Meet The Crippled Cricketer

By Sam Blackledge

When Patrick Medhurst-Feeney walks to the crease with a bat in his hands, everything goes quiet.

“Before a match my brain is going nuts,” he says.
“I am looking for danger, looking for anything that is not right. It’s what I was trained for.

“As soon as I step on to the cricket pitch, all that goes away.

“It just shuts off all the noise and the fear inside me.”

Patrick joined the Army at the age of 19, and was posted to his first tour of Afghanistan in 2011 as a veterinary technician.

Just weeks after the operation ended, during an adventure training exercise in Germany, he suffered a severe back injury.

After two years of physiotherapy he was deployed again, this time as a vehicle search dog handler.

“That job took its toll on me,” he says. “I was in and out of the patrol base in Helmand Province and eventually my back just gave up the ghost.”


He was transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birimingham, and eventually back to Plymouth.

But as his physical scars healed, Patrick realised he was suffering from a different sort of trauma.

“My second night back home was firework night,” he says.

“I was frightened by the explosions. I ended up having a massive panic attack and a breakdown.”

He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and referred to Help for Heroes at HMS Drake.

Embarking on the long road to recovery, he discovered the charity was looking to form a cricket team.

“I thought I would give it a go,” he says.

“It just ignited this love of cricket again and gave me a focus.”


These days Patrick is a popular member of Yelverton Bohemians, a village club in the Devon league with three thriving teams and a picturesque ground off the A379.

He has re-modelled his batting technique and accepted his physical limitations – the league authorities have even amended the rules to fit him in.

“I’m not able to run, so I rely on a runner when I’m batting,” he says.

“Usually you can only have a runner if you’ve hurt yourself during the game, but they made an exception.

“I can still play proper cricket shots and I can field close in. I just can’t go racing around the boundary.”

One of Patrick’s team-mates says he took a blinding slip catch during a friendly game last weekend. He admits old habits die hard.

“That part of my cricket brain tells me I can still dive around,” he says.

“It hurts, but I still get that buzz from being involved.”

Patrick says the unique nature of cricket makes it a perfect fit for his recovery.

“If you don’t focus on the ball you get hit, and it bloody hurts,” he says.

“I can stand out there for a whole afternoon and not do anything, but because I am focusing on the ball, and what everybody is doing, I shut my brain off from worrying about what is around me.

“It makes me feel happy and relaxed. After a game I have two or three days of a mental high.

“It gives me that endorphin rush. I find I’m more proactive at home, I’m more involed in everything. My wife loves it too, because it gets me out of the house!”


The social side of the game is just as important as what happens in the middle, he says.

“It’s one of the big things I have missed since I left the Army. You’re always part of a unit, part of a group. When I got injured I lost that.

“Now I can be a normal person, just one of the lads again.”

Yelverton coach Chris Cottrell says Patrick is an inspiration.

“He is just absolutely fantastic,” he says.

“He’s a lovely lad. I know he’s been through his dark times, but this is bringing him back out into the light.

“Just to see the love that he has for the game when he goes out there, rather than sitting at home thinking too much, I am so proud of him.”

Check out Patrick’s blog, The Crippled Cricketer, at thecrippledcricketer.wordpress.com.

This article was first published in the Plymouth Herald. Pictures by Penny Cross. 

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Moeen Ali is proving doubters wrong, says cousin Kabir

by Sam Blackledge

Former England seamer Kabir Ali says his cousin Moeen is proving the doubters wrong – and believes their family could continue producing international stars for years to come.

The 35-year-old, who retired from first-class cricket last year due to injury, watched on proudly as Moeen scored his third Test century against Pakistan at The Oval.

Kabir says it was a “brilliant” innings – and insists Moeen is ready for a promotion to strengthen England’s brittle middle order.

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“Obviously we’ve known him since he was a baby, he’s always been talented and gifted,” Kabir says.

“We knew he would play for England at some point, it was just a matter of time.

“He is batting well at seven but maybe if they push him up the order he will go on to bigger and better things.

