I had followed the same training schedule as the previous 20 years—I’d done nothing, and I’d been out for a curry and a few pints the night before. I’d packed as many surgical supports as I could fit in my kit-bag, I’d shunned a sandwich for lunch and opted for just-the-one pint (pre-hydration) before the game. But still, as I arrived at the ground for our first cricket match of the season it was clear it was going to be a long, hard day.
My first worry was that our influential skipper was not, as is usual, inspecting the wicket or warming-up on the boundary, but was in fact on assignment in the Hindu Kush. Bugger. But good news came when someone mentioned a young-ish, fast-ish, swing bowler had been selected and was on his way. Excellent! someone to do most of the donkey-work. Then more bad news: another one of our member was stuck in traffic somewhere somewhere between the South Circular and the Guilford bypass and was gonna be late. If at all. Christ.
When we gathered in the visitors’ changing room the full horror struck me: I was 44 years old, overweight and overhung, short on muscle and hair, but long on girth and ralgex, and I calculated that at least six of my team-mates were older than me!. Admittedly a couple of them looked a good deal fitter than I did, but it was clear that I was part of the youth policy. Someone had blundered. My mood didn’t improve when the young fast bowler showed up with his leg in plaster, having gotten injured playing soccer last weekend. Oh poo.
We took the field having dragged a mate out of the pub to make up the XI. Ten of us were resplendent in albeit rather snug-fitting cricket whites, the eleventh (he who was enjoying a quiet half-gallon in the boozer til press-ganged into playing) in my spare cricket shirt, a pair of cargo pants and brown hiking boots. Less WG Grace, more WC Fields.
We bowled. I bowled. It hurt. The batsmen tucked into our bowling like Ranulph Fiennes in a Katmandu Curry House. The opening attack (myself and an Aussie called Jeff) had a combined age of 94. My eyes bled, my calves seized up, my lungs screamed and my head thumped. Between overs I stood in the outfield gasping for breath, my big fat red head sweating audibly. I looked like a fat Swan Vesta.
Catches were taken, many more were dropped. Play was occasionally punctuated by a clatter of stumps, but more often the ‘ping’ of a lump of leather coming of a plank of wood and hurtling over the boundary. One of their young guns scored a hundred as the runs flowed, lbw appeals were turned down and the fielders’ good-humoured chat, banter and yelps of HOWZAT ?? turned into coughs, moans, and yelps of pain.
At the end of their innings it was clear they’d scored approximately 100 more runs than we were happy with. But no matter. TEA! Sandwiches, pork pies (like we needed more) doughnuts (ditto) and lashings of hot tea had been provided in the pavilion. We devoured. A condemned XI’s last meal.
Our Turn To Bat
Cargo-pant guy (50-odd), now having borrowed the bottom half to his kit, took to the crease with his batting partner (who just might be under 30) and our innings began. Whack, ping, wheeze, clunk. The pair got off to a flier. If the elder of the two hadn’t pulled a muscle in his arse who knows how many more runs they could have run? But it was a great start. All the way up until it wasn’t. The young lad was bowled out when we’d scored 89.
But that was ok. Happy with that. A much better start than usual. In walked our no.3 batsman (more than 50-odd) who really did look the part. He looked comfortable at the crease (both his arse muscles were still working) and started to knock a few balls around to all parts of the field. Very much the man in form. But no sooner had we in the Pavilion got comfortable and ordered more tea when he was hit smack-bang in the face by the ball. Lots of blood. Lots. Quite put me off my fifth sarnie. Our number 11 batsman took him to hospital and we were down to 9 men again.
Our batsmen nudged and nurdled and smacked and smote the ball into gaps in the field as we crept towards the total required. Our ill-clad, aged opener scored 93— ON HIS OWN!. Gradually, two things dawned on me: a) we could win this; b) I might have to bat. Oh fuck. Oh fuck fuck fuck! Then it happened: the bloke in front of me was, disaterously, given out LBW (by the then-umpiring Cargo Man) and I was in. I protected my stumps, head and goolies and we sneaked a sharp single. My partner at the other end was caught out. Then I ran-out my next partner. Bugger. The last man in (he’d returned from delivering our man to hospital) joined me in the middle and we needed 14 to win with 2 overs left. Then 13 needed. Then 11. It was tortuous. It was pathetic. Two men who hated batting (combined age 99), swishing and swatting and limping up and down the wicket. One ball left. One run to win. SWISH, PING. The ball shot between two fielders and we ran like buggery (if buggery is very, very, slow and painful, which I suspect it is.) and we’d won. Stone me!
I left the field very gingerly, very sweatily and very happily. Every bone and organ ached like hell. We went to the pub. I had to sit down. Our hospitalized mate was having an x-ray and I was having a pint. Every cloud. This report was typed with the two digits I possess that can actually still move. Silly old sod.