28.4.2002 Stainborough

Match abandoned 6.30 pm because of hail.

Casuals lost the toss and fielded. 

3.45 pm rain stopped play and an early tea was taken. 

Match subsequently reduced to 30  overs per side.

Stainborough 198 for 3. 

Casuals 97 for 2 off 15.

All the great team dramas begin with the recruitment of the experts.  Take The Magnificent Seven or The Professionals.  There’s the gunslinger, the one who’s good with a knife, the horse whisperer and so on.  Today’s Casuals’ selection, for the start of the 2002 campaign, will not be one of these.  It is in theory, but in actuality, its a lottery.  The skipper’s simply grateful to all those who respond to his tentative telephone entreaty – a mix of the not too tired, the not too old and the not too disinterested.  Nine eventually arrive in dribs and drabs.  Marc has gone to the rugby league final, Rupert’s in Germany on business, Marcus is away in Scotland with the family and so on.  Its a litany of the lame and the exotic.  The nine look each other up and down.  The batting looks alright and we’ve a keeper.  Angela will score.

The other lottery is the April weather.  It varies from two sweaters to a wet suit with a sou’wester.  But the outfield is safe enough though they appear to have a mole problem, and the blossom on the boundary is a picture.  It won’t be there for long in this wind.  Richard informs us that the rotweiller at midwicket has now gone.  Well that’s a relief; trotting out to the boundary won’t be causing temporary deafness this year.

The skipper loses the toss, again, and we field.  Rob Hunter opens the bowling at the pub end, whilst the skipper comes in from the practice net end, downwind.  When challenged, he protests he’s given Rob the choice,

‘Didn’t I Rob?  Didn’t I ask if you wanted to bowl first or second?’

However, he does take the first wicket of the new season.  The batsman’s a big step forward and plays across to a straight ball.  It hits the front pad.  Keeper and bowler appeal.  The umpire is a fresh faced thirteen year old who wants to please and he’s quickly substituted.  That’s our LBW quota for the day.  This brings a stylish left hander to the wicket.  He gently, and frequently, nudges the ball into the gaps left by  our chairman, Greg Smith.

‘Er, Greg, have you noticed that red thing?  You might want to pick it up and throw it to the keeper.  Just a thought.’

They are going along nicely when the heavy rain comes.

We take an early tea, apart from Dominic Ford, who listens to Norwich AFC on his car radio.  They are in the playoffs.  He’s a young lad who can bat and bowl a bit, so we ignore his southern accent.  When the windy sun reappears we return to the field and the skipper introduces our spin attack.  Dom takes the second wicket.  A long hop goes way down to square leg where Will takes it two-handed running to his left.  Its heroic.

The next batsman is several stones heavier than anyone else on the field.  He gets breathless taking his guard.  Its not easy when the crease is a quagmire.  Jim Harris is bowling, left arm over just short of a length with the occasional boomer down the leg side.  We note his tonsure rinse is a little lighter this year; this year’s colour he says.  As the rest of his head is still pink, we conclude he hasn’t disturbed the annual shampoo sales figures much.

Jumbo fends one into the off side and calls for a run.  Dom swoops down on it.  The bloke at the non-batting end sends Jumbo back and he’s stranded.   Something strange happens then.  The wicket keeper loses his marbles, or discovers several more thumbs or his neuromuscular hand-eye coordination goes into melt down.  Despite Dom’s perfect underarm throw, the ball finishes on the floor, the wicket remains intact and Jumbo makes his ground.  Loud hooting and cackling emerges from the home dressing room.  Greg is spotted lying down at mid off beating the ground.  The rest of the fielding side either look to the heavens in disbelief or are incontinent.  Apart from the keeper that is, who hangs his head.  This is me.  Since tea I have taken over from Will, who fancied a bowl.

‘So its finally come to this.  Complete and utter incompetence,’ I think to myself.  In those seconds I reflect on the stages of learning – not knowing what to do, knowing what to do but not being able, knowing what to do but having to think like stink to remember all the time, and the final sublime stage when its part of you and you do it well without conscious thought.  Every season I start at the second stage and graduate to the third by August.  I wonder whether I will this year.

