My fame on the cricket pitch

Its a good time to talk about cricket and specifically my cricket career at Leeds Modern School for I have no recollection at all of playing any sports at Cookridge County Primary School where the only male teacher in the school, Pimplehead Thirsk’s idea of getting ready for a games lesson was to take off his shoes and put on a pair of wellington boots, tucking his brown suit trousers into the boots and fastening up all of the buttons on his suit jacket, in this new sporting guise he would pretend to be a football referee, a football referee who never left the centre circle.

So onto Leeds Modern School with a complete lack of any sporting attributes, my time during the double period afternoon sports lessons was always going to be spent avoiding things and so it came to pass that in the summer term of every year we got to play cricket.

Or rather, most of the time the likes of me didn’t get to play cricket.

We had 120 boys per year, four classes of 30 and the only time that our timetables coordinated was during the double period afternoon games session, you can see the problem straight away can’t you, the school had a large playing field, two or three football pitches, a couple of rugby pitches, but only one cricket pitch, and 60-a-side cricket just wouldn’t work so those of us who voluntarily admitted that cricket was not our forte were given the opportunity to go do something else instead.

The something else was usually something else to do with athletics and our little group of skivers, the usual crowd, me, Patrick Stewart, you remember him, not the Star Trek guy, Masterbate-son, Sam Kirkbridge, Tim Removals Man Knowles and Andy Clarke, we all quickly learned that the throwing side of athletics required you to go to the very bottom of the playing fields to throw things into pits of sand and cinder, things like round cannonballs, discus, and javelins, the very bottom of the playing fields had been classified as the safest place to let young teenage boys throw dangerous things around, it was the place where we could do least damage, unless you happened to putt your shot onto the road outside when a car was coming, it wasn’t deliberate but we always managed to do that at least twenty times during each lesson, ok it was deliberate.

So we always volunteered for the throwing things and because the throwing things are the least exciting of all the athletic events none of the teachers bothered us too much so most of our sports lessons during long hot afternoons were spent sitting under the large oak trees at the bottom of the playing fields smoking one of Patrick Stewart’s, not the Star Trek bloke, cigarettes and chatting aimlessly about whether or not Mickey Finn was Mark Bolans bum-chum, stuff like that, important stuff.

For the record the consensus was almost certainly yes.

And the years rolled by and every summer the boys who were very keen on cricket would dominate the cricket pitch in the centre of the playing field and the staff would focus their attention solely on those boys while we all sat underneath trees smoking and talking about important stuff until four years had passed and it was decreed from on high that there would be an inter-form cricket tournament in our year, meaning briefly that each class (form) of 30 had to pick a team of 12 to represent them.

We all had to audition for our form’s cricket team and because our form master Arnie Summers was also one of the sports masters he had already decided that we could not lose this competition, we could, but he had decided that we wouldn’t, its awful when your form master is the most competitive sports master in the school, he expects you to be as enthusiastic about his silly little games as he is – we weren’t.

He took all 30 of us out onto the cricket pitch one day, split us into two teams of 15 and told us we were all going to bowl and we were all going to bat and no excuses, from this session would evolve the form cricket team, fact is we could have easily picked the team for him, there were about 6 boys who were dead keen cricketers and maybe 6 more who could make up the numbers a bit like the England cricket team do, we could have picked it for him but he insisted on an X Factor like audition for us all.

I didn’t want anything to do with it.

I do recall fielding out on the boundary and at one point the ball actually came close enough for everyone to start shouting at me to throw it back, I threw it back but a girl could have thrown it further and someone had to run over and pick it up from where I’d thrown it to, which was nowhere near where it should have gone – FAIL.

I bowled one ball that barely reached the batsman and our ultra competitive form master told me it was a no-ball anyway and not to bother finishing off the over – FAIL.

Our side went in to bat like lambs to the slaughter, Arnie Summers had picked his first choice 15 and then “the rest”, needless, almost unnecessary to say, I was in “the rest”, in fact if there had been 31 boys in our form I wouldn’t even have been picked for “the rest”.

Fortunately when your side is batting there is little else to do and so we sat around the back of the big wicker kit bag with its lid open so that Summers couldn’t see us and we chewed grass and talked rubbish for the ten minutes that it took for the rest of our side to be bowled or caught out or just battered into submission by some cruel bowling – a cricket ball that catches you on the knuckle is a sure way of getting a kid who hates the game to hate it even more, if such a thing is possible.

