August 28th, 2006

International Kittens of Mystery

It's Not Cricket

With all the controversy about cricket this last week I am reminded of the last time I donned my cricketing whites in England.

It was a twenty over match between two Yorkshire works teams. Twenty overs with each player bowling two overs. A format which meant everyone got a chance to bowl - whether they could or not.

Naturally I classed myself as a person who could bowl. Not because I had recently - I hadn't played for over ten years - but because I was a person 'good at sports,' a person who didn't need to train or practice but just had to turn up.

Now, for readers of the American persuasion, cricket is like baseball except the ball is harder, the pitcher is allowed a run up and aims at three stumps instead of a catcher's mitt, and the batsman scores runs by running back and forth between the stumps and the pitcher's mound.

And when it comes to run ups mine was twenty yards longer than everyone else's. I took the ball for the first of my allotted two overs and marched off into the distance. I'd been a fast bowler and today I was going to be even faster. I scratched out my mark on the grass with my right toe, eyed the batsman with a steely glare and commenced my run up. In I thundered, leaning back at the last second, planting my left foot hard, whipping my arm through and .... the ball left my hand at such speed that had there been a sonic boom no one would have been surprised.

But surprises there were. The batsman for one - who'd been shaking behind his bat expecting the worst. Me - who'd been expecting the ball to arrow towards the stumps. But most of all the square leg umpire who, standing some ten yards to the left of the stumps, hadn't expected the ball to fly towards his shins. He leapt for his life, tripping in the process, and tumbling to the ground.

A wide was given - one run to the batting team - and an extra ball added to my over (there are six balls in an over).

I decided something had to be wrong with my run up. I was too fast and out of control. So, for my second ball I forwent speed and concentrated on accuracy. The result: a perfectly pitched ball with bounced a yard in front of the batsman and took out the middle stump. One wicket down and one run on the board.

Back came the confidence. I had the accuracy, I had a wicket. Now I could reintroduce the speed. In I thundered, faster than ever before, my mind seizing control of my arm muscles, no deviation this time, fly straight and fast and...

I let go of the ball too early. It was supposed to thud into the ground close to the batsman's feet. But this ball showed no sign of going anywhere close to the ground. It flew across the twenty-two yards of space, fast and high and - oh my God - straight at the batsman's head.

This was before the days of helmets. Onlookers gasped. The batsman stood there like a startled rabbit and ... the ball struck him a glancing blow on the top of his head, looped up over the wicket keeper and sped towards the boundary for four runs.

I couldn't apologise enough. I'd never hurt another player in my life. Luckily the batsman was okay. Physically that is. Mentally, as everyone was about to find out, he was a broken man.

I reduced my run up for the next ball. And my speed. This ball was going to stay down. I'd make it bounce way in front of the batsman's feet. Maybe it'd even bounce twice before reaching him.

It didn't have to. The moment I released the ball the batsman fell over backwards in his haste to get out of the way. Over the stumps he fell, flattening them in the process. Two wickets down and five runs on the board. None scored with the bat.

For some reason I was taken off after my first over and the batting team were all out before I could bowl my second. Then came our turn to bat.

I was put in at the tail and had to wait and wait. Then with only seven balls of the match left our ninth wicket went down and in I went. We needed ten to win and the bowler was crap. This was my chance.

I stood at the wicket and surveyed the field. The right hand boundary was slightly shorter. I'd whack the ball over it for six runs. No one would be able to catch it.

The bowler started his run up. My eyes fastened on the ball. My grip on the bat tightened, my knees flexed. This ball was mine. And then ... the bowler let go of the ball. Possibly it was the worst ball he'd bowled all day. Certainly it was the widest. And the highest. It was looping up and over towards the square leg umpire. Now, most players would have left the ball, accepted the extra run for the wide delivery and readied himself for the next ball.

Not me. I'd already decided where that ball was going and wasn't going to let a mere ten yards get in my way. Off I sprinted, tearing towards the square leg umpire with my bat wound up behind my shoulders. The umpire, possibly remembering events from earlier in the day, turned and ran. There may have been a scream. But my eyes were fastened on the ball. Which I met just as it dropped to waist height and welted it up and over the by now prostrate and perhaps whimpering square leg umpire ... and the distant boundary.

One ball received, six runs scored. Perfection. And that's how it stayed. They brought their best bowler back for the final over and I was at the non-striking end watching each ball fly by unable to do anything but watch and wait. The other batsman couldn't hit the ball and the bowler couldn't get him out. I wondered if there was anything in the rules about the non-striking batsman being able to whack the ball as it flew out of the bowler's hand but decided there probably wasn't.

I wasn't asked to play again.