Making its debut, ‘Secret Diary of a Village Skipper’ gives a fascinating and amusing insight into leading a club cricket side
8.52pm. A chilly evening in early May. A few drinks in. It’s getting dark; you can barely see the wicket from the bar.
“Just got off the pitch, love. Going to jump in the shower then I’ll come straight home xxx”
“Lots of traffic on the roads. Bloody roadworks. Be with you soon xxx”
The long cricketing wilderness some call winter has abated, only no one has informed the weather. First game in and my fielders are even more statuesque than usual – they’re frozen solid. One has turned blue. One of the veterans has his hands permanently glued to the inside of his pockets until I throw him the ball 30 overs in. He proceeds to bowl two overs of dross before removing himself from the attack with a “frozen shoulder”.
Our bodies have yet to become reconditioned for match-play but I still can’t persuade the stalwarts to warm up. “We know our own bodies,” they murmur, whiffing of fags and Deep Heat.
“So you can’t do some gentle catches and shies at the stumps?” I ask, starved of any real hope.
“We’ll save it for the game, skip.”
They don’t. Yet they’ve mastered the death-stare when you direct them from fine-leg to fine-leg. But they’re bloody good bowlers – too good to drop – with their crafty tweak and swinging dobbers. And they’re available every week, which makes them gold dust. Some lament the supposed lack of youth policy in the second team but no young pup can come in and bowl these lines.
Before the game, when the younger lads are jogging, catching and stretching, our silver-haired, snail-paced swing bowler is almost ceremoniously lobbing grass up in the air with a permanent grin, as the wind carries it five yards to the right. He feels he’s guaranteed a five-fer because of a bit of breeze and dreariness.
Cricket in May is a bowler’s playground. As a specialist batsman (I haven’t bowled myself in years, for good reason) it feels unfair; the bowlers have already had their fun in the indoor nets, with the hard surface, steep bounce and artificial light making the gentlest of medium-pacers look like Harmison in his pomp. Even the leggies were getting it above head height.
I’ve spent the entire winter gracelessly fending off short-pitched missiles before insisting, “You just wait, son; you bowl that length to me outdoors and it’s going out the park”. I average one six a season.
A few will proffer their view that “This lad Billy is sharp – I think he’ll be with you boys this year”. All I see is an erratic medium-pacer who bowls juicy half-trackers, egged on by his mates as he makes a quivering fourth-teamer back away into the next county. Still, he drives home feeling like the Big Man.
We practice at the WACA to play on a pudding. It’s now low and slow. You’re through the sweep shot so early that you’ve got time to take another swipe at it. I’m sure I tell the boys: “First game in, we’re still feeling our way into the season, let’s not worry about run-rate, let’s just set out to make sure we bat our full 50 overs.” It must have come out as, “Go out, hit yourself into form, and if you get out slogging then there’s always next week.”
We posted enough, though, and the bowlers were swinging it like the sixties. It was a lively night back at the clubhouse. Once the beverages had warmed the cockles the excitement of the new season had finally kicked in. Several bags of chip-shop chips were thrown onto the table, which caused a mini stampede.
My players were no longer blue; they were now beaming with a tipsy tinge of red, with the windows steamed up from the bombardment of cricketing bullshit. This is the time when the non-singletons start texting their partners to try to buy themselves more time, which, over the years, includes but is not limited to:
- The car has broken down
- I lost my phone
- I’ve only just noticed my watch had stopped
- We finished the game in the dark
- I had severe post-match cramp/spasms and couldn’t drive straight away
The following week it’s our first home game, which is always a headache. Do I have a set of bails still rolling around at the bottom of my wheelie? Are the stumps where I left them eight months ago? Who has the dressing room key? There’s a newbie manning the bar… will my pint of white-wine-lemonade still be a steal at £3.50 (call them spritzers and see what happens)?
I don’t have time to warm-up. It’s overcast. All the clever dicks in the dressing room are telling me to bowl as I double-check the points system in the league handbook. Irrelevant – I lose the toss. We post a very moderate total but ultimately prevail in a low-scoring thriller. Two out of two, we’re on a roll. Man, it feels good to be back.
Got any tales from your club games to tell? Let us know in the comments.