“He bats at one down for Worcestershire, there’s no reason why he can’t bat up at number three, four or five for England.

“If you look back to the Sri Lanka series (when Moeen scored an unbeaten 155* at Durham) he batted all day, that just shows he’s mentally strong enough.

“He’s proved quite a few people wrong. They are always pointing fingers at him but he’s done very well.”

Moeen struggled with ball in hand against Pakistan, picking up 11 wickets at an average of 46.

Kabir believes the visitors went hard against his off-spin because they saw him as a threat.

“He is definitely a batsman-cum-bowler, without a doubt, but he has bowled well against Australia and India,” he says.

“As soon as he came on they saw him as someone they could look to target and attack.

“When there was a bit of pressure on them to play with a straight bat he picked up a few wickets, he looked quite dangerous.

“I think that’s why they target him quite hard. If they played more proper cricket shots he would have done well.

“They just picked on him a bit. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad bowler.”

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Moeen’s success may prompt Kabir to reflect on his own brief England career – but he says he has no regrets.

“I try not to look back too far,” he says. “I am very proud that I got to play a Test and 14 ODIs.

“I got a five-for in an ODI, maybe I should have played more. That’s history now, but nobody can take that one Test away from me.

“I am very proud, and now that Moeen has gone on to play more I am just happy.”

Along with Moeen’s brother Kadeer, who played more than 100 first-class matches for three counties, the Birmingham-based family have created a cricketing dynasty – and Kabir says there is more to come.

“We are looking after the youngsters now, they are the future,” he says.

“We have got quite a few family members coming through in the under-12s and under-13s, nephews and cousins.

“Me and Kadeer and Moeen have all got kids now, all of a similar age, so I am sure at some point they will pick up a bat and ball.

“You never know what can happen in the future. If they keep working hard you could see more Alis wearing the three lions.”

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Why cricket makes me weepy

When Moeen Ali danced down the pitch and lofted Yasir Shah over long-on to bring up his century in the fourth Test, at The Oval, I felt a tingle in my eye.

Maybe I was just tired. Perhaps it had been a long day at the computer screen. Either way, this was not the first time a snippet of cricket had threatened to turn me into a snivelling wreck.

I was sitting in the same spot a year ago the last time it happened. Adam Voges sliced a ball to Ben Stokes at gully, who flung himself backwards like an Olympic gymnast. On the radio, Jonathan Agnew exploded into life. “And he’s brilliantly caught! Brilliantly caught! That is an outrageous catch!”

I swallowed hard and glanced around the office to check nobody was looking. As eye-watering pieces of commentary go, it was up there with: “The new world record-holder is Brian Charles Lara of Trinidad and Tobago”; “Stephen Harmison with a slower ball – one of the great balls”; and, of course: “Jones! Bowden!”

I get more excited, angry, nervous and overjoyed about cricket than I do about anything in normal life. Once, when England made a vital breakthrough in the 2013 Ashes, I shouted so loudly the neighbours came round to check I was okay.

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A therapist would probably tell me it all stems from childhood. I went to my first Test match aged six: England v West Indies at Edgbaston. The scorecard tells me England finished day three on 158 for 8 in their second innings, just 52 ahead, with Derek Pringle and Chris Lewis at the wicket. That explains a lot.

Growing up as an English cricket fan in the 1990s, as Emma John says in her wonderful bookFollowing On, was a painful business. Enduring defeat after defeat was one thing, but the glimmers of hope – Barbados ’94, Johannesburg ’95, Edgbaston ’97 – kept me coming back for more.

When Devon Malcolm pummelled South Africa at The Oval and Dean Headley sliced through the Aussies in Melbourne, I asked myself why they couldn’t do it more often.

Every time Mark Ramprakash compiled a flawless 27 before spooning a long hop to cover point, it broke another piece of my fragile young heart.

To this day, I cannot bring myself to watch highlights of that 2005 series without taking a few deep breaths and warning anyone in the immediate vicinity to be ready with the Kleenex

In Brisbane in ’98, Alan Mullally’s stupid hands got in the way of the stumps, blocking a direct hit that would have run out Steve Waugh. I was furious and stormed off to my bedroom in a strop.

