Attentive readers will recall that the last article left me at the crease for the first game of the summer, ready to receive the first ball in my quest for a maiden century to brighten up my dotage. Having worked on my technique for seven months during the close season, sweating in the overheated nets at the top of Highgate Hill, there was an air of inevitability about what happened next.
I had largely kept my batting ambitions secret from my teammates who play for what has now become the Beamers – an amalgalm of the old New Statesman cricket team for which I had played for 17 years and another ageing side whose numbers were getting depleted, Mixed Media. We had merged experimentally in 2002 and decided to make the arrangement permanent but agreeing on a name had taken a whole winter’s emails, with a variety of more or less sensible names being batted back and forth: Ferme Park Boys (we play at a ground called) Ferme Park but the sexual innuendo, not helped by the addition of Old, was pointed out; League of Gentlemen, rejected beause you need something to shout on the field and, anyway, it was a blatant untruth; Coconut Monkey Pen-holders, a souvenir of an Indian tour not worth retaining; and other ideas such as Minglers, Zone 3, North Circular, Bada Bing and Ronseal for which you, the reader, will have to guess the genesis.
That left two: my favourite, Statesman and Media (S & M being an apt description of the game) and Levellers, put forward by the more politically aware members of the team. The vote, however, was a tie, 12 all. So one evening after nets in the pub, the name Beamers came up and was universally accepted out of exhaustion. So Beamers we are, smiling at our opponents as we aim full tosses at their heads.
A few fellow Beamers had, however, read The Oldie – we are all mostly of a certain age -about my cricketing ambitions and, unsurprisingly, not kept the information to themselves. So there was more than the usual weight of expectation as I called out to the umpire, ‘centre, please Barrie’, a guard I take out of habit but with no real notion of why.
The first ball was a wide which bounced temptingly as it passed me but I left it. The second was in pretty much the same place. The third, inevitably, was a yorker on a good length and the fourth was another good ball which I squirted out to short leg.
I was not feeling good. The bowler was getting bounce as well as swing, and was bustling in with a sense of urgency. He was balding, small, in his thirties and looked as if he was quite useful. But then so would any bowler given my state of mind. I resolved to get on the front foot to kill the swing. It was my undoing. It was my undoing. The fifth ball was on a good length but jumped a bit, took my gloves – had I been sharper I would have dropped my hands – and dollied to second slip. A duck, not quite golden, but pretty silver.
I was, to be fair, our only batsman that day who was out to a good ball. The rest of our team beamed their way back to the boundary via silly shots, daft run outs or plain doziness after a winter indoors. I had a chance to redeem myself in the field when their operner hit hard in the air to my right at mid on. I stuck a hand out, slightly gingerly. It hit my palm and bounced out. The sum total of my first day of the season was a duck, a dropped catch, a couple of misfields and an inaugural defeat for the Beamers by six wickets. ‘And the point is?’, I asked myself.
In order to maximise my chances of cricket this year, I have also joined the local cricket club, North London, which has a thriving colts school and therefore runs five teams on a Saturday. I aim to play occasional games in the hope that in the 4th or 5th team, bowling might be bad enough to allow me to achieve my ambition.
My next two games were, therefore, with North London and resulted in scores of 8, including an off-drive for 2, the shot I had worked on all winter and 1,both times caught off tentative shots.
As New Labour used to say, it could only get better. It did. Next time out, for the Beamers, I got to 23 including only the third six of my life, so that made a start. Then, in the next match, a 35 over game, opening the batting I managed to get to four not out after 10 overs. The captain, Ralph, a man who has never really understood the purpose of the forward defensive shot, was not best pleased. He came out to umpire in order to deliver a bollocking. ‘You are losing us the match’ he said bluntly. ‘You can’t go on like this’.
He was right. Perhaps I was paralysed the winter’s training. I was playing correctly but you can’t do that at our level of cricket. The next over I stuck my leg out and walloped the ball high into the air. The opposing captain, Trevor, waited while the ball swirled in the wind and watched it thud into the grass. Two runs, and with a few other shots across the line, just the sort of thing I had been told not to do all winter, I had chalked up 37 by the 19th over. I then foolishly nurdled one to second slip – again! – but Ralph was pleased. My partner, Martin, went on to hit 76 not out and, thanks to our brisk partnership, we won the game. But 37 is just over a third of the way there.
With an even slower 32 for N London IV the following week – we were losing wickets at the other end was my excuse – I reached my century for the season: 101 runs in May but in six innings. A ton in one seems a long way off but the weather forecast for June is good. And I have lots of games lined up. Ah, the optimism of middle age.