Summer term 1969 and we find ourselves sitting on the floor of the freezing cold gymnasium listening to Sinbad Simpson drone on in what was now a very familiar style as he tried to divide 120 first form boys into manageable portions for the 80 minute “Games” double period every Friday afternoon, being the summer term of course, it was cricket or athletics neither of which I excelled at or was even remotely interested in.
“All of those who played cricket for their junior school put your hands up”, those boys were picked for the elite Group One Cricket boys, the ones who would form the nucleus of the school cricket team, the ones who would be allowed on the hollowed “square” that us mere mortals had to avoid all year round under pain of death from Sinbad Simpsons bark.
“All of those who would like to play cricket, but didn’t have a team at their junior school, put your hands up” and those boys became the Group Two Cricket boys, the ones who were keen and who thought that they’d make the grade,
So that was forty boys from the 120 who had been allocated to elite Groups, thats forty boys in 1969 who owned white trousers and white cable knit sweaters, shocking really when you think about it.
As you’d expect dear reader by the time it got to Group Five, basically the ones who were left at the end, even left after Group Four had been selected by means of “Those who couldn’t give a fook about cricket but want to do some other sport instead”, even after we hadn’t put our hands up for that there was me, Andy Clarke and David England.
At least Andy Clarke had an excuse for Andy Clarke was a music maestro, still is a music maestro, works as a professional classical musician somewhere in the universe and couldn’t in any way shape or form consider damaging his hands at mere sport – David England had the brainiest brain known to man, probably still has, David England used to correct our school masters when they got things wrong, in fact many of the school masters used to ask him for extra tuition, there was no way that David England would ever consider wasting his brain power on mere sport.
Me, I just couldn’t be arsed, and so Patrick Stewart decided he couldn’t be arsed either and Group Five sports ne’er-do-wells we became.
And now here is the bit where I seriously impress you…
In the five years that I existed in Group Five for summer sports, I never once played cricket.
I know, its a proud boast isn’t it.
Well actually there was just the once, there was once that time when our form master Arnie Summers, who just happened to be a sports master too, had decided that seeing as he was a sports master then it would be only right that his form should win the annual inter-form cricket competition that year, and so one afternoon he marched us all down to the cricket square and told the 30 of us to split into two teams so that he could watch us all bat and all bowl and henceforth pick the elite for his award winning cricket team.
I knew nothing of cricket but I knew enough to get myself a job as scorer for the Leeds cricket team and I knew enough for my Uncle Ralph to get me a job as gopher in the England cricket team dressing room at Headingley (what, oh thats ANOTHER story), and from those experiences I knew that a cricket team only has eleven players and not fifteen and so there was a pretty good chance that I’d be able to avoid having to do anything too strenuous, like bat for instance.
I spent a very pleasant afternoon standing around on the boundary watching clouds in the sky, occasionally having to walk a few yards forward and then walk back again, once having to pick up the ball and throw it about five yards to someone else who then threw it the rest of the way to the bowler who seemed to be standing about a quarter of a mile away – while I stood there with the ball in hand arguing that I couldn’t possibly throw it THAT FAR the opposition team ran eight runs, so I got shouted at a bit, but all in all, as sports go, it wasn’t all that bad fielding out on the boundary, a sport of remarkable inactivity.
Then Arnie Summers called an end to their innings and offered our team the bats, this was where I had to make myself scarce to ensure that I was no higher than thirteenth up the batting table, not a very hard thing to do as our team captain, Rob Vasey, who’s dad was also called Rob Vasey – I like that in a family, the habit of calling your son exactly the same name as the father for it shows a remarkable obstinacy in the face of all sorts of parental and family pressures to name an infant as something from contemporary popular culture, or just at random by sticking a pin in a book of baby’s names, “No” the mother will say, “He is to be named after his father, as his father was, and his father before him all the way back to Noah, so Noah it is then” – we had another boy in our class, Trevor Rowland, who also had the same name as his dad and in a strange coincidence both of their dads knew my dad for they all drank at the Meanwood Con Club, there may be a link there, I’ll have to think about that but if there is then its no wonder that my mother insisted that I be named after Gary Cooper and not take my fathers name, Frank.