The emotions were no less raw when it came to county cricket. On my first visit to Lord’s,Warwickshire chased down 322 to beat Sussex off the last ball of the NatWest Trophy final. In many ways, nothing I have experienced since has been able to live up to that day. The following season the Bears, inspired by Dermot Reeve and Lara, won an unprecedented domestic treble.

I thought this was normal, that the champagne would keep flowing and the glory would last forever. It wasn’t, it wouldn’t, and it didn’t. One of the low points of the comedown was utter humiliation in the ’97 final, Essex winning by nine wickets with 33 overs to spare. I fought back tears on the train home as my dad reminded me the next day was the first of the new school term.

Some people see injustice and are driven to seek a life in politics, campaigning or law. I saw Gloucestershire beat Warwickshire to the 2000 NatWest Trophy on the Duckworth-Lewis method after a brief rain shower. We left the ground in bright sunshine and cursed all the way back to Marylebone. “Character-building,” you might say. “Bloody stitch-up,” we said.

In 2005, as every schoolboy surely knows by heart, everything changed. I was in a student-union bar, holding back tears of joy, when Messrs Bowden and Koertzen removed the bails and Michael Atherton chuckled: “What a performance from these two gentlemen!” To this day I cannot bring myself to watch highlights of that series without taking a few deep breaths and warning anyone in the immediate vicinity to be ready with the Kleenex.

Picture, if you will, a typical English cricket fan. Stiff upper lip, wry gallows humour, weary sense of detachment, ready at any moment to add two wickets to the score. My grandad fits this description perfectly. Whenever I’m on holiday or otherwise engaged, he sends me a message telling me how badly England are doing. When I visited him during this summer’s third Test against Pakistan, England were 120 without loss on the fourth morning. As the clock ticked past 11am, grandad came striding across the garden to tell me both openers had gone in the first few overs of the day. I kicked the ground and clenched my fists; he just laughed and shook his head.

Nothing makes me feel as strongly as cricket does. Walls have been punched in anger, nails chewed in anxiety, car horns beeped in relief. It must look very odd from the outside, and I have thought long and hard about why it happens. Is it physiological or psychosomatic? Was I programmed from birth to well up at the sight of white-flannelled figures on village greens and the sound of leather on willow?

Perhaps there are parallels to be drawn between cricket and art. Some folk get weepy at a particularly stirring piece of ballet, a rousing opera, or a Van Gogh painting. They are at a similar loss to explain why: “All I know is it touches something deep inside me.”

I’m not especially fussed about dancing, singing or painting. But I happen to have a weakness for languid cover drives, short silly mid-ons, and the irresistible allure of the lbw law.

Oh, hang on – we’ve just lost another wicket. Has anybody got any tissues?

This piece was first published on ESPN Cricinfo.

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Knight hails crowd power as Storm sweep past Thunder

Women’s Kia Super League

Western Storm v Lancashire Thunder, Taunton

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Plymouth’s Heather Knight hailed the power of the home crowd after a superb all-round performance steered Western Storm to victory in their first outing of the Women’s Kia Super League.

Captaining the South West outfit at Taunton in the new Twenty20 competition on Sunday, England skipper Knight shone with bat and ball in a four-wicket win over Lancashire Thunder in front of 1,100 spectators.

“The crowd were brilliant today, they really got behind us and were really vocal,” Knight told The Herald.

“We’ve always had brilliant support down here when we’ve played with England. To see that again in a domestic game is unheard of in the women’s game in this country.

“Hopefully word will spread.”

The visitors chose to bat first but struggled to move through the gears and lost regular wickets.

In the fourth over South African Lizelle Lee took a superb catch off Freya Davies, running backwards on the boundary to dismiss the dangerous Hayley Matthews.

She followed it up with an even better effort to snare Emma Lamb as Storm applied the pressure with tight spin bowling and disciplined fielding.

Thunder’s West Indian import Deandra Dottin looked stylish in her brief innings of 15 before holing out off compatriot Stafanie Taylor, one of four wickets for the impressive all-rounder.