Greg later puts his arm around me.  Those out of earshot would understandably  infer that this was a gesture of comfort.  Propriety forbids a full account of Greg’s solicitude, but it was similar to Bill Beaumont’s comforting one word to Steve Smith when he gifted Wales a try at Twickenham.  Smith was hanging his head at the corner flag, and Bill walked all the way over to him from the posts.  I don’t think he said, ‘Unlucky.’

Our two spectators arrive, newly returned from their winter caravan tour of Spain.  Sam wears headgear, all the time.  Whatever the style, the nebb always rests on his glasses.  You know what ears are for?  They’re for resting your glasses on.  Well, glasses are for resting your nebb on.  He looks like a mature bespectacled Andy Capp, without the cig or the bar-room pallor.

Will eventually does Jumbo middle stump.  Quite the Roy of the Rovers, isn’t he?  Superb catch and now this.  And a new dad – daughter, Millie, arrived eight weeks ago.  No wonder he looks pleased with himself.

‘Ah, capricious cricket,

He should have stayed behind the wicket.’

The young lad in after Jumbo is a sixteen year old Yorkshire trialist and he carts Will’s last over all around the park.  Now Will’s a serious lad and there’s just a hint of embarrassment.  No need, Will, I have plenty to go round.  They finish at 198 for 3.

We have now reached the essence of this encounter, the point of tension and conflict that makes for a good plot.  Does the hero win through despite interminable and seemingly insurmountable obstacles?  We need more than 7 and over.  Can we do it?

The skipper is organising the batting order, ’We need a steady bat to open.  Oh, right, we haven’t got one.  Dave, you’ll have to do.’

So I open with Will, no longer quite Roy of the Rovers.  I get something on one delivery, miss two others and finally top edge a lamentable short one, caught within six feet of a very short boundary.

‘Not your normal flowing stroke play Dave,’ the skipper informs me.

‘Thanks, skip.’

‘Nice round number though.’

‘Thanks, skip.’

Rob is in next.  He’s one of these skinny guys who fail to put on weight despite

a comprehensive programme of self-abuse.

‘I’ve put on a stone since last year,’ he says in the pub after, cuddling a pint.  Greg and I nod and sigh and clear our throats whilst looking for the spitoon.

He and Will score at the required rate and we begin to think we might just do this.  The partnership breaks, however, when Will cuts to deep square point for a relatively simple catch.  He’s made 46 and happily restored to Roy once more.  He phones to see if Millie is asleep and has she had her bath.  She has?  That’s great, all’s well with the world.

I’ve nothing else to do so I chat with the scorers.  We get up to date on our close season activities.  Angela thinks we ought to have a web site.

‘What sort of machine have you got,’ I ask.

‘I haven’t got a computer.’

‘Oh.  You won’t be logging on to our web site much then.’

Meanwhile, a man on a mission has walked to the wicket.  Yesterday, in a league game, he did not trouble the scorers.  A mix up taking a risky second run, and they both arrive at the same end.  One of them had to go and he’s still visibly seething.  This is Richard Umbers, rotweiller expert and a Stainborough player who guests for us.  He is the famous Gotham City Bat-Kisser.  Between shots he caresses the splice with his laughing gear.  Is this a good luck ritual?  A weird sexual fetish maybe?  We don’t think so.  His size suggests he has a store of cream cakes in there somewhere.  His stock shot is an awesome step forward, nearly into the bowler’s half of the strip, and he’s not too bothered if he gets bat on it.  Balls off the wicket go for four or one.  Two’s are rare and painful, three’s unthinkable.

All the great team dramas have a happy ending in which good triumphs over evil.  Along the way, the knife man dies and the horse whisperer is seriously wounded, the young gun comes of age and marries, and the older craggy bald mildly embittered leader rides off alone into the sunset to who knows what more adventures.  I wonder who our skipper resembles?  We were well on the way when the hail came and that’ was that.  We will never know.  Match drawn and abandoned, an early drink and home for ‘Auf, Weidersein Pet’.  Except for Roy whose goes straight home to little Millie.

Andy Capp joins us in the dressing room.  He’s a measured orator, with a particular relish for words containing lippy consonants,

‘I was a sportsman once.’  Oh, really?

‘I love the smell of embrocation and the sparkle of the banter.  Pity; there’s neither in here.’

Thats the Casuals.  One of many homeless cricket teams; a wandering collection of the unfit and the overweight, the good and the not so good, and the ugly.

We’re on the road again.

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