Better than our bowlers could manage this season!
Saturday 26th April
A winter of careful recuperation has seen the broken ankle healed and made me keen for the new season. The buzz of spring, and the first sign of some serious sunshine seems to have brought all the cricketers out of the woodwork.
Seven months is a long time in club cricket. Back in September, it looked as though we’d struggle to get a team and a half together, let alone three full teams for the new season. But it’s April, and everyone’s enthusiastic, so First Team skipper Andy and his new vice-captain, Simon, have a whole host of players to pick from as they select their sides for the first league game of the season.
Simon’s replacement as Second Team captain, Johnno, has made it clear to me that with a full squad available there’s no chance of me getting back into his team, as I’m too old and not good enough, so I’ve been practicing with Dredge and his Third Team squad.
East Mardon are our first opponents this year, and their grumpy old skipper is less than pleased to see me as he leads his convoy into the car park. At 30-6 after I’ve knocked over his top five batsmen, he’s even less pleased to be padding up already.
Fortunately for him, he doesn’t get to face me today, as Dredge takes me off and lets old Dave and young Marky clean up the tail while I graze at fine leg. We only need 20 overs to knock off the target of 105, and things look good. Colin somehow manages to get to 55 before he’s actually caught, at about the fifth chance.
Saturday 10th May
The optimism of April gave way to disillusion once the season got underway properly. Both the Firsts and Seconds lost their opening two games, and injuries and excuses seem to be cropping up on a regular basis. Andy and Simon have had their first falling out after losing to Slocombe, but peace breaks out before things get too heated.
After another 5-for last week, Johnno picks me for the Seconds without even a word of apology for his pre-season comments. It isn’t until 40 overs into the game that he throws me the ball though, and five tight overs for fifteen runs don’t seem to have altered his opinion very much. Opponents Strensham manage to rack up 275, and we all get a rollocking in the changing rooms before we’re allowed to go and eat tea.
The rollocking doesn’t seem to do the batsmen any good though, and we’re soon under pressure at 60-6. Wonderkid Adam and dead-batter Billy Doyle put on nearly a hundred though and get us close to holding out for a draw. It all goes pear-shaped though, and Number Ten Max is run out with a ball remaining, which I have to go in and face.
At the other end, Billy comes down to me and tells me to "just get bat on it" and I give him my best "tell-your-grandmother-to-suck-eggs" stare and roll of the eyes, then take my guard.
Strensham’s wily off-spinner leaves it outside off stump, and I take great pleasure in leaving it well alone. The keeper misses it completely, and Billy calls for a single, since it has rolled away.
I know I’m going to struggle to make my ground at the other end if the fielder picks it up and makes a direct hit, but I’m only a yard short when I hear the celebrations of the Strensham fielders. I look up to see that my wicket is still intact, but when I turn to look behind me, Billy is laid on the floor half way down the track, clutching his hamstring, and the bails are off at the far end.
Naturally, Johnno is apoplectic, but doesn’t seem to know who to direct his ire at first.
He has a go at me as I trudge off, but I just ignore him, then he rounds on Strensham’s skipper and berates him for taking advantage of an injury in such an unsportsmanlike manner. Finally, with no one staying in earshot he turns on poor Billy, who is limping back from the middle, and vents his wrath on the poor guy, even though he’d made his first half-century in three years and gotten us within touching distance of the draw.
Needless to say, it’s not a happy dressing-room, and Johnno’s mood isn’t improved when he finds out that some local scaly has stolen his watch, phone, and wallet while he was showering.
Saturday 24th May
Rain of the traditional English summer variety means that for a second consecutive week all games have been washed out. Probably just as well, since it means a bit of breathing space after the last-gasp defeat and tempers have time to defuse somewhat.
Meanwhile, the Firsts have been reinforced by the return of Bondy from his self-imposed absence after last year’s revelations about his (now ex-) wife and Kabir.
Mrs. H took advantage of the weather to drag me off to her niece’s Christening, which was about the worst possible way I could have spent Saturday afternoon.
Saturday 31st May
The rain lets up in just enough time for the wicket to be payable away at Bottesford, though I suspect that the home skipper will be having second thoughts about that later this evening. We win the toss and Johnno has no hesitation in putting Bottesford in on a track that’s barely discernible from the rest of the square.
