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U3A Writing: Rain Stopped Play

Patrick Hopton tells a choice tale of love and loss at a cricket match.

I was unaware of the rain clouds building up behind me as I patrolled the boundary before the pavilion. Fielding was not my strongest point and this was the area in which the skipper considered I could do the least damage. Not that Linda Jackson knew this – lovely Linda, the belle of our local Barclays Bank. My attempts to date her hitherto had been unsuccessful, and she had relented today only because cricket was a new experience for her, so she said; and might be fun.

Keen to impress I strode the boundary in front of her, exuding confidence – or so I hoped. To gauge the effect I was having, from time to time I cast glances to where she was sitting on a deckchair in the front row. It was a bit disconcerting to observe that for most of the time her head was stuck in a book. Suddenly, shouts of ‘CATCH!’ grabbed her attention to the game and concentrated my own. The batsman had heaved the ball high in the sky in the direction of deep mid-wicket . . . me! I followed every inch of the flight of that ball, positioned myself carefully, cupped hands outstretched, and clasped it gratefully when it fell . . . . only for it to pop from my grasp like a squeezed orange pip. I juggled frantically with it but to no avail. The ball plopped to earth at my feet to the sounds of titters behind me from the opposition supporters, groans from our own, and a cry of ‘Oh Dicky, no!’ from Linda – who promptly returned her attention to her book.

My humiliation was complete.

In the event my lapse mattered little to anyone but me, as the same batsman again heaved the very next ball (to deep fine leg this time) where the fielder leapt high to pluck the ball out of the air with his right hand. That fielder was Adrian Lestrange, a newcomer to our team, just down from Cambridge where he had earned his blue. Tall and lean, he possessed the languid, lithe movement of a natural athlete, blonde good looks and an outgoing personality. I disliked him on sight. Linda clapped him enthusiastically.

Soon afterwards, without help or further hindrance from me, the innings ended. Our opponents were all out for 140, a modest total; one offering us the chance of our first victory of the season – if only those rain clouds (now clearly visible) would hold off.

Now I was no longer fielding I could sit beside Linda until my turn came to bat. I was keen to explain to her the finer points of the game. I have to confess, though, that it was a struggle to keep her nose out of her book. She would feign interest, nod agreement and return to her reading – that is until Adrian Lestrange came to sit on her other side. Then he and she chatted animatedly about the merits of this and other books – a discussion that moved on to films – and this in turn to TV series. Overawed by their knowledge and enthusiasm my contributions were minimal. Fortunately help was on hand. A shouted appeal from the field ended their exchanges.

‘Right! That’s me then,’ Lestrange announced, rising from his deckchair. ‘Wish me luck.’

‘Good luck then, Adie,’ Linda cooed.

Adie!

He strode to the wicket, whirling his bat with his right arm, pausing at intervals to flex his knees. At the wicket he joined our skipper and they conferred. Then he took guard from the umpire, studied the field placings at length, prodded the pitch here and there with his bat, surveyed the field again, tugged at the peak of his Cambridge cap; finally settling himself in an upright, elegant stance to face the bowler.

Poseur!

Grudgingly I had to soften my opinion of him when his innings got under way. Runs began to flow from his bat - somehow without him really striking the ball. Behind the wicket he tickled it deftly or cut it delicately; before the wicket he stroked, rather than smote the ball between fielders - offside and onside with equal fluency. Our target total was shrinking steadily.

Two threats to our potential victory loomed, however: one, those dark clouds, now overhead, giving notice of imminent rain; the second the fast diminishing supply of batting partners for Lestrange. The skipper lasted ten overs or so; but on his demise, subsequent batsmen trooped in one by one and, a few balls later, trudged back to the pavilion again.

A shout from the field heralded the fall of the seventh wicket. Now it was my turn. By this time the target had shrunk to a mere nineteen runs. From the pavilion the bowling looked harmless enough. I was confident that I could knock those runs off – even without the help of Lestrange. So my main worry when I strode to join him was that light rain was beginning to fall.

At the wicket he was waiting to greet me. ‘Look old chap you just hold down your end and leave the runs to me. And watch out for the last ball of each over, I’ll be looking to keep strike with a quick single.’

The arrogance of the man!

Initially the strike was his anyway, it being a new over. The second ball he guided to the deep mid-off boundary; the fifth he glanced past fine leg – again a boundary. The final ball he prodded towards extra cover. ‘YES!’ he shouted and set off at pace from his crease. Uncertain that a run was on offer I held out my hand. ‘NO!’ I countermanded and stayed put. Left with no option he halted abruptly half way down the pitch and turned to scramble back. He was hopelessly short of his crease when the wicket keeper gleefully removed the bails.

To his credit he didn’t glare at me; merely tucked his bat under his arm and headed for the pavilion, where he was greeted with loud applause. I knew I didn’t want to face that pavilion just yet, and the wrath of my team mates, who were unlikely see the run out incident from my perspective. My only salvation would be to get the eleven runs now needed myself. But the gods were angry with me too. The drizzle turned into a sudden downpour and the players frantically scampered for the shelter of the pavilion. There I sat miserably alone (even Linda preferring the company of my team mates) pleading silently for the rain to stop, so that I could earn redemption by getting those runs.

And miraculously ten minutes later it did. And ten minutes after that I was at the crease again. With more rain threatening, we needed to knock off those eleven runs quickly. No problem! A mere eleven runs! With luck the game could be finished off in a single over . . . and it was. In fact it was accomplished in just two balls. The first delivery, an off cutter, broke wickedly and flattened my off stump. (I’ll swear it hit a stone.) The second ball our number eleven lofted gently back to the bowler.

It was as I was trudging back dejectedly after my dismissal that I glimpsed my MG Midget in the car park . . . open to the heavens! Anxious to impress Linda I had driven to the ground with the hood down. And lulled by the sunshine on arrival I had not thought to close it. Back in the pavilion my first task was to grab paper towels from the kitchen to mop up the wet from seats and floor so that I could drive Linda home. (At least it kept me from having to face my team mates!) She joined me before the task was completed – Lestrange in tow.

‘Don’t worry too much, Dickie,’ she said sweetly. ‘Adie has offered me a lift home.’

Seconds later they swept from the car park in his Porsche a cheery hand of farewell waving from the driver’s window.

At the team training session on Thursday night, Lestrange was voted in unanimously as our new captain. (Grudgingly my hand went up too. I could hardly do otherwise.) His first decision was to drop me from Saturday’s team and appoint me twelfth man.

I tried to contact Linda throughout the week intending to invite her on a proper date. Her telephone remained stubbornly unanswered.

She was at Saturday’s game though . . . but this time as the date of our new captain.

And she didn’t bring her book!

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