Sometimes errors can have surprisingly positive consequences. You drop a piece of toast, but it lands buttered side up. You forget your packed lunch, but free food turns up in the office. In this way, as in many others, cricket mirrors and amplifies life. Sometimes it’s just your day.
Losing the toss is never a great start, even less so on the hottest day of the year. As we welcomed Plymouth and Roborough Civil Service, outsiders from the other side of the Tamar, George called wrong and we fielded under the blazing sun. The advantage of playing in these friendly Sunday matches is that us third team donkeys get a close-up view of the first team stars. Openers Phil and Ed bowled well, throttling back from their normal pace but still causing trouble for the Plymouth batsmen who swiped across the line like cats at balls of wool in an attempt to find the ludicrously short boundary. On the other side fielders spread far and wide, patrolling what felt like a sprawling country estate.
The pitch was drier than the ones I have been used to so far this year, and offered a bit of turn when I was able to locate a decent length. Unfortunately that elusive consistency I have been striving for all season remained out of reach. After a couple of good balls were edged narrowly past the stumps, a wretched short one was on its way to a second bounce when the right-hander swung and missed. At least it was straight, and crashed into middle stump. I hung my head and exchanged sheepish high-fives.
Next over, forcing myself to pitch it up, I overcompensated and delivered a loopy full toss. It was smashed straight back and I clung on gratefully, wincing with a mixture of pain and embarrassment. Some team mates were encouraging – ‘It doesn’t say how you got them in the book’ – but others less so. I think the words ‘What the hell was that?’ were uttered more than once.
I took solace in the fact that I had bowled enough good balls to deserve the wickets, and recalled a staggering incident from last summer’s Ashes. Graeme Swann bowled a high full toss to left-handed Chris Rogers, who was early with his attempted pull. The ball struck him ‘amidships’ and he was given out LBW. Replays showed Rogers would have been reprieved on review, but he was so aghast at the method of dismissal that he simply turned and walked off. ”
With surprisingly respectable figures of 2-16 from four overs, I slinked back to soak up the sun at deep long off. We fielded pretty well, Lawrence taking a particularly good running catch towards the end, and their total of 174 all out from 35 overs was well within reach of our strong batting line-up.
I spent the second half of the day on umpiring duty, having failed in my usual quest to grab the scorebook and settle in for a nice sit down. The first rule of club cricket: the easiest way to avoid doing unpleasant jobs is to seize on an easier one. The second rule: never stand around looking like a spare part, because soon you will find a broom, cloth or umpiring coat in your hand. Heat, exhaustion and too many tuna sandwiches pushed this information out of my head, and I trudged back out to the middle.
The opposition’s bowling was weaker than their batting and our top order showed their experience and class to secure a comfortable win. Kiwi Phil took full advantage of the short boundary to launch a couple of sixes into the adjoining primary school, it seemed like the fielders spent more time chasing lost balls than anything else. I enjoyed having such a close-up view of the club’s best players, and caught myself gawking open-mouthed as Ed played an outrageous flamingo shot for four through backward square leg.
In a recent Test Match Special stint, Graeme Swann was asked about the challenge facing young cricketers. “I always say it’s like playing the piano,” he said. “You’re no good when you start, once you’ve been going for about 15 years you can knock a tune out. Some people can play Beethoven.” Like all the best piano players, the experts make it look so easy. Right now for me, even Chopsticks feels like a long way off. I am straining just to reach the keys.