Knight, whose golden arm has worked wonders for England over the last couple of years, bowled Natasha Miles round her legs for one in her second over, before trapping Laura Marshall LBW the very next ball.

Taylor mirrored her captain minutes later, taking two in two to leave Thunder tottering on 73-8.

Knight dived athletically to her right to catch Ellie Threlkeld off her own bowling, rounding off figures of 3-10 as Thunder collapsed to 83 all out.

Having shared 7-25 with the ball, Knight and Taylor put on 35 for the second wicket, showing their experience by running tight singles before the Jamaican was stumped for 14 off Matthews.

Fran Wilson executed a couple of cheeky reverse-sweeps in her 16, but her dismissal sparked a middle order wobble.

Lizelle Lee was trapped LBW by Dottin without scoring, and Knight was bowled by Sophie Edmondson for a composed 23.

Georgia Hennessy, Sophie Luff and Anya Shrubsole steadied the ship to ensure victory with four overs to spare.

“Our fielding was outstanding, it was really nice to start well,” Knight said afterwards.

“It probably wasn’t the perfect performance – we made it a bit interesting at the end, losing a few wickets – but nice to get the first match nerves out of the way and get a win on the board.”
Knight says she is relishing the challenge of captaining a new team of stars.

“We came together a couple of weeks ago and it’s been really exciting to get to know how people function, how the bowlers work, get the plans right.

“The group has gelled really well and it’s exciting to see where we can go in this competition.”

Sam Blackledge

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Licence to wang it

Menheniot-Looe 3rds (174-5) beat Gunnislake (163 all out) by 11 runs

Playing cricket is like a marriage. Most of the time it is bloody hard work and you wonder why on earth you signed up in the first place. But every so often, completely out of nowhere, a good day comes along. You get a much-needed win and some points in the bag. Job done. For goodness’ sake, don’t question it.

Gunnislake were top of the table on 67 points, while we were languishing in the basement on 15. The omens were not promising, but for once fate was on our side.

IMG_5063The visitors’ opening bowler delivered 3.1 pacy overs before turning his ankle, and their reserve artillery was clearly nowhere near as powerful. Bill made a circumspect 32 before drinks, but someone must have slipped some Red Bull into his Ribena as he came out swinging like Floyd Mayweather and was soon bowled all over the shop.

Zac played an uncharacteristically sedate innings, presenting a beautifully straight bat and displaying unusual restraint in his running between the wickets. Steve had a theory: “It’s since he put on a bit of weight. He hasn’t been the same.”

With our run rate flat lining and plenty of wickets still in hand, the skipper stressed the need for a bit of humpty. This was a job for PJ, the man who taught Brendon McCullum everything he knows about wild leg-side yahoos. “You mean I’ve actually got the licence to go out and wang it?” he asked incredulously, before doing just that, biffing six fours in an unbeaten 27.

Unfortunately PJ couldn’t get on strike as the 40-over mark approached because Steve was at the other end, blocking like Paul Collingwood in his prime. We were just a few runs short of maximum batting points, but the skip could not be shifted. In the end we finished one run short, and the first fine of the day was issued.

IMG_5058After Zac and Helena had indulged in a spot of GCSE maths revision over quiche and cake – something about finding the decimal square root of 19x – we took the field in warm sunshine. The brains trust pored over a diagram of field placings before instructing everyone to “just spread yourselves out”. We struck a couple of early blows, but the game was slipping away thanks to Gunnislake’s big-hitting skipper, Boundy, who was several classes above his compatriots.

The evergreen Geoff Husband, who turns 80 this year, came in at number five and contributed eight runs to a stand of 73. I’m not quite sure where those eight runs came from, as I don’t remember the ball moving more than five yards from his bat at any point. As a fielder it was quite relaxing, and we chuckled to ourselves as he gobbled up the maidens, but it proved to be his team’s undoing.

Boundy reached his century and looked as if he might achieve the impossible by actually overtaking his own team’s total. We had all but given up when he was fourth out with the score on 129, and he could only watch as his mates collapsed like a pack of cards, PJ revelling in his new-found all-rounder status.

