Tuesday, 3 May 2011

01/05/11 - Parker's Piece, Cambridge

If this blog is anything, it is, I hope, honest. It is as accurate a depiction of what has occurred during a season as I can manage. If it fails in that regard I can only apologise. But above all honesty is my aim, so I make no apology for the foregoing.

It was with some sympathy that I read that during the last World Cup Ramnaresh Sarwan had been forced to bat lower than he usually would for the West Indies because he'd been sitting on the toilet when it was his turn to bat. For the Crap Cricketer, the mercurial rhythms and movements of the bowel can have an enormous impact on performance. Let us take today as an example.

Crap Cricketer has been out on the sauce the night before. By his youthful standards, this is a very restrained night - home by 1am, no more than five pints and several glasses of wine. Never mind - he wakes up not five hours later with an absolute bastard behind the eyes, a mouth like Gandhi's slipper and a stomach that's doing cartwheels. In a bid to assuage the demon, he takes a full English at the B&B where he's staying, because if there's one thing that's going to make him feel better, it's a mound of greasy meat and eggs.

He walks around town with Mrs CC, who's no stranger to this kind of torment. We sit by the river and attempt to read the paper, but even such unfettered calm and beauty can bring him no respite.

By far the biggest suffering is being inflicted by his colon, which has decided that a straight run of Turkish meats, cider, beer, cider (again) and wine followed by a fry-up should not go unpunished. By 11am the options are familiar and clear: go and have a poo in Starbucks' (pros: high likelihood of clean toilet and paper, no time pressure; cons: distinct possibility of breaking the key in the lock and being left with an arse like a pot of Marmite) or wait till the ground (pros: the poo will have been given time to ripen; cons: time pressure, unknown toilet facilities).

He goes for the Starbucks' option. It is an explosive, stinging experience. CC emerges pale-faced, a near-broken man. Two hours later he arrives at the ground, and it transpires that the situation was more serious than he thought: the visit to Starbucks' was no more than the first part in what is to be, rather like Back to The Future, a trilogy with a wildliy overblown second installment. Fortunately the pavilion does indeed boast a good set of facilities, and after a solid fifteen minutes in there CC is beginning to take control of his excretory system.

Oh yes, the cricket. Here's the ground:

And from the other side:

We were down to play at a very good college pitch, but unfortunately lost it at the last minute. This is a council pitch, but a pretty excellent replacement. A very drunk tramp greets us, telling us he needs a wee and he's going to hit some sixes later. For a brief, uncomfortable moment I wonder if he's actually the opposition captain. We manfully stare at our shoes and ignore him, and he wanders off somewhere.

Jack Hobbs learnt his cricket on this ground (his father worked at Fenner's and latterly at Jesus, the ground we were playing at the day before), and even set up his own club here. In 1930 he opened the pavilion in which we're getting changed. Actually it's a combined Thai restaurant/pavilion, which is a rather odd juxtaposition.

The young Hobbs was renowned as a quick footed, quick handed destroyer of attacks. The stride to the pitch of the ball and the whippy, high-backlift extra cover drive is immortalised in a thousand cricket almanacs:

 Wikipedia has a great quote from Hal Hooker:

As we were taking the field against the M.C.C. our captain Herbie Collins said "You must all be on your toes out here today. We'll be facing 'The Master'" I had no idea who "The Master" was so I asked Arthur Mailey. Arthur replied, "'The Master's' Jack Hobbs and you'll soon see why." I did. He tapped the ball here, there and everywhere and had us all running around in circles as if he were the ring-master of a circus and we his obedient and bewildered slaves.

I'm pretty sure Ricky Ponting described Alastair Cook in similarly eloquent terms after the last Ashes.

Later, Hobbs would 'ripen into a classic', Tendulkar-style. Actually in terms of record - the average, the remorseless consistency, an unremarkable public character in the face of overwhelming public pressure - the comparisons with Tendulkar bear scrutiny.  This excellent Pathe footage (who the hell spends their time watching cricket videos on YouTube these days? Pathe's where it's at, fools) is worth watching if you want to learn more.

Some commentators of the time say that he had no interest in the accumulation of runs or his figures - he was more concerned with playing the perfect shot to every ball. Michael Vaughan said that this preoccupation was why Ian Bell took so long to mature as a player. Ho hum.

Good news: it now transpires we have 12 for this game. CC almost prostrates himself before the Captain in a bid to sit out the fielding. Captain sees from his bloodshot eyes that he has a serious case on his hands, and our benevolent dictator affords him the first innings on the boundary.

