Monday, March 16, 2009

The prince of sports

A couple of years ago I retired from competitive cricket. My last year was as captain of the North Richmond 7th grade team, a position I was thrust into some years previously by the president of the club, a genial bloke called Ross Matheson, who must have been seriously deluded about my capabilities to have even considered the possibility that I would lead the team to glory, i.e. by actually winning a competition. (It never did, by the way.)

I'd played cricket as a youngster, of course, going up through the age grades and learning the trade. But cricket gave way to girls, surfing, taking drugs, playing in rock and roll bands, robbing banks, and generally being stupid.

When my eldest son finished his junior career, the possibility of blooding him in the seniors came along, and so I agreed to play with him in one of the lower grades. By this stage, Miles was a pretty damn good cricketer, and it wasn't going to be long before he climbed up to first grade potential. I, on the other hand, at the age of 45, was going nowhere, and was happy to admit it. The club got a team of fathers and sons together - six blokes of about my age with our sons, who were all pretty handy with the leather and willow by this stage.

I remember the first time I strode out to the crease, donned in new pads and gloves, and the most important bit of kit a bloke needs: the box. Cricket balls make a curious, crushing sound when they come in contact with a pair of unprotected gonads - a sound I'd heard once or twice while fielding at slips just before realising that that particular kid was going to spreading his genes in the future only by means of a syringe and a turkey-baster.

Anyway, I shaped up to this young bloke from the Glossodia team who came screaming in to the bowling crease at a great rate of knots. "This feels pretty good," I said to myself as I prepared for a comfortable front-foot drive into the covers, only to find that the bat was still at the top of its back-swing as the ball thudded into the keeper's gloves.

"What the fuck happened then?" I asked of no-one in particular, as the blokes in the slips cordon began tittering. The next five balls brought about similar results, until I was left bewildered at the end of the pitch checking that my bat did not have watermelon-sized holes in it. I realised, finally, that my reaction times were not as they had been twenty-five years before, and, more importantly, I was gonna have to do something about it, and quick. My son, who was opening the batting with me, just stood at the other end of the crease giving me a look that would have withered  Don Bradman.

"Okay, you smug little bastard," I thought, as he shaped up to the bowling, "let's see what you can do. Crack! The ball whistled past my ears at Mach 3 on its way over the fence at long on. The next ball he turned deftly to backward square leg and immediately yelled "Come on! There's three in it." I was running as fast as I could, and had just turned for my second, when he overtook me, already on his third run. "For fuck's sake, get a move on, Dad!" he said with an evil grin as he loped, elegantly, to his crease. Meanwhile, I was considering the time it would take for an ambulance to make a round trip from Windsor Hospital with a victim of myocardial infarction on board. Somehow I made it up and back once more before the square-leg fieldsman, fortunately a bloke also in his dotage, could return the ball to the keeper. I decided a good lie down on the grass was in order, and asked the umpire if rest periods between balls had been written into the official MCC book of the laws of cricket.

By the time I'd regained some composure and my stance at the crease, I was thinking that this really was a mug's game. I threw caution to the wind, and, seeing a ball that was slightly overpitched just outside off stump, thundered down the track, kept my bat straight, and hoped for the best. The ball struck the middle of the bat and whistled straight through the covers for four! I looked up at Miles, who was gazing at me with a mixture of consternation, scepticism and awe. It was a moment of pure bliss.

I scored 25 that day, and, of course, was hooked. And so, I soldiered on for another eight seasons, until creaking knees and one rather unfortunate injury gave me pause to reconsider.

I was 53 and opening the batting again. This time I was playing with my younger son, Blake, who was, like Miles, stepping up into senior cricket. He is a very fine swing bowler, and I'd had two seasons of captaining him in the seventh grade, to my great satisfaction. It was a game to see who would go into the finals rounds in first position on the competition ladder. A young, lanky fast bowler, who was all of 6'6" tall, came in to deliver the first ball. It was short, and reared up at what I thought was an excellent hooking height. I went for the shot, was too late, and the ball careened straight into my face at about 120 kilometres an hour. It dropped me like a brick onto the pitch, blood pouring out of a gash just below my left eye, and the left side of my face immediately swelling to the size of the ball that had just done the damage. I was only semi-conscious, but had the presence of mind to call out to the bowler, who by this stage was standing over me, "Is that as fast as you can bowl, mate? Pathetic."

Ross, the club president was there, and immediately bundled me into his car and took me off to hospital, where x-rays determined that I had fortunately not fractured my skull. It took a couple of weeks for the swelling to go down, and I must say the blokes from the other team were very good about it, with their captain and the bowler himself both calling me to see how I was. Two weeks later we lost the semi-finals against the same team, and I realised it was time to hang up the box for good.

I know it may sound silly, but I'm very proud and fortunate to have been able to play a real, competitive sport with my sons. We learnt a lot from each other out there in our flannels, and I hope that their abiding memories of me will include all that great fun we had together playing the prince of sports.

10 comments:

goodgrieflinus said...

Hilarious blog, Laurie! The initial over you describe reminds me when I played in a President's XI game and batted against http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Price_(England_cricketer) . He was getting on a bit, and bowling slow, I think, but I still struggled to get near the damn ball. In the end I decided the best thing to do was hoick him up in the air to give the wicket keeper some catching practice (well, that's what I did anyway!).