IMG_5066Some resistance from the final pair made for a nail-biting finale, and when Helena rattled the timbers to give us victory in the penultimate over we were, to coin a phrase, over the flipping moon. We posed for pictures at the end like idiots. Two of us had already gone home, but we didn’t care.

I was disappointed not to have contributed, but a win is a win. At least my cheese and pickle sandwiches went down a treat.

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The secret cricketer

Bude 2nds (257-5) beat Menheniot-Looe 3rds (134-9) by 123 runs

Many literary geniuses have reportedly used ghost writers: Shakespeare, Cartland, and Redknapp being fine examples.

The writer of this blog has chosen to do something supposedly more important than standing in a field all day, so I have taken on the role for this week’s game but wish my identity to remain a mystery.

The day started well, glorious sunshine with a tinge of spring chill as most of the party met at the clubhouse ready to convoy to Bude. A high-powered discussion ensued concerning tactics, form and the balance of the swearing kitty.

IMG_0508Directions established, we set off. ‘I’ll follow Stevo”, I thought – until I realised he drives like Colin McRae and I was soon left in his wake. Arriving at Bude CC there was no Stevo in sight, he had got lost. What do they say about the Hare and the Tortoise, Stevo?

Feeling quite smug, I made my way to the plush changing rooms which were far from what we are used to. Dano was
particularly taken with how the showers work, like Neanderthal man discovering fire.

As usual two of our regular players had been drafted into the seconds, so we called on a couple of newbies: Chris Lomas (Lomo), on loan from St Austell as he cannot get into any of their four teams, and Dave Kiloran (Kilo) our new overseas player from Zimbabwe. Don’t get excited though – even Dave will admit he is as much Division 6 (East) material as the rest of us.

Winning the toss we elected to bowl, to the surprise of the opposition considering how good the pitch was. We had batted first in our last two games and wanted a change. This, as it turned out, was similar to Nasser Hussain’s decision to bowl
at the Gabba in 2002, only to be dismantled by the Aussies.

IMG_0507After a good economical, start from our opening bowlers we finally got the two openers out. This after a most un-Zac like dropped catch off Helena’s bowling. He had the ball, we all started celebrating, only to see it drop apologetically to the ground. He later redeemed himself with an excellent catch, but Helena was still not happy.

As it turned out getting the two openers out was the worst thing we could have done, because out came the big guns. After 20 overs full of fours and sixes, several of which hit the pavilion roof causing unsuspecting families enjoying a walk along the coast to duck and dive, they were on 250-plus.

To our credit we battled away, and special mention must be made to Paul Juckett (Jucko), who when asked to bowl the final overs must have incurred a few penalties for the swear box. As it turned out, he returned figures of two overs, two
wickets for five runs.

After tea (6.5 out of 10), we were instructed by the skipper to take it in 35 run milestones, as you get a batting point for each 35 runs scored. Our openers reached 33 before one of them was bowled two runs short of the first target. Suffice to say the other opener went soon after.

We had nowhere near the firepower of our opponents but we continued with great spirit with 24 runs from Ryan Harris, 19 from Dan Goldsmith and 17 from debutant Lomo.

8c5fc8663456ba6a56ab6db9c3d3dca1_400x400 (1)To the opposition’s frustration they could not bowl us all out, leaving them just one bowling point away from a full 20 points. This was thanks in part to our final wicket pairing of Phil O’Connell (Filo, as in the pastry) and Johnny Mason (Jono). They scored just 15 runs but kept them out, like Nigel Farage (Nobo) on border control.

And so that was it, another loss, but plenty to keep positive about. I really do think we had better bowlers than the opposition, but could not match them elsewhere.

With two games this weekend, Stevo needs to try harder to get his tweets to Kevin Pietersen heard – we need some ringers!

Hopefully it’s back to your usual blogger next week. I can only apologise for this…and anything else, come to think of it.