And then finally with a great “Huzzah !!!” our last team mate was declared out and we stood up from behind the wicker basket to cheer and run for the changing rooms and it was then that Arnie Summers noticed me, “You haven’t batted yet have you ?” he bellowed, “Yes” I replied, “I was out first ball” and he looked puzzled and racked his brain for the memory of me being out first ball, most of our team had been out first ball so it was hard for him to bring the incident to mind immediately.

“No he hasn’t be in yet” coughed up David England, David England, class swot, a large boy, “well built” his mother would have said, “he has large bones” she would have explained – “He’s a sack of lard” was our explanation and being the brainiest kid to ever have walked the earth only endeared him to us even more, not.

David England, the boy least likely to excel at sports, the boy who could only swim in the shallow end of the ancient swimming pool so that he could keep both feet on the floor, David England, the boy that we all called “Pretty Woman” after the Roy Orbison song of the same name, David England had turned out to be quite good at cricket (as most fat boys are, you can’t see the f’kin wickets for them is why), David England was grassing me up for his own entertainment.

I reluctantly walked to the cricket square, some of my team mates ran after me trying to tie on some pads as I walked, “No time for pads” shouted Arnie Summers, an action that would surely see him sued within and inch of losing his house these days, and there I stood at the wicket ready to receive the last two balls of the day from Rob Vasey, ace fast bowler of the school, former school bully, a boy with a score to settle against all of us since that day in the first form when he had been exposed as such in front of The Head, I could see his eyes from 22 yards away and in his eyes were written “DEATH”, and “BLOOD”, I promise you, thats what it said, he was not only going to bowl me out first ball but he was going to kill me in the process and Arnie Summers was going to enjoy this.

The boys fielding around the wicket crouched closer in eager for a catch in the slips, rather than three in the slips I seemed to have attracted all fifteen of their team and some from my team too, they were all grinning like hungry jackals waiting for the kill, one of them was MasterBate-son and he was definitely on my team as I’d been talking to him behind the wicker basket just two minutes earlier, he grinned at me, “You’re dead meat” he said, I took a practice swing with my bat and cunningly aimed it at his head which only missed by virtue of the fact that he ducked just milliseconds before it swept through the space where his head had been, they all stepped back one step.

“Two balls left, ten runs to make” is what Arnie Summers our form master, sports master, and cricket umpire called, “Play Vasey”

Rob Vasey’s run up was almost a cross country run in its own right and by the time he reached the bowlers crease he was running and panting like a steam train, blood, sweat and snot streaming in his wake, he released the ball from somewhere up in the clouds and I felt the whistle of a bullet ping past the end of my nose, neither I nor the wicket keeper saw anything that even remotely looked like a ball in those few nano-seconds and then someone called “RUN” and there I was running down the wicket scoring the first ever run in my very short cricket career, well, technically it was a “by” or “no ball” or something like that but we ran for two and I was knackered but worse still, I was still facing Rob Vasey for the last ball of the day and eight runs to win.

The slip fielders all shuffled closer again and I took another practice swing and nearly took MasterBate-sons head off his shoulders this time, they all shuffled back again.

Vasye’s run-up started somewhere in Derbyshire this time and I could still see his eyes from where I stood quaking at my end of the wicket, I swung the bat at where I thought the ball may have been before he even released it and yet so fast was the ball travelling that my head high swing and it met in perfect synchronisation somewhere above the already ducking MasterBate-sons head, he thought I was taking a swipe at him, truth is I had my eyes closed and was going for pot luck, the ball, MasterBate-sons head, I didn’t care which.

There was a crack like dry lightening, both my wrists almost snapped in splinters and suddenly upon opening my eyes I could see the ball flying back down the wicket the opposite way to which it had come, it whistled past Rob Vasey’s ears who had not even finished his run-up yet, there was a cry of “RUN” again, eight to run for this time and no fielders stood anywhere near where the ball was flying to, we could do this, I could save the day, “the rest” could pull off a miracle by beating the first choice boys.

It was not to be.

Arnie Summers caught the ball from his umpires position behind the opposite wicket and declared me out.

A huge cheer went up from the first choice boys, MasterBate-son leaped from his fetal position on the floor and grabbed me by the throat to enquire if I’d deliberately just aimed at his head, and I just stood there with a puzzled look on my face asking “Is the umpire allowed to catch you out ?”

I’ve watched some cricket since that long distant, hazy, sun filled day of the Form 4S cricket team selection match and I have yet to see an umpire join in the game at all let alone catch one of the batsmen out, maybe it is in the rules somewhere, maybe its just one of those rules that has fallen out of fashion, who knows.

I think I was hoodwinked though.

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