Sore legs, self-pity, digital sledging and a love that will never die

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Last week I was the victim of a spot of sledging. Nothing new there, you might think – ‘mental disintegration’ is all part of the game, a way for a sportsman to plant doubts in his opponent’s mind, to seek an extra advantage. This volley of abuse came not from a snarling fielder or grumpy bowler, however, but from one of my own colleagues through the magic of social media.

On Thursday evening I tweeted a picture of the Lux Park scoreboard – still broken from the previous week’s excursions – as we edged clumsily towards Cheesewring’s first innings score of 79. “That is a dire scoreline!” my co-worker replied from behind the safety of his smartphone. “80 to win sounds easy! That means your players only need to score eight runs each to win!” He was right, of course. But I had just been bowled for a duck and was not in the best mood. Rather than launch into a rant about slow pitches, dodgy actions and dubious decisions, I decided to switch off my phone and stomp home to wallow in my misery.

It is never pleasant to fail at anything, much less so if you are an ambitious person with a tendency towards perfectionism. I have always put 100 per cent into everything I do and like to think I am a high achiever. Through school, college, university and work I have pushed myself to reach the top of the ladder, and to never be satisfied with second best. Unfortunately, my cricket career has not quite followed the same path. After several years away from the game I joined a new club in 2011, and I have been slowly re-learning how to play ever since. It has been an emotional experience – occasionally exhilarating, often excruciating – which I could compare to many other things. Driving a car, riding a bike, making friends, being a normal and well-adjusted member of society: all tasks which look easy when others are doing them. In reality they are anything but.

Last Sunday I was pleased with my performance in the victory over Newquay at Looe and felt like I was making progress. Notwithstanding Thursday’s midweek hit and giggle – I am yet to adjust to the pace of T20 cricket – I was optimistic as the friendly XI took the field again, hosting Old Suttonians at Menheniot. A strange atmosphere hung over the ground. Not to come over all GCSE English (pathetic fallacy, don’t you know), but the humid air was heavy with the threat of rain as angry dark clouds drifted into view over the old clubhouse.

The subdued mood may have had more to do with sore legs and tired minds. The previous day the first team had suffered another defeat, their sixth of the season, and with many of us from all levels playing and training three or four times a week it was clear the strain was beginning to show. Thankfully we had some youngsters to keep the energy levels up, and Leo and Tom in particular put many of the oldies to shame.

I bowled seven overs and took 1-43, figures which flattered my performance. Most of my deliveries were either too short or too full, and whenever I found a length I would follow up with another load of dross for the batsmen to feast on. In the field I felt like I was running in treacle, my sweat-drenched palms struggling to grasp anything which fizzed my way. The visitors’ 220-odd was always going to be too many for us, despite decent efforts from Charlie and Tom. I was disappointed and didn’t stick around too long after being the last man out for not many.

In his wonderful book Playing With Fire, Nasser Hussain describes the fear of failure he experienced every time he took the field: “I would love to be like Goughie or Freddie Flintoff, just turning up for a Test Match and saying ‘Who are we playing today?’ Or, when I’m out, saying ‘Never mind, I’ll try again tomorrow’. It does free you up if you can think like that, but I find it terribly difficult.”

Pressure is, famously, “a Messerschmitt up your arse”, but at least Hussain could argue that as captain of his country he really was under the most intense cricketing scrutiny. A friendly match on a lazy Sunday in a Cornish village will hardly be remembered by those who were involved, let alone the history books. But I find it impossible to take part in any competitive pursuit without going all out for success, and then inevitably falling off the emotional cliff when it doesn’t work out.

I’m getting married soon, which is a blog post in itself, but it’s becoming clear that I am in a whole other long-term relationship which needs constant care and attention. I love this stupid game, and one little fight isn’t going to change that. On my way home I’ll buy some petrol station flowers. Maybe next time she will treat me right.

Sam Blackledge

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