The secret cricketer

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Politics, philosophy and home economics

Menheniot-Looe 3rds (60 all out) lost to St Austell 4ths (62-3) by seven wickets

It had been a week of crushing victories, humiliating defeats and the dawning of a new era of leadership. But enough about the general election – we had a cricket season to crack on with.

Arriving for our first league clash of the new campaign we were full of the kind of optimism which only comes from nine months of collective amnesia. Gathering around the newly-cut strip, sunshine beating down, banter flying every which way, there was an unmistakeable sense of optimism.

Within half an hour we were 20-5 and it was getting cold. I know that feeling, I thought as I rummaged in my bag for a third sweater. Welcome back, old friend.

After St Austell’s opening bowlers had delivered a miserly 14 consecutive overs, Ryan decided to take matters into his own hands by launching their first change for a succession of massive sixes, the third of which landed in one of the football goals dotted around the boundary. Our suggestion that we should be awarded a 20 bonus runs got short shrift.

Sometime first-teamer JP turned up to watch, two-year-old son in tow, and was quickly roped into making up the numbers. He got in and got out, and then so did I, playing all round a straight one. 60 all out in 25 overs, we went straight back out to field as it was too early for tea.

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By the time the sandwiches and cakes arrived the visitors had moved serenely to within touching distance of victory. Wicketkeeper Paul serenaded a maudlin dressing room with a rendition of Jeff Beck’s ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’.

As nominated vice-captain for the day, Steve asked me what I thought we should do. Scooping up another handful of PJ’s delicious tuna and red onion sandwiches – assembled with a delicacy one would not normally associate with a middle order biffer whose shot repertoire is limited to the leg side hoik – I stuffed my face and scuttled away.

We trudged back out to the middle, condemned men bracing for one final spell in the torture chamber before the sweet release of the firing squad. Bill came over all Sun-Tzu: “I’ve been reading this book, it’s all about taking positive mental attitude to the game,” he said. “It’s really helped me.” I considered asking how exactly it was helping him deal with being dismissed LBW for one, but thought better of it.

As the fat lady was unwrapping the Soothers and plugging in her microphone, Steve threw me the ball. Four to win – what’s the worst that could happen?

My first delivery barely made it to the other end, bouncing twice and allowing the batsman to change his shot eleven times before spooning it up to Ryan at mid-on. I turned to skulk back to my mark, expecting a no-ball to be called, but the umpire was unmoved and I had my first league wicket of the season. “They all go down in the book”, I laughed to Alan. “Well they shouldn’t”, he scowled, a stickler for the rules.

Back in the shed, Steve did what all good leaders do and attempted to spin his way out of trouble. “We may have lost, but we showed some good spirit out there and it’s important to take the positives”, he said.

Paul piped up from the corner: “You’re not a Lib Dem voter are you?”

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New man in

There is nothing quite like walking off a cricket pitch flushed with success to find the person who has come along to watch you for the first time has done a big poo.

Let’s start at the beginning. My baby was due to enter the world on February 18th, just a few days into the World Cup. Not ideal timing, but at least he wasn’t interrupting The Ashes.

In the end, he was late. Five days after the scheduled start of his innings, at risk of being timed out, things began to stir. We were just getting used to the comfortable preliminary rounds, experimenting with fielding positions and fine-tuning the batting order, when the situation suddenly became a bit more serious. Flashing lights, pained expressions, screaming and shouting – we were now well and truly into the knockout stages.

You can do all the net practice you like, but out in the middle it’s a different matter. I proved myself a useful partner at home, picking up singles and keeping the partnership ticking along, but once in hospital I froze.

All padded up with nowhere to go, I stood paralysed at the non-striker’s end as my darling wife held firm in the face of an almighty onslaught. Time and again she went down; the physio told her to retire hurt, accept a runner, but she would not budge. She stared back at the bowler with a determined glare, took a deep breath and re-marked her guard.

Presentation1Finally the pavilion doors opened (that’s probably a metaphor too far) and out he came. The moment of triumph was strangely muted. Despite having had my eyes fixed on this life-changing landmark for so long, I hadn’t really considered how I might react when it finally arrived. Should I look to the heavens and thank the Almighty? Get down on my knees and kiss the pitch? Or embark on a lap of honour, arms aloft, twirling my bat to the four corners of the stadium?

