Profiling league cricketers (first in a series)
Chasing a modest 190, the opening partnership is building nicely. I have The Pundit at my end as the last ball of the over smacks his partner on the back pad in front of middle and off on a straight delivery. After a brief survey of the crime scene I send the batter packing. I know what’s coming.
The batter is not perturbed, he’s been caught with his fingers in the till but The Pundit will have none of it. This is a guy I respect as a cricketer, a gritty, no-nonsense opening bat and very useful slipper. But over the years he has got on my proverbials with his whispering punditry at the non striker’s end. And right on cue, as the batter makes his way back to the pavilion I get the action replay: Missing off umps, you got that one wrong.
To be fair The Pundit is consistent. On one occasion, his partner’s call for a second run left him with some ground to make up as the ball came back to the bowler’s end. Safely home, he gave a full and frank appraisal of the incident to his partner (throwing in a gerund or two to add weight to the argument). And from the kindness in his heart, he then proffered me an opinion: I don’t know how many times I’ve got to tell him about running between the wickets. He doesn’t listen. He’s got something missing up top.
Then there was the caught-behind where I gave him out. The keeper was standing back, the edge was faint but obvious and as he passed me he muttered to the bowler: Only decent ball you’ve bowled all afternoon.
And indeed it was.
I’m standing at the batter’s end when a fielder approaches me to take up his position at square leg. A nodding acquaintance is the normal protocol but this chap needs to talk. Between balls I get the full CV: I played a first class games for Xshire (I imagine a pre-season jolly at The Parks for Xshire against Oxford University – more like a blind audition for The Voice than a headline slot on Later with Jools Holland). I’ve played Premier League but it didn’t work out (That would be worth discussing further but I stay well clear of delving). I love this level, I get a lot of time in the middle. (True, he batted vwell).
The openers come out to start the second innings – with 240 to chase it could be an exciting late afternoon and evening. My colleague asks me if I had seen the heavy guy before, he’d apparently been making runs at a fast pace and was one to watch. With little foot movement he relied on hand-eye coordination leaving most of the balls to go through (judging those to perfection) while dispatching the ones that took his fancy to the boundary and beyond. The heavy build and bat were useful additions to his arsenal and his entertaining knock (a few more than fifty) set the scene for the more traditional batters to see his team through. A team player through and through, I miss him on our circuit (he moved with his work to a different part of the country).
It’s the day after the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The captain gives the ball to his opening bowler. The batsman is taking guard, the wicket keeper shouts Come on Will, you know where to put it and gully follows with That’s what Kate said last night. Yup, we have a Joker.
There is a big difference between a Joker and an Asshole (there are more of the former than the latter, thank goodness). I have heard some cracking material over the years: Bowler to slip fielder after a second catch is dropped in an over – I bet you didn’t even catch an STD with that woman I saw you with last week. Bowler to batter (in a non-confrontational way at the end of an over, and the batter took it in the right spirit) Would you describe your character as ‘edgy’? Captain to colleagues at the fall of a wicket – He batted like sh*t and we gave him the runs (probably not meant as a joke).
The time first time I went out to bat as a 16-year-old in a league match my captain said: We need the points for a draw. Don’t hit the ball off the square, don’t give your wicket away and don’t take it personally but I don’t want to see you until you come back to the pavilion with a draw. The mission was accomplished and I got the nickname Stonewall. It is rare to see such heroics in modern league cricket
Occasionally, you get a player in his late forties or beyond who can teach the youngsters a thing or two about survival. Playing spin on a turning pitch by working out a defensive strategy is a real talent. In this situation, you can’t hit your way out of trouble. And far from sending these players out to bat at nine, ten, Jack, captains should consider moving them higher up the order.
Every cricket captain’s nightmare – Friday 8pm, the text comes in: Missus unwell, got to see to the kids, can’t play tomorrow. You’d think with a well-known club like his, the captain would make one call and job done. At 9.30pm the matter is finally resolved, the guy in question has played before but he is not going to contribute much. On the other hand he is on a list of possibles and he is willing to turn out.
As an umpire you have been blessed with superb vision (be serious, ed) to realise there is a stand-in on the field. Sure he’s made an effort on the dress code with a white polo shirt (nice to see Ralph Lauren sponsoring the team), white jeans (possibly a tad tight around the midships) and white trainers (basketball style). I’m also not sure about the sunhat (Ayia Napa stag weekend attire).
But the great thing about stand-ins is their effort and sense of duty. Unlike some players, who provide a derisory bending of the shoulder in an attempt to field as if posing for a village green picture postcard, the stand-in will throw himself at the ball, miss it and then go hurtling after it and still be going strong as the Laws of Physics have escorted it over the boundary rope. True, you don’t want to watch the stand-in fielder position himself for a regulation catch in the deep – it usually ends in humiliation.