So I can't really tell you much of the first fifteen overs. I know from the scoreboard that we didn't do all that well, but I half dozed through most of it. After 15 overs our extra man is taken off and CC is brought on and immediately asked to bowl. The opposition skipper very kindly takes no issue with this. He possibly wishes he had after CC takes two wickets in his second over. Can't really remember how or why this transpired in much detail. I toddled up, wanged it down outside off stump, and one batsman edged behind, before another one top edged up in the air.

Feeling like there's some etiquette being breached here - for the second time in two days - I revert to round the wicket spin. Now CC loves bowling spin, because it allows him to give credence to one of his most improbable fantasies - that his commitment to punting seam up bowling has deprived the country of one of its greatest left arm tweakers. And, to give him some credit, CC can certainly spin the ball. Oh yes. Landing it on the cut strip or, failing that, anywhere between half way down and full toss can be a bit of a challenge, but at least it's spinning before it gets deposited over the midwicket boundary. Well, there are a couple of desperate long hops in there, but there's also one that turns about a foot and a half, then one that turns just enough to beat the edge and get me a stumping. This is a bit embarrassing - I was supposed to slow the run rate down, at best. By mutual agreement with the skipper I take a spell, with three overs for three wickets.

Can't remember too much else due to hangover. They make 150. I spend quite a bit of time at slip, which is frankly terrifying.

Tea restores my faith in the world somewhat. Having previously given the impression on here that I believe the entirety of my team to be the scum of the earth, I must point out that I am knocked sideways by their efforts in providing tea for both sides. Cakes, sandwiches, biscuits and all sorts of other goodies abound. Wives, children and girlfriends have been working overtime. I was expecting a couple of Tesco Value prawn sandwiches at best.

Our openers head out to bat, and I head to the pavilion for the Wild West installment. By the time that's done, and two bottles of Powerade and two Red Bulls later, I'm beginning to feel human again. It's a good job because I come out at 70-7. The opposition boast our brewer from yesterday, who while lacking the pace of his youth, can still send down a heavy ball (his occupation is a double-edged sword: spending the day lifting barrels helps, drinking the contents doesn't). They also have a lanky young whippersnapper who was at Jesus and can nip it about, and their fixtures sec, who got me out last year.

Interesting bowler, this chap. At first sight he really doesn't look much good at all. Tall bloke bowling slow-medium with a front-on action that looks a bit like a very ungainly Steve Harmison. When he got me out it was only the second ball I'd faced and with respect I thought he'd got lucky in terms of how much he'd moved it. But actually, the more I watch him the more I realise what a good bowler he is. The seam is beautifully presented to the point that I can see it from the boundary, he extracts enough bounce to restrict scoring shots, and the pace is enough that the batsmen don't always have quite enough time to adjust to the movement. Reading the oppo's excellent 'Witless Cricketer's Almanack', I discover he brought up his ton in wickets last season - no bowler has taken more for them.

He takes two wickets - could have been more - and I stride out at 70-7. In combination with the lower order, we get over the line. I'm 29* at the end. There's not much to discuss there - the third and fourth change seamers move it about a little but have next to no control (GYAC - one is called 'Double Rubber' - he's an American who once requested an extra grip for his bat thus), and by the time the openers come back the pitch is showing signs of wear and tear and a couple skip through the top, but the game is all but up. Winning runs come from a no-ball beamer which, had I faced it a couple of hours earlier, would probably have decapitated me.

Of more import are drinks with the opposition back at the pub they're representing. Drinking fines are issued, pints are downed, songs are sung and the conversation revolves around cricket and little else. I'm reminded why I don't play league cricket any more: because there's precious little opportunity for 22 blokes to share banter, jokes at each other's inadequacies, and their love for this beautiful, beautiful game. Go home extremely happy, and not just because I have a crap on deck no longer.

Walk back to the car via the square as the sun begins to set. Rather like heading to the Village green after the circus has left town. Odd to see that where once there was drama, conflict, skill, luck, excitement - any other number of human experiences - there's just a slightly bare bit of turf with some kids playing football nearby.

Postscript: So April is done. In four games I have scored 162 runs, for once out, and only 15 or so came from the bowling of a girl. I've also taken six wickets, four of them caught at slip, which as we never tire of pointing out, constitutes proper cricket.

It will go downhill from here. It always does. To those who've asked: it's far, far too early to change the title of the blog.