Mark Jones said...

Oh, that's from Mark Jones...

Laurie said...

Thanks, Mark - goodgrieflinus?? yeah - it's a funny old game, as they say. I love it!

Mark Jones said...

Good Grief Linus is to reclaim the Peanuts character Linus Van Pelt for secularism. He is the brightest child in the comic strip but also strangely spiritual, bible quoting and pumpkin worshipping.

Note that he is often seen with a security blanket.

In fact, I should add this to the profile.

Needless to say, Peanuts was one of my favourite reads as a child!

Laurie said...

Good work, Mark - I wish you luck. Personally, i could never stand that insipid creep Charlie Brown. Linus was always the best character. And as for Lucy...

Philip1978 said...

Great story!

I grew up playing cricket and have also had the honour of playing alongside my dad a few times.

My uncle coached the local cricket team and every year there was a match against them and my family - we were allowed to bring in friends but I remember once my family fielded 9 of us!

My brother and cousin were the best in the team - they both had a reputation of knocking the largest sixes. Thing was, this was a village cricket team and so the pitch is near some housing and the cars get parked up along part of the road near these houses. They never learned - each year my brother and cousin smashed a few windows of both houses and cars!

I was an ok batsmen and an almost not completely bloody awful spin bowler but stopped playing a long time ago and forgot a lot of what I learned. I am not going to forget about 5 years ago I was asked to play for a friend of my dad's against a rival company in a friendly match. They had the lead scoring batsman for the local village on their side, I think he was a county player too - I had the little bastard out caught and bowled on my first ball!

:)

Laurie said...

Bravo, Phil! I have had some great moments, too, like the time I ground a 2nd grade bowler (who had somehow got himself into a seventh grade team) into the mud with a carefully constructed 4 hour innings where I never once let him get past me. Only got 65, but wore him out, the bastard.

Frankus said...

You remind me of Gordie Howe with this blog entry.
He is a hockey guy. I know nothing of this 'cricket' thing.
"Being most famous for his scoring prowess, physical strength, and the longevity of his career, Howe is the only player to have competed in the NHL in five different decades." -from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordie_Howe

Gordie also played professionally with his sons.

I really like your writing Laurie. A real voice comes through. You ought to publish.

Mark Jones: I love Linus. Was always my favourite character. He was smart and secure in his insecurity.

Mark_W said...

Laurie,

Excellent post. The Prince of Sports, indeed...

I know it may sound silly, but I'm very proud and fortunate to have been able to play a real, competitive sport with my sons. We learnt a lot from each other out there in our flannels, and I hope that their abiding memories of me will include all that great fun we had together playing the prince of sports.

It doesn’t sound silly at all. My daughter (4) already has a beach cricket set, and although I’m not forcing the issue, and I won’t be able to play with her at any serious level, I really hope she ends up being interested in this most marvellous of sports (and though she already knows how to cheer for Wales at everything except cricket, when “Come on England!” is the way forward, I fear, given recent results in the Caribbean and South Africa, I may need to shield her from this summer’s Ashes: A repeat of 2005 is looking ever more unlikely, I fear!)

My own experience of cricket has been for work teams – before I moved to Wales and was a civil servant in England I played for a local office side; the standard was by no means great: I used to keep wicket, not because I could be guaranteed to catch the edges – we never got edges – it was just that I was young and agile enough (at the time!) to stop the wides going for four...Years later, my then boss (himself a keeper) asked me if I’d like to play in a game one weekend against a side his son had put together of friends he’d spent the summer working with in London. I said yes, and, like many members of our side, was mildly disconcerted to discover on the day that Junior Boss’s team consisted almost entirely of League standard Sri Lankans over for the summer...

As my boss had pulled rank when it came to the keeper’s gloves, I was required to bowl – not because I was particularly, or indeed at all, fearsome (I could turn off-spinners, in and out, but only at such a ridiculously slow pace that it didn’t matter) but rather because I could bowl slow-medium pace straight, which was usually good enough at our normal standard to collect wickets regularly...

Anyway, my first three deliveries were dispatched by the ludicrously over-talented batsman into the car-park over the road for six. Slightly miffed by this, I really went for what (in my own feeble case) counted for really charging in and bending the back, which resulted in a somewhat faster delivery (indeed, undoubtedly the fasted I’ve ever sent down), which the batsman, understandably playing the same shot that had so far got him 18 runs off 3 balls, managed only to top-edge into his own face. I must confess I was quite pleased with this for half a second before I remembered it was just a game and started to head down the wicket to enquire how he was. Happily, before I’d reached a good length he was laughing out loud and telling me “That was better!” Any feebly lingering hope that I’d softened him up was dispelled when the next ball went for four, but next time, trying to combine one more extra-quick (as it were) charge with an attempt at an off-cutter, I had him caught behind off the best delivery I’ve ever bowled in my life. His equally talented replacement cut the last ball of the over for four, but compiling these figures of 1 over, no maidens, 1 for 26 remains my proudest sporting achievement.

Ah, the splendidness of cricket...

:-)

Mark_W

phil said...

which bank?