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Sunday
Jul162017

Heathen sent

"Hell comes in many forms," I wrote yesterday, "and playing cricket is one of them."

Dick Puddlecote, an avid cricket fan, was unimpressed. "Heathen!" he commented.

In fairness, I played for my school second XI but we were so bad (all out for 14 on one occasion) that it rather put me off. At least it guaranteed I got to bat, however low I was in the batting order.

As for fielding, even now I can recall the fear of standing on the boundary hoping the ball wouldn't be hit in my direction. The idea of having to catch something that was rock hard and arriving like a meteor from space was the stuff of nightmares. It still is.

The only time I ever caught someone out was when I was standing at extra cover, the batsman mistimed his stroke and the ball lobbed gently towards me.

It took a while to reach me (I didn't even have to move) and during those precious seconds I did what I always did. I extended my arms, raised my hands to cover my face, and shut my eyes.

Surprisingly, rather than bouncing off my hands as it did normally, it stuck. Having caught the ball however I ended up flat on my back with my teammates wondering why I had made a meal of such a simple catch.

It didn't help that I went to school in St Andrews and most of the schools in Fife played cricket on the same fields that were used for rugby during the winter.

One outfield was so bumpy it was impossible to field the ball because it arrived like a Barnes Wallis bouncing bomb. There was no knowing how high (or low) it might deviate off the grass so the best you could do was put your body in the way and hope it didn't catch you in the mouth.

After a while, as both the bruises and the defeats accumulated, "taking one for the team" became less and less attractive.

I can't remember ever making double figures as a batsman so I reinvented myself as a bowler - a slow bowler, not a spin bowler.

Ironically the absence of any sort of threat (physical or mental) meant I picked up quite a few wickets because at that age most schoolboy batsmen haven't the sense to keep the ball down.

My bowling was easy to hit but it encouraged batsmen to take liberties (no pun intended) that led them to get out.

It was the fielding however that bored (or terrified) the hell out of me and encouraged me to quit.

As an adult I played one game for my village team. It wasn't a success and I retired thereafter to the other side of the boundary rope where there was a welcoming bar.

Watching cricket is a completely different matter but even there my interest waned eventually.

As a teenager in the early Seventies I'd watch Test cricket on television for hours. Randall and Boycott were my favourite players. They were complete opposites but I loved them both.

Nip out to make a cup of tea and Randall would most likely have got himself out (or taken a miraculous catch) while you were in the kitchen.

No chance of that happening with Boycott. He'd still be there, grinding out the runs.

I loved watching Boycott bat on TV because you could do other things at the same time, and I just wanted England to win. I didn't care how they won.

In the flesh however it was a different matter.

The first Test match I went to was England v. West Indies, Trent Bridge, 1977. Boycott was batting and for several hours nothing much happened apart from the regular loss of wickets at the other end.

Bear in mind too that in those days there were no replays on a big screen. If you weren't paying attention - because you'd been lulled to sleep or were reading your newspaper - all you saw was the batsman retreating to the main pavilion, dragging his bat behind him.

Anyway the tedium was only lifted when the West Indies - and Viv Richards in particular - came into bat.

Suddenly everyone sat up. We put our books and newspapers away and paid full attention. This was more like it. Richards could actually hit the ball!

The same was true of Ian Botham. In the era of Twenty20 it's hard to imagine the impact the likes of Richards and Botham had on cricket but they made batting gloriously entertaining.

To win Test matches you do of course need the likes of Boycott, Michael Atherton and Alastair Cook and that's why Test cricket remains the best and most cerebral form of cricket.

Twenty20 is the equivalent of going straight to dessert - no appetiser, no main course. It's a sugar rush that gets boring very quickly.

It's one of the reasons I've lost interest in cricket. That, and the fact that I am hopeless at the game and couldn't score more than a measly run for my local village team.

My son, in contrast, did show some promise as a cricketer and was selected to play for Huntingdonshire at several age levels.

Unfortunately that put me off cricket too because parental nerves got the better of me. I was rarely nervous watching him play football or rugby. Cricket was a different matter.

They say it's a team game but it's not really. It's mostly about the individual because as a cricketer you're judged on your stats - bowling, batting, fielding.

The worst moments were waiting for him to go into bat for his county, especially if he was on a poor run of form.

You could wait hours and it would feel like days. On one or two occasions I would leave the ground in the hope that it might bring him better luck (and I would be saved the agony of watching every ball).

I'd return a couple of hours later only to find he still hadn't been in to bat.

One summer he couldn't put a foot wrong and scored runs left, right and centre for his club and district.

I arrived late one afternoon when he was playing for his district side to be told by an admiring parent that he was three runs short of his maiden century.

Naturally he was out next ball.

Cricket? You can keep it.

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Reader Comments (1)

All that is the essence of the game of cricket, at any level. I don't truly believe in your disparagement of it. I'm put off these days, though, by the high fives and the ostentatious celebrations, of wickets or runs, even more so by the pyjama-baseball gear. Here's to egg and cress sandwiches at tea, and warm English bitter beer if the last wicket falls after opening time....

Sunday, July 16, 2017 at 20:59 | Unregistered CommenterNorman Brand

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