The call come through on Tuesday. “Can you help out? We’re really struggling for numbers.” Thinking that they really MUST be desperate, I gave the Auckland Cricket Society Presidents team captain a very tentative yes. “But only if you are really short”.
And they were, so by Friday I was in.
I was about to make my first almost-proper game of cricket (assuming that twilight piss-cricket doesn’t count) in about 15 years, and I started to wonder if this was really such a good idea. My back has always been iffy, a couple of knee operations haven’t helped, and I was about 25 kgs heavier than my peak. Give or take about 10 kgs.
Bugger it I thought. Sooner or later you have to face your demons and face facts – you are now a Golden Oldie. I immediately thought back to when I was playing a half-decent form of the game, and we viewed the old guys with a bit of a chuckle, but were always impressed with the fact that at least they were having a go. Patronising, sure. But there was always a type of grudging respect.
I rock up to the ground, not knowing any of my new teammates. Being the keen debutant, I was first there, and went out to inspect the wicket. Waste of time really. I already knew it was an artificial wicket before I even got there.
In comes new teammate number one. No names here, but he looked like I probably will in 10 years time (poor bastard), but taller. I wasn’t sure whether this was a good or a bad sign at this point, but I started to relax anyway. Then our oldest player arrived, and the only name I was familiar with. In reality, he was actually my first ever coach, and in his 72nd year, it had been 47 years since his test debut. He was the only player seen to have a few shots in the nets as some form of warm up. This could have been considered either sensible, or a waste of energy.
We lose the toss, and bat first. “Where do you bat mate?” the skipper enquires. “Oh, you know wherever – kind of middle order-ish somewhere.” Incidentally, this is code for “I used to open the batting but hated it. Please don’t make me open.” I got handed the #4 duties. Cool.
And after about 4 overs, we’re 2/20 and I’m up.
I do what I do with each first ball I have faced in 90% of my innings, regardless of line, length, pace or spin. I look for a late cut, and pick up a single. I’m away.
And after several Martin Crowe-esque cover drives for four (seriously), a square drive that Glenn Turner would have sold his soul for, and an inside out drive over long on for six that would have made most test players green with envy, I turn into a smart arse and try and flick a shorter ball over the keeper’s head. I glove it, and I’m on my way back to the pavilion. Well, the tree where the gear is kept anyway.
I’ve top scored with 71, and we’ve posted 175/6 off our 35 overs (we couldn’t be arsed holding a full 40 over game). And after gasping for air at 5 not out, I reckon I’ve done pretty well to hold on.
We jump out on to the field, and since I’ve had such a good day, the skipper throws me the ball at the 12th over. “Have a go” he says.
In retrospect this was an appalling move. I attempted to bowl this delivery that looked like the love child of Rod Latham and Andrew Jones. Wobbly off spin – bound to fail. I’m carted all over the place.
I slow it all down, but still can’t release it properly. Then somehow, beyond all sense of justice, I snare a wicket. It is hard to work out who is more embarrassed – the batsman or me.
We lose with about 5 overs to spare, which means, mercifully, that by 5.15pm we are in the bar. I get the Man of the Match award, which consists of a quart bottle of beer. Perfect.
I look back at my first game at this level, and I’m pretty happy. The only downside is that as top scorer, there is this new found assumption that I’m available every week for the rest of the season.
Bearing in mind that my body is as tight as a fish’s arse some 24 hours later, I guess I’ll just have to think about it.