It’s just not cricket

ImageSomebody up there doesn’t want us to play cricket at the moment. So far this season I have been on the team sheet for six matches. Just one resulted in a completed game, one was abandoned after three overs and four – all within the last six days – called off without a ball being bowled. Rain, poor pitch conditions, player shortages and ‘fixture congestion’ have all conspired against the third XI, second XI, Sunday friendly XI and evening league team in what must be the most cricket-free start to any cricket season in history.

As hobbies go, it’s hard to think of another which is so dependent on the weather. Long-suffering fans develop their own methods of dealing with the UK’s volatile climate, often mirroring the stages of coping with grief. Shock – the moment that first foreboding raindrop falls on your head. Denial – “This wasn’t forecast! It was sunny when we left the house!” Anger – your raincoat is trapped at the bottom of your bag, your sandwiches are getting wet and you snap at anyone who suggests it’s just a passing shower. Bargaining – you strike up a conversation with yourself, attempting to barter with some unknown deity. “They’ll never start in this.” “Give us a reduced-overs game.” “30 overs a side.” “25.” “Ok, 20. Just turn off the rain.” Grief – it’s over. No more cricket will be played today. You descent into a sulking funk, refusing to leave your seat, staring blankly at the sodden outfield. Acceptance – you finally head home, offering a token philosophical nugget – “Oh well. Nothing to be done. Better luck next time.”

Next month I am due to miss a few weekends due to the inconvenience of a wedding and honeymoon (my own, making it harder to avoid), so this current spate of aborted fixtures is all the more frustrating. Player shortages are perhaps even more vexing than bad weather, and having to concede a league match as the third team did on Saturday can be embarrassing. Meanwhile, those of us who are still willing and able must content ourselves with endless soggy net sessions. We bowl the same ball over and over, a la Monty Panesar circa 2007, and slog ourselves off our feet, safe in the knowledge that no matter how many times the timbers rattle our averages will not budge an inch.

In the 1990s there was a short-lived craze for golfing simulators. Businessmen sporting braces and slicked-back hair would hit a real ball with a real club into a screen, and the virtual action would continue based on the quality of the shot. I suppose this was the precursor to the Wii console, an invention which promised to transform millions of couch potato kids raised on Playstations and Nintendos into the next generation of world-beating athletes. Safe to say, it hasn’t quite worked out that way. But toiling away in the nets, hour after hour, a healthy imagination is perhaps the most useful item in the club cricketer’s kitbag. Cries of “Would have been out” or “I’ve got a man there” follow any shot which looks even remotely airbound. The game of “Last six, ten needed” can prompt a perfectly sensible batsman to play the most outrageous hoiks, in the hope of either breaking the net and literally crossing the boundary on the other side of the field, or convincing the coach to give him full credit for his efforts.

Whisper it, but the weather is set to improve as this week goes on. Saturday is the FA Cup final day, which means rain is forbidden. Club cricketers across the country will spend their tea break straining to catch a glimpse of the TV and, ironically, hoping for a delay in the cricket. I wonder what odds we could get on a dry day and 22 players ready to take the field as the opening bars of Abide With Me ring out. This can’t go on much longer. I’m starting to get withdrawal symptoms. Anyone fancy a game?

Sam Blackledge

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