Time to go home

The bright lights of the pavilion shone out across Fourgates as we finished the final midweek net session of the season. It was not yet 8pm, but it was getting too dark to see the ball. I took one last look around. It was almost time to go home.
This has been a momentous summer for me for many different reasons, and cricket has been a big part of it. Playing regularly has boosted my confidence and fitness, given me a distraction from the world of work and provided more moments of laughter, despair, hope and frustration than I can remember.
IMG_3724I have made a lot of friends and got to know some great characters. There’s the schoolgirl who spends most of her time mucking around and feigning squeamishness, but possesses a cracking technique and a well-hidden inner steel. There’s the first team captain who turns up to nets in his business suit and brown brogues, grabs the ball out of someone’s hand and sends down a loopy leg break before aiming a sneering sledge at the batsman and sauntering off to the pub.
There’s the power hitter who nobody wants to bowl at for fear of getting their fingers or head taken off; the agricultural all-rounder who aims everything to cow corner and loudly admonishes himself after every mis-timed shot; and the overseas import who hardly says a word but swings the ball around corners and bats like the lovechild of Ian Bell and Mark Waugh.
Despite the poor results, I’ve never loved cricket more than I did this summer. I would often practice twice in the week, play a match on Saturday and spend my remaining free time watching the professionals on TV. Then I would write about it, and the whole process would start all over again. Quite how I managed to get married and stay married is anybody’s guess.

10646817_294408444099949_6893894558018164938_nOn Friday night players from all three teams gathered in the clubhouse for an emergency general meeting, a tense affair which brought home what a difficult season it has been, both on and off the field. It was a necessary exercise, but I felt quite removed from all the politics and hand-wringing. It was a relief to get back out on the field. 
We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day for our final match at the Port Eliot estate in St Germans. We lost the toss and fielded in the heat against an in-form Tideford batting order, restricting them early on before Burnett and Bowes cut loose, sharing a century partnership to take the score past 200.
I dropped a straightforward catch and struggled with my bowling, but got through seven overs without causing too much damage. As we trudged back inside, exhausted and dehydrated, Paul said: “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” As an inspirational pick-me-up, it was less Brian Clough and more Kim Jong-il.
Following the tradition of the season finale, we picked the batting order out of a hat. John Cowley smashed a quickfire 20, Helena used her new stick to block out 15 overs as if she was battling to save a Test Match and John Mason hobbled around on one leg at number three, swishing and swiping like an Evertonian Gordon Greenidge. 
I went in at eight with 15 overs left and the target way off in the distance, a scenario which repeated itself again and again this year like a broken computer game. This time I resolved to simply be there at the end, which I was, 20 not out from a total of 109. That might not seem like much, but it’s my personal best and showed I can hold my own at this level. My average for the season jumped from 5.5 to 8.8. I won’t pack my bags for the World Cup just yet.
IMG_3732I insisted we pose for a team photo after Saturday’s match. By the time we got round to it everyone had changed out of their whites into normal clothes, so I ended up with a blurry picture of 11 people standing awkwardly in a deserted field. I suppose in a way it sums up the season rather nicely.
Having crawled and whinged through the last three years as a ‘born again’ village cricketer, this summer I pulled myself up and wobbled unsteadily to my feet. I still have a lot to learn, but writing this blog has been hugely cathartic. It has helped me realise that humour, pathos and wisdom can always be found in the depths of defeat, and that every new match is another opportunity to do something spectacular.

The kit has been packed away, the stumps have been pulled and the lights have been switched off. I don’t know how I’ll cope until April comes around again. What do normal people do on Saturday afternoons?
Sam Blackledge
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