My Favourite Day in Cricket
One of the terrific things about cricket is how you can start a match feeling like a duffer and end it like the Don. Granted, such experiences are rare for most amateur players, but that only makes the sweet smell of success all the more heady.
Let me take you back, as the Beatles once sang, to an afternoon in 1986 when a distinctly modest cricketer with no great pretensions was asked to open the batting for Atlas against Woodhall on a balmy June afternoon in central Scotland.
Hence the scenario in which I walked to the crease with my English confrere, Fred Robson, for company and, prior to the commencement of hostilities, he marched towards me and said: “Right, get yourself settled – there are runs up for grabs today.”
Heeding his advice, I steadied myself, resolved to knuckle down….and promptly launched into an extravagant cover drive from the opening delivery and the ball missed the stumps by a coat of paint.
Barely had I thanked my lucky stars before Robson strode in my direction and said menacingly: “Read my lips. We have trusted you to do a job. And that doesn’t mean you sitting doing a crossword and drinking Diet Coke!”
I had learned my lesson. For that day, at least. After a few minutes, I pierced the field with a decent square cut, then I scampered a few singles and we built a little partnership, prior to Robson being adjudged lbw with a delivery which barely possessed the pace to dislodge the bails.
Harry Cockburn was next in and progressed with his usual impersonation of a snail on Valium until he too perished. But, by this stage, I was starting to feel increasingly confident and had advanced to 20 when the third wicket fell, which hastened the arrival of my younger brother Alistair.
I beseeched him, in Robsonesque style: “Okay big man, don’t do anything stupid and you’ll be fine.”
In the event, I might as well have been talking to the trees because he and Atlas teammate Brian Hazzard had spotted a couple of attractive young ladies among the sprinkling of spectators and were focused on other priorities than cricket.
In the space of four balls, he amassed nine – including a magnificent six which crashed into the bushes – as the prelude to offering a desperate yahoo, which saw him comprehensively bowled. And, amid the celebrations of the Woodhall contingent, I was forced to watch as batsmen after batsmen discovered new ways of getting out on a featherbed quilt.
Hamish McIntyre was stumped by, oh a few yards, Hazzard hardly paused to take guard before trudging back to the pavilion and Jim Notman enacted his usual whirling-dervish routine, cigar perched on ear, and was soon at liberty to resume humming the Hamlet advert tune.
At 65 for eight, the situation was fairly precarious, but teenager Barry Montgomery displayed some of the application which had been lacking from his elders and we inched on cautiously, determined there would be no more madness.
Soon, I had reached 35 and took a liking to the hosts’ spinner, a fellow who grunted in a style reminiscent of Monica Seles – or Maria Sharapova – after every delivery, while I clattered him for a trio of boundaries in a couple of overs before I sprinted two more singles. Suddenly, I was on 49 and was on the cusp of achieving my maiden competitive half century.
By this stage, Robson had returned to the action in an umpiring capacity and we had just two overs left. Could I retain my discipline and maintain my concentration? Could I demonstrate to some of the lovesick, lustful chumps in our ranks that they should carry on their courting elsewhere by staying 100% focused?
Could I hell!
Instead, I decided I would reach my 50 in the grand manner and immediately skied the ball towards a boundary rider. I felt sickened with myself as the ball prepared to fall into the fielder’s hands and mentally got ready to depart. He steadied himself, looked as confident as Casanova at a disco and then he realised the ball was sailing a few feet over his head.
It was a merciful reprieve and I bolted through for the cherished run, even as the hapless fielder looked forlorn.
But – and this was one of the highlights of the whole afternoon – the Woodhall team burst into applause and it felt wonderful. They were even more generous when I carried my bat for an unbeaten 57 which at least ensured we reached 100. Strolling back for tea and cakes, everybody in their ranks shook my hand, offered their congratulations, and I was infused with a warm glow.
That feeling continued for the rest of the match as Robson, McIntyre and Notman bowled Atlas to an against-the-odds victory, with one stunning catch sticking in my hands, while my brother, his attention no longer diverted by affairs off the pitch – the ladies had left the ground with their beaus – hung on to a screamer at cover point as if possessed by the spirit of Jonty Rhodes.
At the climax, and oblivious to the frustration which he must have been nursing, their skipper strolled towards me and said: “You were the difference today. Without you, we wouldn’t have been chasing 50.
“Well done, mate.”
These experiences didn’t happen very often. But when they did, they were bloody marvellous!
**What was your favourite day on a cricket field? Let us know and there will be some smashing books for those who supply the best replies.