads were outside practising a bit of fielding. ‘The only way Jaz and I got better,’ Kev told my brother, ‘was to throw the ball at one another’s heads and bollocks’. It seemed to make sense at the time.
As I returned from the dressing room, one of the lads ran up to me.
‘Yeah, he’s got blood pissing out of his nose…’
Part of me was worried about my little brother; injured, smacked in the face by a cricket ball that disappeared into the sun then reappeared all too quickly. A bigger part of me felt really sorry for him; he’d come all the way down from Bristol to play and hadn’t got past the warm-up. And a small part of me was, in all honesty, worried about being down to nine players.
I hope he’s well enough to play. Then we all win, right?
One look at a nose he tentatively revealed from under a plaster told me that he’d be fine, but wouldn’t be able to play. The freshly-trained first aider in me told him to go to hospital and get a stitch or two; his nose was split from cheek to cheek, but he was pretty much ok. Andy was recalled from scoring duty, we were back to ten players, and my day really began.
I walked out onto the pitch having already decided that I was going to follow Malc’s example of last year and concede not a single bye or leg-bye. That is not a particularly easy task, especially with our bowling. The problem is that any balls down the leg side are difficult to predict; a bit of pad will change the trajectory, you’re starting from off-stump anyway and – most importantly – the batsman is in the damn way at the crucial moment.
But I started off keeping well. I could judge both James and Kev’s bounce and carry rather well, so I was taking their deliveries at a comfortable height, and when Si and Chip came on they both bowled so beautifully that I could stand up to the stumps with ease.
By drinks after 15 overs, my record was intact.
And I went on, narrowly losing out on a stumping decision, receiving a poor throw for a run out that I nonetheless made close, and just about getting the webbing to a sharp chance that didn’t quite carry. I missed one leg-side bye late on, but was so determined to keep my record intact that I ran 20 yards and threw back before the batsmen had even decided to be indecisive.
I was ecstatic at the end of the innings; no fielding extras and, more importantly, though Barton had only lost two wickets we had restricted them to 154 runs. Five an over over 30 overs? The total was way beyond anything we’d done before, but the rate wasn’t.
Our response got off to a slow start, and a nervous Douglas was bowled after just a few balls when we were on, I think, two. I know my job is to see off the best bowlers and bed in for a while so our stroke-hitters can get in and play their shots, and the low asking rate allowed me to do that comfortably. Chalky and I concentrated on nudging the odd single and rotating the strike for a while, knowing if either of us could bat until the end we’d have a good chance of winning the game. We took our time to get used to the pitch, talked to one another between overs, got used to the idea that we might be in it for the long haul. It was a real pleasure to get through those early overs in his company; though not a naturally defensive player, Ian knew what was required and the potential we had.
The first change of bowlers came after about eight overs, and I suddenly took a shine to him. The ball seemed to be coming down slowly and was starting to look rather large to me, and when it was pitching outside leg I was happy to pad up a little and play the pull shot. Anything straight I blocked or nudged for singles, but there was a ball or two in each over that I could hit without much of a risk. And I started to find the boundary; I found myself checking the field between balls and deciding – deciding! – whether to play it finer or squarer. At the other end, Chalky was playing superbly; driving well and picking up plenty of singles. When I pulled over fine leg with a shot that was deliberate and provocative at the same time, I received the compliment of a change in tactics.
Another fielder was brought over onto the off-side – perhaps a risky tactic, given that I was scoring freely on the other side, but one that may have induced a top-edge from a fetch. I knew what was coming, and I’ll probably never play a better shot again.
The next ball was just a little short, and probably not quite wide enough to cut. I think the theory was that I’d try to pull it, but I didn’t. Early in my innings, I’d tried to cut a few balls and looked a tit as I missed them totally. This would be different.
I checked the length and rocked back, arms behind my head, before bringing my arms crashing down on the ball in slow motion. I didn’t hit it hard, but felt my arms extend as I played the shot, timed it perfectly, and my relaxed arms settled behind my neck as I completed the shot.
I knew in that moment there was no need to run. The ball hit the deck halfway to backward point, flew straight along the popping crease and beat a fielder standing a couple of yards from its trajectory and 30 yards away for sheer pace. Backward point aside, we all just stood and watched it sizzle along the ground to the boundary. It was so square, you could have used it as a protractor.
I dared not look at the bowler, who had carried on jogging towards me. I glanced up at him as he meandered to a halt, his hands on his hips. He whispered one word.
While the ball was retrieved, I quickly memorised every millisecond, because I’ll never play a shot like that again.
By drinks, Chalky and I were still there. 15 overs gone, and Ed and his nose told us we were just 4 runs off the rate. We could win this one! Barton accelerated towards the end, but with wickets to spare, couldn’t we?
I added four more after drinks, and they were sketchy; one ball I’d have hit to the fence twenty minutes before hit the toe of my bat and died. But the real enemy wasn’t bowling.
The guy I’d been clouting all afternoon was bowling and I was trying to consolidate a little by playing more straight until I got my rhythm back. I missed a leg glance while trying to nick one down the leg side, and got a hopeful appeal against me.
Kev thought about it. Good. He’s thinking about it. If he thinks about it, he’ll remember the bit about it having to be going on to hit the stumps.
Kev forgot about that bit, and raised his finger.
He’s the umpire. He is right. You are a Cavalier, so the umpire is right. There is no dispute, I think, as I walk off. But he’ll never hear the end of this.
It was missing leg by a good six inches. And I was on for a 50. A 50! Bastard.
Let’s just think about this, Rich, as you trudge off:
- You were the one who missed the ball
- He has as much idea how to umpire as you do to bat
- Everyone’s clapping you off
- The way you’ve played since drinks – it’s about time someone else had a go anyway
As I walk past the lads just off the outfield, Si shouts out ‘was that out, Rich?’ I reply that it was plumb and that I agree entirely with the ump’s decision. Way down leg, but the ump was right.
Then our usual heroic collapse begins; five of us make ducks, two make just the one, and James looks good with five trying to shepherd the tail through. Ed ‘The Wall’ even comes in at 10, presumably to block for three hours, but even he departs for a swift zero. We’ve lost by 74 runs.
I think we lost nine wickets for 12 runs after drinks.
Sorry, fellas, but I’m taking what glory there is from this one. I reckon this is my big moment in the sun – I’ll be back to single figures for the rest of the season…
|S Lewis||not out||100|
|T Swart||b Johns||2|
|A Styles||lbw Cahill||29|
|M Meech||not out||10|
|Andy Ryder||not out||0|
|Extras (1nb, 3w, 11b, 1lb)||16|
|Total||84 all out|
Barton won by 70 runs.