The art of losing

One to win, nine wickets in hand, almost 20 overs left to play. I trot back to my position at long-off only for the captain to call me into the ring to save the single. The batsman, nicely set on 50, advances down the pitch and strokes the ball to my left, all the way down to the exact spot I had recently vacated and over the rope.

After sheepish handshakes and muttered thanks, we slink back to the dressing room. There are a few half-hearted attempts at banter, but most of us are too fed up to bother. We needed to win this game to have any chance of avoiding relegation. Now we look doomed to finish bottom of the league. Played 18, won 4, lost 12, with two games abandoned due to rain.

It takes a certain kind of team to keep going amid such a rotten season.  In our last four completed games we have batted first and been bowled out for 105, 111, 117 and 78. It’s not that we are completely hopeless. Ok, it’s a bit that. But it’s also down to that peculiar sporting phenomenon – we have forgotten how to win.

It sounds simple.  In order to win, we must score more runs that the other chaps. We certainly have the skills – there are some talented players in our ranks. Technically correct batsmen capable of batting for long periods of time and making decent scores; miserly bowlers who, on their day, can rattle through their overs and keep the pressure on the opposition; and sprightly, agile fielders who gamely throw themselves around on some very questionable surfaces.

The trouble is, it doesn’t all come together at the same time. Last week our captain gave us the challenge of everyone scoring 20, which would have taken us past the dizzy heights of 200. He scored 38 himself, 28 of which came in boundaries, a frantic innings of airy heaves and wild yahoos. The next best score was 18. Nobody else got past 10.

My own contribution summed up the problem. Inexplicably promoted from number 11 to number six, I hit a glorious cover drive for four off the opening bowler, then missed a straight one from an innocuous young spinner. It’s as if we can only be good for very short periods, but get worried we might offend someone and quickly revert to type.

Despite the appalling results, it remains terrific fun. Sometimes the hopelessness of the situation can even help. When it became clear towards the end of our latest thrashing that we were doomed to relegation, I was chosen for a spell of bowling. I have not had my best year with ball in hand, and the casual observer would not have noticed any improvement this time around. But for the first time this season, unburdened by the match situation, I felt able to just run up and let it go. If it landed in the right spot, brilliant. If, as usual, I had “a bit of a Kerrigan” (I intend to trademark this phrase as soon as possible), the match would soon be over.

When the great Australian side were at their peak, winning three consecutive World Cups and 16 Tests in a row, Adam Gilchrist said they always worried that defeat was just around the corner. They believed their extraordinary run couldn’t go on forever, and feared every victory could be their last. This might be stating the obvious – my team are about as far away as it’s possible to get from Gilly and co. But we have a similar outlook, albeit in reverse. For every unsightly batting collapse and wheels-have-come-off bowling display, there remains a tiny shred of hope that maybe next week we can turn it all around. For now, though, division six awaits. It’s going to be a long winter.

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