Sunday, 15 May 2011

A mad rush

Saturday was my first match on Stafford's main square, which I've been looking forward to for some time.

The couple of hours before the match seemed to bring one minor annoyance after another, as first the guy I'd offered to give a lift to the ground decided he wanted picking up half an hour later than agreed, then the traffic in town was a nightmare, and then once I'd arrived I helped take the covers off before Sam gave me the job of collecting the subs. While I was doing so everyone else was mucking about and I ended up getting hit on the foot by a cricket ball - not hard enough to injure but just enough to annoy. All I had wanted was to turn up nice and early and get some bowling practise in but more and more things seemed to be getting in the way.

Bugger it. With all but two players having paid up I left the subs behind the bar and went for a bowl. As it turned out I was bowling pretty well, with lots of turn and that feeling of command I get when I'm bowling well. The opposition turned up so I made sure they could see a few really hard-spun leggies that turned miles, and I was feeling good.

We were put in to field and as a team we fielded really well. The wind once again couldn't make its mind up so I spent much of the match wondering which end I should bowl from, but I needn't have bothered. We managed to wrap up all ten wickets in about 30 overs for only 98 runs, with only three bowlers used of which I wasn't one. I can't say I was terribly pleased, in point of fact I was pretty bloody miffed, especially as Sam had bowled at one end unchanged throughout. Still, I couldn't argue with his figures.

I had a bit of a sulk while I ate my tea and Sam said I'd be batting at 4, which is a nice gesture but ultimately not in my view a satisfactory substitute for a few overs. There really is no point wasting a top-order position on me as I'm simply not good enough with the bat to make use of it, and sure enough when my turn came I blocked three balls and was bowled off the fourth for a duck. Humph. I did try with a moderate degree of success to overcome my considerable annoyance at an afternoon seemingly wasted and cheer the team on as we won with my wicket the last to fall.

Even so I was rather quiet in the clubhouse and it felt as if everyone was avoiding me, until at last a couple of the guys came over to ask what was wrong. Well, when I don't get a bowl I do find it incredibly frustrating, especially when it seems in practise I'm having one of my better days. It was explained to me, very gently and not untruthfully, that my bowling is still not really good enough for our league, and that I had been allowed to bat at 4, whereupon I countered that I don't spend over six hours a week working on my batting, and that the one thing I need if I'm going to improve is experience. Anyway, eventually I lightened up but it was nice to have someone to unload my frustration on.

Sunday was not one of my better days. I arrived at the ground just about on time, had a bit of a bowl but it wasn't quite working. I have no idea why this happens but there doesn't seem to be much I can do about it except to keep practising. We left the club a fraction later than planned and headed for the ground in convoy, at least until the leading two cars zoomed off. How on earth we managed to get so lost on a journey which for the most part I would expect most people from Stafford would find fairly routine I don't know, but by the time we finally got to the ground I was absolutely fit to explode, such had been the rush. And we were fielding. Immediately.

The ground was pretty new, a former farmer's field with picket fencing marking the boundary and the clubhouse only built up to ankle height. The boundaries were pretty small and the ground itself was still rather hard and full of stones, but when it's all finished and settled in I'm sure it'll be a lovely ground. There's not much to say about how I fielded, as on Saturday it was pretty solid and at one point I just got a foot to a ball that was destined for the boundary, picked up and threw and put the wicket down at the keeper's end. The batsman was fairly comfortably in but it was nice to get a throw on target.

With half a dozen overs to go I was brought on to bowl and thrown something approximating a cricket ball. We'd lost two and this one had been seemingly excavated from someone's bag, and it didn't feel right at all. It seemed to be swollen and a little misshapen, and as I tossed it from hand to hand it just seemed to fall out, as if I was trying to spin a brick. The first ball I bowled wasn't so much a long-hop as a hop-skip-and-jump as it pitched halfway down and rolled along for a wide. My next couple of balls weren't totally hopeless and off my fourth the batsman heaved it high to deep mid-off where sadly Sam was unable to hold on to it. A couple more dropped in the empty space at mid-on, so all in all it wasn't too bad an over given I'd got the batsmen creating chances.

Chigsy was pseudo-captain for the day (not the actual captain but calling most of the plays) and he asked if I wanted another over. Well I'm not in the position to turn down any match experience so I said I did. My second over was rather more expensive, and I was hit for six for the first time, although if it had been five yards shorter it would have been another catching chance. I did bowl a couple of full-tosses and one of our fielders said "no you really can't afford to bowl there mate", whereupon I rather forcefully impressed upon him that I was aware of that and was trying to land the damn thing. The batsmen had nothing to lose so really tucked in and I ended up with a rather bruising 2-0-0-22.

We went in to chase 207 with me taking my now customary place as umpire. I think it's important to be consistent so given that we'd had half a dozen LBW shouts turned down I wasn't in a mind to give anything but the very plumest appeals too much attention. They had three that were possibilities but the first just felt wrong (the batsman later said he got an inside edge), the second had way too much doubt about it, and the third was from a right-arm bowler coming round the wicket, and I strongly suspected it pitched outside leg stump. The bowler claimed it had pitched on middle but while I don't think he was trying to deceive me, I know from watching my videos back that where the bowler THINKS the ball pitches and where it actually lands can be remarkably different. Anyway, "not out" said I.

I umpired fully 39.1 of our allotted 40 overs, before the craziest ending to any game I've ever played ensued. Off the final over we needed just three to win but Azar got himself out off the last ball and I was replaced so I could pad up as 7 wickets had gone down at that point. When I got back to the containers that were deputising as changing rooms I was told I had been moved up to 10, as Nick had hurt his arm, so I was in fact next man in. I hadn't even got to my bag before Gaz was out first ball, so I was in! I very hurriedly got my pads on, not bothering to do up the top straps, lift my thigh pads in the bag and walked out carrying my box, gloves, helmet and bat. As I got half-way to the crease I realised it might be an idea to take my time, so slowed down and on reaching the crease took a totally unnecessary middle stump guard just to give me precious extra seconds to get my heart-rate down below 300.

"Just play straight and get me on strike" said Danny at the other end - four balls left and three runs needed. I blocked the first one straight back - the bowler was reasonably quick but he wasn't moving it much. Second ball I blocked back again, this time with a bit more force and Danny deflected the ball off his pads so we could run a single. Two balls, two to win and somehow I'd managed to get him on strike - YES! The penultimate ball was played and missed, straight to the keeper so with one ball left we were still one run behind. As the bowler came in the deliver the final ball I ran even before it had left his hand, but sadly all we could manage was a single. The match was TIED!

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