They say you never forget your first – a monkey off the back, an unsullied glimpse of a dazzling future, your place in the team secured forever. There will undoubtedly be low points – dips in form, temper tantrums, bad decisions, horrific collapses, entire days lost to bad weather. But a platform has been set, and now we must make hay while our son shines.

He is now two months old, and last weekend he attended his first match. Quite what he made of our chaotic 25-over, 12-man-a-side friendly against Liskeard Teachers, I’m not sure.

We batted first and he saw his old man get clean bowled for zip as we made 170-odd. When I picked up two cheap wickets opening the bowling I peered over to the pavilion, hoping for a sign of approval from the lad. He was either asleep or bored senseless.

They told me once I had a baby nothing would ever be the same again, and they were right. My hand-eye coordination, dodgy at the best of times, has not responded well to sleep deprivation and emotional overload. But the new season is here at last, and I’ll be damned if a few dirty nappies and fiddly car seats are going to stop me now.

Sam Blackledge

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Time to go home

 
The bright lights of the pavilion shone out across Fourgates as we finished the final midweek net session of the season. It was not yet 8pm, but it was getting too dark to see the ball. I took one last look around. It was almost time to go home.
 
This has been a momentous summer for me for many different reasons, and cricket has been a big part of it. Playing regularly has boosted my confidence and fitness, given me a distraction from the world of work and provided more moments of laughter, despair, hope and frustration than I can remember.
 
IMG_3724I have made a lot of friends and got to know some great characters. There’s the schoolgirl who spends most of her time mucking around and feigning squeamishness, but possesses a cracking technique and a well-hidden inner steel. There’s the first team captain who turns up to nets in his business suit and brown brogues, grabs the ball out of someone’s hand and sends down a loopy leg break before aiming a sneering sledge at the batsman and sauntering off to the pub.
 
There’s the power hitter who nobody wants to bowl at for fear of getting their fingers or head taken off; the agricultural all-rounder who aims everything to cow corner and loudly admonishes himself after every mis-timed shot; and the overseas import who hardly says a word but swings the ball around corners and bats like the lovechild of Ian Bell and Mark Waugh.
 
Despite the poor results, I’ve never loved cricket more than I did this summer. I would often practice twice in the week, play a match on Saturday and spend my remaining free time watching the professionals on TV. Then I would write about it, and the whole process would start all over again. Quite how I managed to get married and stay married is anybody’s guess.

10646817_294408444099949_6893894558018164938_nOn Friday night players from all three teams gathered in the clubhouse for an emergency general meeting, a tense affair which brought home what a difficult season it has been, both on and off the field. It was a necessary exercise, but I felt quite removed from all the politics and hand-wringing. It was a relief to get back out on the field. 
 
We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day for our final match at the Port Eliot estate in St Germans. We lost the toss and fielded in the heat against an in-form Tideford batting order, restricting them early on before Burnett and Bowes cut loose, sharing a century partnership to take the score past 200.
 
I dropped a straightforward catch and struggled with my bowling, but got through seven overs without causing too much damage. As we trudged back inside, exhausted and dehydrated, Paul said: “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” As an inspirational pick-me-up, it was less Brian Clough and more Kim Jong-il.
 
Following the tradition of the season finale, we picked the batting order out of a hat. John Cowley smashed a quickfire 20, Helena used her new stick to block out 15 overs as if she was battling to save a Test Match and John Mason hobbled around on one leg at number three, swishing and swiping like an Evertonian Gordon Greenidge. 
 
I went in at eight with 15 overs left and the target way off in the distance, a scenario which repeated itself again and again this year like a broken computer game. This time I resolved to simply be there at the end, which I was, 20 not out from a total of 109. That might not seem like much, but it’s my personal best and showed I can hold my own at this level. My average for the season jumped from 5.5 to 8.8. I won’t pack my bags for the World Cup just yet.
 
