Lame as it ever was

Mystics versus Grampound Road at Grampound Road, 25th July 2010

"Grampound Road." When I were a lad, before all this technological world existed, before electricity had been invented (or it may have been the miners on strike), when the simple pleasure of an occasional appearance for my availability-challenged village cricket team was all that a lamer like myself required to be happy all year (instead of, like, collecting Twitter followers, whatever), well, yes, back then: "Grampound Road" was a name to chill the heart of any teenage lamer cricketer, because of the National Village Cricket Championship, which by my recollection they seemed to win every other year - every year that Ynysgerwyn Ynysger didn't win.

"Grampound Road" - a name to say in hushed tones. Words still to strike fear into the heart of this forty-something. But not as much fear as "you're playing tomorrow, Chirps, Grampound Road."

Agh! Because you never quite know when you play a team for the first time. What kind of mix of players will they put out? Do they know we're a seriously mixedability team? Will lamers like me find our life in danger? Me playing at Grampound Road - where's my teddy bear?! Agh! It's like one of those dreams where you're doing stuff you're wildly unqualified for and you know you're about to be discovered.

And there I was, arriving at the ground, toting my whites. A buzzard circled overhead, keeping a watching brief. And behind our changing room a group of fit young cricketers circled too, around a serene Sri Lankan guy. (Circling too was the summer wasp plague, as everywhere else - Sam had left three and a half of them trapped under a pint glass at the pub. He chopped the head off one - accidentally, mind - and the remaining half of it still steamed around inside the glass, veering all over the place, as if trying to take off. Inspirational?)

Dunc and Ern opened, Dunc falling to an early lbw. He was followed back to the Pavilion by Pete, with one of the longest golden ducks in all of cricket history: an lbw appeal drew no instant response from umpire Sean, and Pete heard the keeper going by him, telling the bowler why it wasn't out. As Pete then stared back at his crease, considering perhaps his positioning, his mental readiness, or how at least Canadiannie hadn't seen him get a golden duck or anything, Sean's glacial thought process concluded, his finger slowly lifted and a celebration started in the middle of the wicket. Pete, however, was still looking back the other way, thinking "must get a ton for Annie", or "that new Prefuse 73 album isn't quite as diverse as I'd read", or - well, something sufficiently involving to drown out the party going on just behind him.

Eventually, thinking he ought to prepare for another ball, he turned, and found himself very confused indeed, sufficiently confused not to walk for quite some further time. You'd think a Professor of Drama had made that one up. But walk Pete eventually did, bringing Matt Cook to the wicket.

Kerpow! Alas, in the field, one fabulous sliding effort on the boundary brought some frankly unsporting shouts of "foot over the line! four!" from the Mystic travelling circus, causing confusion to umpires and scorers alike. Not sure Grampound Road appreciated this, following it up with a bouncer. Memo to circus: wait for the umpire to enquire?

The Managers League then reared its ugly head as Pete went out to umpire. Turning to the next two padded up - myself and my brother - he pointed to us both and deadpanned "in my team - in my team - safe." Trouble with deadpan humour, you never quite know...

With Matt delivering classy off drives and cover drives, lifting a few, and Ern more than ticking over, on came Vandersay, bowling quick flat leg breaks, every one landing exactly where long tall Matt could just reach out to, and where short little me wouldn't be able to - great. Couldn't wait to get out there.

Thankfully Matt continued scoring, lifting a couple over the top to make 50; Ern kept it on the floor to make his 50. A 100 partnership went by, so fast the scorers failed to spot it. Sid walked gingerly round the field, ill and unsteady with labyrinthitis. We were desperately hoping it would go away soon, so he could have a few beers with us back at the ranch, and feel ill and unsteady in a good way. Matt was now going crazy, hoisting everything. Seemed every ball was a six or a drop. He hit yet another car; he managed to get dropped twice in two balls. Eventually Ern was bowled and I got to go out and slow the run rate down.

With the innings winding down Matt, having crashed a fabulous century and despairing of ever getting caught, finally made the least plausible charge-and-miss you'll ever see, which alas was followed by the least successful stumping. Matt had to stand still, a yard and a half out of his ground, and watch as the keeper eventually managed to scoop up the dropped ball, and try again. Bob Woolmer's coaching book says: "an innings is like a novel". Matt's innings was like a great novel - it went on forever, and everything was up in the air till the very end. Chris Healey kindly kept things ticking over for the last few overs.

We took the field, and an inspired Sam steamed in at near take-off velocity, veering all over the place: this time his traditional warm-up over produced a new Personal Best of sixteen extras. He struck soon enough, though, with a little movement in and a lowish bounce, but Grampound Road pushed on big time, showing Matt how it's done - I can't think how many roofs, sheds etc were hit in this match. (How do you sell a house across the road from this place?) Hayder debuted for the Mystics, but his extravagant turn received exactly the same treatment. Needing six an over, the home team were midway there and cruising on seven. Then finally Hayder struck, bowling Manuell, the dangerous leftie skipper, who cut one that came in a mile. Out came Vandersay, imposing himself with a reverse effort to Hayder, but he soon mis-slapped one somewhere over and back of Jim "Silverfinger" Thomson at mid-on, who made several intense four-dimensional calculations on the way to judging an absolute beauty.

Now Hayder and Chris Healey were keeping it tighter and the run rate slowed, especially after Chris finally removed Richards, for a fabulous 82, with a faster offie. Jim came on, his arrival greeted by gales of children's laughter from nearby. (There might be a playground at backward square? Or not. This does happen a lot with Jim.) We'd dropped the odd catch and now we dropped a bunch more. With the game back in the balance Chris solved the problem with gamesmanship, by trapping a seven-foot-tall youngster lbw on his toes - he couldn't possibly have got the bat down to that one. A proper lbw followed immediately, and although the hat-trick ball was dead-batted, Grampound Road, despite some of the classiest batting Mystics have ever encountered, would fall just short in the last over.

What a fabulous day. Fabulous tea, fabulous bar, fabulous kids area too - but most of all, what a fabulous fun spirit from everyone involved. Especially the rather young Grampound Road team, who (unlike one other youthful team of recent years) were not exhorting each other to crush us into a pulp before every ball. Enjoying cricket for its own sake: bliss. We enjoyed it too - and the happiest youngster of all was my lamer fifteen-year-old self.

Nick Healey

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