Could have been worse, my grandad was Percy.
Anyway, where were we, yes, batting, and Rob Vasey took one look at me and stared for just a few seconds too long, I returned his stare and shook my head slightly, “I’m not picking you to bat” he said, its quite surprising how telepathy can work sometimes.
And so our team took it in turn to bat and we slowly crept closer and closer to the score that the other team had tallied up and to my utter shock when all eleven of our team were “out” then we carried on playing instead of, well, finishing the game, Arnie Summers seemingly not yet having made up his mind about his perfect XII.
And then we were into the last over, Tony Bateson was still “In” for our team and he was one of the Group one boys, one of the ones who took this shit seriously, his batting partner was the kid just one up from me in the batting order, in other words another kid who couldn’t give a fook about cricket, it might have been Dogdirt Davidson, it might not have been because I think he actually liked cricket but I like using his name for comedic effect better.
With three balls to go we needed ten runs to win and then, it happened…
Dogdirt Davidson got himself bowled out.
“Who’s next?” Arnie Summers shouted, and they all turned and pointed at me as I stood there nonchalantly staring at clouds and whistling for all the world looking like just a spectator rather than a willing participant, “Come on lad” shouted Arnie Summers, “Get the bat off Dogdirt, I mean Davidson, and get yourself over here now”
There was nothing for it, I didn’t even have time to put any pads on, “You won’t need those” Arnie Summers had shouted, “You’re going to be out first ball anyway”, no wonder I didn’t like sports with such encouragement.
I stood at the wicket holding the bat like a baseball bat, one of the slip fielders leaned over and put the bat down to my leg like a cricket player, “Don’t hold it like that either” he said pointing to my right hand, “You’ll break your thumb if you hit the ball holding it like that”, I stopped and stood upright again, “And what do YOU know about cricket then ?” I asked, it was Johnny Johnson, smartly turned-out boy, a bit of a toff, “I’m in Group One” he replied, “and I play for “Moortown”, I shrugged my shoulders and accepted that he may have a point, he seemed to know what he was talking about.
“Are you ready yet ?” Arnie Summers shouted back down the wicket from his umpires position, “Nearly Sir” I replied and tamped down a bit of stray grass just in front of the crease like I’d seen them do on telly, standing upright again I looked around the field as if I knew what I was looking at, I’d seen Geoff Boycott do that, Arnie Summers was getting agitated now and he waved at three of the opposition who were fielding in the slips to move closer, they moved so close that with a practice sweep of the bat I almost took Johnnie Johnsons head off, he moved back a step.
“How many runs do we need sir ?” I shouted
“ARE YOU READY YET ?” is all he said
“Ten” whispered the wicket keeper behind me, “from two balls”
The first ball came at 90mph, chest high, knocked the wicket keeper over when he caught it, when he caught it was the first time that I realised I’d just been bowled at because I never saw it otherwise.
“Right” I said again, “ten runs it is, off the last ball” It didn’t sound right to me and I couldn’t quite work out how we were going to score ten runs off one ball, I just didn’t want to get hit by the bloody ball thats all.
The last ball of the game was pitched chest high again and this time I saw it coming, this time I swung the bat, this time Johnnie Johnson had to duck or have his head taken off, this time the bat made contact with the ball with a resounding “THWACK” and the ball set off back down the wicket in exactly the same trajectory as it had arrived, except this time it was headed back the other way, I was so proud.
Arnie Summers caught the ball and declared me out and the game lost.
All of these forty years later I still don’t understand that decision and in all of those years I have still to see another cricket game where the umpire is allowed to join in the game they are officiating in, especially to catch out the last player on the last ball, I still don;t think it was a legal move, no, I’m sure it wasn’t.
And that was the summation of my proud cricket career, faced two balls, scored none, caught out by the umpire.
And there aren’t many other cricket careers that can be marked in the same way.