IMG_3732I insisted we pose for a team photo after Saturday’s match. By the time we got round to it everyone had changed out of their whites into normal clothes, so I ended up with a blurry picture of 11 people standing awkwardly in a deserted field. I suppose in a way it sums up the season rather nicely.
 
Having crawled and whinged through the last three years as a ‘born again’ village cricketer, this summer I pulled myself up and wobbled unsteadily to my feet. I still have a lot to learn, but writing this blog has been hugely cathartic. It has helped me realise that humour, pathos and wisdom can always be found in the depths of defeat, and that every new match is another opportunity to do something spectacular.

The kit has been packed away, the stumps have been pulled and the lights have been switched off. I don’t know how I’ll cope until April comes around again. What do normal people do on Saturday afternoons?
 
Sam Blackledge
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O, brave new world!

Calstock 1st XI (204-7) beat Menheniot-Looe 3rd XI (128 all out) by 76 runs

As a pretentious drama graduate and lapsed theatre luvvie, I still try to catch the occasional local show whenever time allows. This week it was the Miracle Theatre Company’s marvellous outdoor production of The Tempest, Shakespeare’s final play telling the story of an enchanted island populated by storms, spirits, savages and shipwrecked drunkards. It was a fitting prologue to our last home game against Calstock, given that we had kicked off the season in the grip of an almighty downpour up at their gaff.

The Miracle Theatre Company's production of The TempestThe visitors were chasing promotion; we were looking to bid farewell to Looe for another year – and possibly forever – on a positive note. The day had an unmistakable end-of-term feeling about it as Steve took over as captain, throwing his hat in the ring to lead whatever remains of the thirds next year. Often a change of skipper can have an immediate impact, but nobody could have predicted what happened after we lost the toss and took the field. 5-1 became 5-2 became 5-3. Then 11-4, then 11-5. Three of their top six made ducks, bamboozled by four overs of John’s line and length and Dan’s flight and guile. “We’re the MK Dons to their Manchester United,” Ian crowed as the fifth wicket fell. We were halfway to the most extraordinary performance in recent memory and nobody quite knew where to look.

‘O brave new world, which has such people in it!’

Teams at this level often mess around with their batting order, and it’s not unusual to find quality players hiding in the lower order ready to extinguish any early hope. Calstock put on 108 for the sixth wicket, a classic exhibition of counter-attacking which well and truly took the wind out of our sails. I managed to puncture their stern by removing the imposing figure of Porritt for 46, but his partner Newman went on to make a brilliant unbeaten century. He gave just one chance mid-way through his innings, edging me behind to Paul, who couldn’t hang on. I knew he wouldn’t lapse again.

‘And then, in dreaming, the clouds methought would open and show riches, ready to drop upon me, that when I waked, I cried to dream again.’

Free from the pressures of captaincy, Mike led our chase with a belligerent knock. He launched into floaty full tosses and filthy long hops with gusto, taking five fours from one particularly juicy over. Anyone would think he had a point to prove after five months of watching his troops fiddle and fidget their way around the crease. After 20 overs we were 96-1 and in with a real chance. After 31 overs we were 128 all out and shaking hands, bamboozled by the mystery spin of Calstock’s wily skipper. When I joined Mike in the middle he was running out of partners and the required rate was spiking. “I don’t know what’s going to happen here,” he laughed. “But I’m going to have to push on.” It could only go one of two ways. Death or glory. He swung hard and top-edged to the keeper. Blackout.

‘I’ll break my staff, bury it certain fathoms in the earth, and deeper than did ever plummet sound, I’ll drown my book.’

The Miracle Theatre Company's production of The TempestThere is one more act left in our story, a final trip to Tideford on Saturday before the clubhouses are locked up and the kit packed away for the winter. The future of our team will be decided not on the field, but in meetings, votes, debates and negotiations. The fact remains that we have conceded more games this year through lack of players than we have won. Still, it’s not over until the curtain comes down. One last shot at glory.

‘Let us not burden our remembrances with a heaviness that’s gone.’

Sam Blackledge

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