The Wonderkid opens the bowling but seems to think it’s the time to bowl as short as he can, and four expensive overs later, Johnno hauls him off and begrudgingly tells me to get loose.
From 40 without loss, Billy Doyle (miraculously recovered from his "dodgy hammy") and I tear out the top order simply by bowling on a length, and pick up three wickets each before Johnno decides that he fancies a bowl himself and shares the tail with Max, whose occasional leg cutters (they occasionally cut), seem to baffle the batsmen.
Chasing 88 to win looks as though it might be a struggle, but Colin pulls his normal trick of getting dropped four times on his way to a quick-fire 30, and we knock the runs off for the loss of just his wicket.
Suddenly, all is sweetness and light again.
Saturday 21st June
After a good run of form for all three sides, this week was always going to be something of a testing point. Despite being told several times that holding the Mid-summer Shindig on a Friday Night would be detrimental to the club’s performance the next day, the committee stood firm.
Last night’s do, therefore, was a complete riot. Unfortunately, some of the local scallys decided that it was a riot they wanted to join in with, and the police and several ambulances were required to deal with the immediate aftermath.
By the time that we turn up for the Seconds’ home game against Castleton, much of the debris has been cleared, but the clubhouse is still a complete loss, and Johnno arranges with the Red Lion for us to use their vault for teas.
More of a problem is that we’re about six players down after last night’s arrests and hospitalisations, and Wonderkid Adam has been sent off with the Firsts. Most of the team that actually turn out look worse for wear, and for once I’m glad that the Missus insisted I leave a party early.
Castleton’s skipper has obviously heard all about it as well, and on a blazing hot day wins the toss and bats. Billy Doyle takes a wicket in his first over, but looks so ill that he could collapse at any time. Meanwhile, Max’s leg cutters aren’t cutting today and Johnno is half-asleep, so Castleton rattle up 100 from 15 overs almost without him being aware of it.
After eight overs of effort, Billy signals to Johnno that he’s had enough and wanders back down to fine leg, where his son is waiting for him with a pint of water. Johnno half-heartedly starts to loosen up, completely ignoring everybody else and brings himself on. His quick darts are enjoyed by the Castleton batsmen though, and after two overs each conceding 10, he’s quick to wave to me to warm up.
I’m not immune from the destruction either, though, and our fielding seems to have gone to pot with no one making more than the bare minimum of effort. I manage to pick up a couple of wickets, but it’s a long hard slog in the sun, and two for 70 from 15 overs is about as good as anyone manages on a day when we concede over 350.
The batting looks as immobile as the fielding, and although the placid pitch means there’s no danger of me having to bat, we struggle along to 150 for four from our allotment of overs, then struggle home to bed to recover.
The other teams fare no better. Dredge’s Thirds rock up at Healing Ramblers with nine men, seven of whom are under 16, and are all out for 45. Dredge is back at the club before we’re halfway through the match. Meanwhile, the Firsts struggle to 200 but are well beaten by Castleton’s first team, and Wonderkid Adam spent most of the evening in a strop after not batting or bowling.
Wednesday 23rd July
A crisis committee meeting tonight seems to have shaken everybody up.
After the Shindig, none of the teams managed to win again in the next four weeks, and both the Firsts and Thirds are bottom of their respective divisions. After relegation last season, the Firsts are perilously close to the bottom dropping out again, and after humiliation at North Gresham last week, Simon quit as vice-captain following a huge row in the bar after the game.
Tonight, everything was turned on its head though. Simon has now taken over the Captaincy from Andy, who has left the club and transferred to East Mardon. Johnno has been promoted to vice-captain, and Billy Doyle is taking over the Captaincy of the Seconds with a remit to "get more kids a game." Dredge seems unaffected by this, generally, but has told the committee that he is also quitting at the end of the season.
Saturday 26th July
The new era comes in with a bang. Or at least my old Ford Fiesta does. I park up outside the club and unload my kit, only for the Wonderkid’s parents to ram straight into it, effectively writing it off.
Wonderkid himself seems completely unfazed by the whole thing, and goes on to score 55 and takes four wickets, while I trundle away at the other end taking none for 20 from twelve overs. We win convincingly, but I’m in no mood to celebrate, and as I watch the scrapper taking the old banger away, Billy tells me that I’m being dropped to the Thirds next week so that another 15-year-old can have my bowling spot.