Playing To Ordure…

For people not obsessed with cricket the outrage directed at alleged spot-fixers must be weird. The defendants haven’t – as of yet – been charged with anything more serious than gifting England with a few cheap runs. A batsman who edges it and unabashedly stands his ground can influence test matches many times more gravely and still face no more than sledging which makes Frankie Boyle seem like a choirboy.

Well, it’s nigh-on certain the no-balls are just the tip of a big betting iceberg that could slice through HMS Cricket’s framework. Even if they weren’t, however, they’d be maddening and to grasp why you must imagine your first partner cheating on you. Oh, yeah, it was just a kiss and he or she was off their heads but even if you somehow keep the union together you’ll be agonising over every word, deed, thought that might hint at further betrayal. For impassioned cricket fan the knowledge that professionals have been playing to order lays a blanket of suspicion over the entire game. All the mishaps, blessings and strokes of unlikely genius – the moments that bring joy to endless overs of blood, sweat and Bresnan – summon up the dark suggestion of treachery. The keeper’s fluffed it? Well, yes. Tenth-wicket stand? Hrmph, indeed. He’s scored a hundred following on and the Aussies fell just 18 short? God, the thoughts are so depressing you mightn’t care if your one true love is shacked up with the plumber.

Published in: on September 18, 2010 at 12:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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Regard, Favourably…

When a relative passed on he left me part of his ageing, extensive hoard of cricket books. Among these I’ve found a preview of the 1953 Ashes, which is wholly and magnificently of its time.

It’s written in prose as cultured as an off-drive from Jack Hobbs. Take this staid appreciation of an up-an-comin’ talent…

What a truly judicious assessment of class batting! Here’s another young recruit of favourable promise…

Didn’t hear much from him. Post-war austerity was slowly dissipating, and the populace could regain joys of leisure and invention…

You put the tobacco in the paper…

Great Scott!

Ah, an Ashes series, a hearty smoke and more brylcreem than a whale has grease. Those were — some days.

Published in: on September 18, 2010 at 12:25 am  Comments (2)  

Confessions Of An Inept Cricketer…

Re-posted. First written in June.

On Saturday, after four years of wisely self-imposed exile, I lurched back onto the cricket field. Somehow, past embarrassments had faded in my consciousness; warning voices were drowned out by harmonies of ball on wood. Sure, I wasn’t expecting triumphs, but — a wicket or two, perhaps? A chance to savour the graceful bliss of a middled cover drive? Old memories were dusted off and splashed with thick nostalgia: how could I fail – too badly – when I’d once struck mild apprehension into the hearts of Under 15′s batsmen across a not inconsiderable subsection of our county?

Early on the Tuesday evening I strode into our local nets: padded up and taking guard before a traffic cone. My young brother sent me down a gentle, wayward loosener, which I stabbed at, missed entirely and heard rustle in the folds of netting. He stared down the pitch, looking about as impressed as Simon Cowell hearing a starving child’s plea for alms. The next balls – quicker, straighter – I managed to block; soon, though, a fierce ripsnorter burst through my defences. Thunk.

So began a grim pattern of edges, plays-n’-misses and unions of ball and cone. With each airy swipe my hackles leapt until, eventually, I aimed a vicious cover drive. The cone thundered into the side of the net; followed by the pads and gloves. Still, I told myself, perhaps I’d just endured a bad one-off. Besides, thanks to an obvious distaste at the idea of “sharing” I’d been forced to play without a box. Gooch might have scored 150 versus Ambrose, Walsh and Marshall but he never had to fear his genitals being splattered. I steeled my jaw and took the ball.

Running in, I looked and felt ungainly: a stick insect after a dose of muscle relaxant. My arm floundered over, digging the ball in half-way up the pitch. It bounced once, twice and rolled into the netting, three feet wide. Leaning on his bat, my brother watched it trundle past. I felt like a one-time cyclist who signs up for a comeback tour, only to realise that he’s going to need some training wheels.


“Good luck!” Roared our captain as the openers marched out to bat, “Make a fifty and I’ll buy you drinks.”

“I’m buying myself a drink if I get off the mark,” I confided, helpfully.

“Oh – that sounds ominous.”

“Yes, and if I get a duck I’ll buy myself ten.”

The game proved fate to be lugubrious. It was a 3rd’s match: blending dovelike youth players with old, ardent veterans of village cricket. Waiting batsmen hung from tattered cigarettes and fingernails, while the fielders wheezed about like bull seals on an iceberg. I went in mid-way through a collapse and slunk back two balls later having promptly followed the course of gravity. A fretful nick, a deathly snick and a long, cheerless trudge: futures sinking into the cold futility of the inevitable.

Later, as our score proceeded at a rate of noughts, I accepted cricket was a game I’d have to enjoy from the sidelines. Why should it be different? I like Wagner but have never felt compelled to seize a baton; I admire circus acts but would eat my lungs before daring a tightrope. Cricket, though, like football, gives off the appearance of ease. Watching batsmen flail away or players take aim at the net the viewer’s led to fancy that it can’t be that exacting, surely? Fans of boxing, one suspects, don’t watch their favoured man go down and cry, “Oh come on, I could have ridden that!” A game of cricket, too, holds an aesthetic one feels must be best enjoyed close-up. Walkers feel the same in front of nature programmes, I suppose; lechers when the TV’s graced by woman’s beach volleyball. Never mind. At least I’ll spend less of my time in disconsolate shame. And fielding, while the other side lumbers towards an easy win, remains the most tedious pursuit this side of a career in finance.

Published in: on September 18, 2010 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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