Nobody got hurt and we all went home

Launceston 2nd XI (175-3) beat Menheniot 3rd XI (174-8) by seven wickets

When I started this blog I promised to faithfully chart the ups and downs of the cricket season. It’s been a bit of a bumpy ride so far, but Saturday marked a new low. When it was all over I felt like finding a large hole, climbing into it and sleeping until September. Writing about what happened was the last thing I wanted to do. But it’s becoming painfully apparent that it’s the only thing I can do.

It started so well. We travelled in cheery convoy from Menheniot, arriving in Launceston’s plush new pavilion full of optimism. Conditions were misty overhead and soggy underfoot, but we posed happily for team photos and took the field on time. Alan and Zac rode their luck in a fantastic partnership of 124 for the second wicket, making the most of some extremely dodgy fielding. More of that later.

A sudden collapse sent the tail-enders scrabbling around for kit and racing out to face the final few overs. I was bowled for a duck, but I wasn’t too bothered. We had long ago passed the captain’s minimum target of 120, finishing with a more than respectable 174 in tricky conditions. We took tea safe in the knowledge that at least we had a competitive game on our hands, and at best a real shot at victory. In my eager state, forgetting my usual wary vegetarian approach to clubhouse buffets, I took a bite out of a pepperoni pizza. This should have been my first clue that there was trouble ahead.

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As often happens, we had a lopsided starting XI featuring a handful of genuine batsmen but not many bowlers. Phil and Paul kicked things off and everything went wrong. I was stationed at square leg where the ball seemed to follow me, as if the umpire had a cork and leather magnet in his coat pocket. Every time a pull, flick, glance or swipe came my way I missed it. I told myself again and again to watch the ball, get behind it, long barrier, just stop the bloody thing. But the more I tried, the worse it got. One glaring misfield is bad enough, but I must have notched up four or five, giving away three or four runs each time. Yes, the outfield was soaking wet and the ball was very slippy. But sometimes I didn’t even get a hand on it.

I’ve never really failed at anything in my life; I even passed my driving test first time. If this wasn’t failure, it felt an awful lot like it. It’s not a pleasant sensation. I felt like David Luiz while the Germans were running riot in Belo Horizonte. Granted, there weren’t 60,000 frenzied home fans staring down at me, and the world’s media were probably not analysing my every move (although a reporter from the Sunday Independent was seen skulking around the boundary), but they might as well have been.

Needless to say my confidence, a fickle and nomadic bird at the best of times, thought ‘Sod this’ and flew away into the misty hills. I told myself not to mope around and be ready for the next ball, but inside I was praying for the end. I knew I wasn’t going to bowl, could never make up for all the runs I’d conceded and would probably let even more through given the chance.

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When you find yourself in such a situation, what do you do? You can’t walk off, you can’t fall in a heap and cry. You just have to keep going. It’s a snapshot of life, part of the seemingly never-ending saga of growing up. Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes bad things happen, sometimes they keep happening.

I took a crumb of comfort from the fact that I wasn’t the only one finding it tough. Even Zac, one of the club’s best fielders, had an off day. Earlier, while we were warming up, he spilled a straightforward dolly. ‘I think that’s the first catch I’ve ever seen you drop,’ I laughed. Talk about tempting fate – he shelled another one, the kind he would take 99 times out of 100, in his sleep and standing upside down, as the home side’s innings descended into farce. At least he was 66 runs in credit following his batting exploits.

I have been involved in more than my fair share of humiliating defeats, but nothing as bad as this. All I wanted to do was get changed, pack up and get out of there. Unfortunately I had given Steve and Zac a lift, so we endured the 30 minute journey back in complete silence. It was almost as excruciating as the game itself.

I wasn’t sure whether to write this at all. I wanted to forget, to lock it all away inside a box of bad dreams. But I figured I owed it to myself to be honest, and it could be a coping mechanism, a form of therapy. Get it all out and move on. I wanted to apologise to the captain before we left, but couldn’t find the words. I’m not sure they would have made any difference anyway. As we trudged away I heard him say ‘It’s only a game’. He was right. But it didn’t help.

The world of sport being what it is – an ultimately meaningless quest for supremacy over one’s fellow human being – there is a bottomless bucket of cliched inspirational quotes for those in need of a post-defeat pick-me-up. This one, from Olympic champion Victoria Pendleton, stands out: “Track cycling isn’t about life or death: it’s about rolling around a wooden bowl on a bike with no brakes.” If anybody asks me how I got on at the weekend, maybe I should say the following: “I stood in the rain for three hours wearing white flannelled trousers. A man with a big bat hit a hard ball towards my knees and I missed it. Nobody got hurt and we all went home.”

Sam Blackledge

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