More Than a Score
(Cossonay CC –14/7/1996)
More than a score of years have passed me by
Since last I took a willow-wand in hand
To play the beautiful, seductive game —
Both dangerous and unpredictable —
Of cricket; and yet here I am, scarcely
Arrived in Switzerland, (not having had
Net-practice nor preliminary game),
Padded, gloved and boxed — for preservation
Of fragile bones, soft flesh and virile parts —
A blear-eyed, white-fringed, and white-flannelled fool
Batting for Cossonay in a League -match!.
Relaxed in mind, but physically tensed
As usual when going in to bat,
I reach the wicket, look around, then take
The old familiar guard, (“Two legs, please”), chalk
My mark upon the matted batting-crease
And settle to the comfort of a stance
Remembered from more active youthful years.
We only need some fifteen runs to win,
Eight overs to achieve them in, and still
Two other team-mates to come after me.
My partner, his eye in, is batting well,
So all I need to do is give him strike
As often as I can and very soon
We’ll celebrate a welcome victory.
(This is the stuff of dreams, when everything
Seems possible and usually is!).
But when the first deliveries arrive
My bland self-confidence deflates as dream
Turns to reality. The skills I’d had
Refuse to manifest themselves. Although
The bowling is quite ordinary — years
Ago I would have scored with freedom, made
A lot of runs in comfort from it — now,
However, nothing seems to work for me.
One problem is my ageing eyes. They see
The ball leaving the bowler’s hand, but then
Can’t keep it in clear focus as it flies
Towards me through the air. So it becomes
A blur of red the trajectory, speed,
Or spin and bounce of which, are very hard
To calculate precisely, if at all!.
Reflexes are another problem. Slow
And uncoordinated, I can only push
And prod at where I think the ball might be.
My timing is awry; I play and miss,
Or nick an edge, or simply stun the ball
So much it does not even leave the square!.
Each new delivery poses a threat
To me of painful bruises or, still worse,
Of broken bones!. I feel the handicap
Of three-score years inhibit me. It’s not
At all as I remember from the days
When I was younger — fitter, sharp-eyed, quick
In my reactions, full of confidence
From playing frequently — and would begin
An innings for my team and often reach
A useful score. Instead, I realise
That I am now quite ineffectual,
(Embarrassingly bad I must admit),
And curse the pride that had persuaded me,
Against my better judgement, to expose —
As cautious forethought would have sagely warned —
My obvious incompetence for all
To see. Yet, now that I am at the crease,
I have no other option but to try
To stay there whilst my partner scores the runs
That will ensure our promised victory.
Before — the toss lost, we had fielded first —
I’d spent some two hours and a half beneath
The broiling sun, (eyes shaded from the glare
Under the greem brim of a floppy hat),
At short mid-off or short mid-on, to spare
My creaking joints and flabby muscles from
Over-exertion and because my throw —
The shoulder being unreliable —
Is too weak to be useful further out.
(That’s why I used to wicket-keep, and why
I rarely bowled my startling ‘Chinaman’,
Those distant years ago when age and health
Were allies, not my own worst enemies!).
Only one chance, (a ‘dolly’), came my way
But, setting myself to catch the ball — thump! —
Our Captain, thinking that my fingers were
Perhaps too stiff safely to grasp the sphere,
Spinning as it descended from a height —
And off his own delivery to boot! —
Attempted to anticipate my own
Attempt and, (in so doing), since both pairs
Of eyes were concentrated on the ball,
Collided hard with me. So down we fell
Together in a heap without the thing
We both had coveted!. A simple chance
Was thereby missed amid a gale of loud
Hilarity from friend and foe alike;
Except from that same interventionist
Who felt the chagrin of a wicket lost
From his bowling analysis and put
The blame on me for being in his way!.
We got Geneva, (our opponents) , out
For one two three — a pretty number, that,
Of satisfying regularity —
And when it was my turn to bat, (at nine,
Who’d always opened in my youthful pomp!),
We needed only fifteen runs to win
With overs in the bank, wickets to spare.
After some fruitless sparring by myself —
My partner meanwhile scoring nine more runs
During five overs, leaving only six
For us to get from eighteen balls — I edged
And saw a run, (or thought I did!), called “One!”
And set off for the other end as fast
As flaccid pad-bound muscles would allow.
My in-form partner — having seen my skills
Were quite unequal to ambitions’ aims
To smite those boundaries that memory
Seduced me to attempt from time to time —
Was unprepared for so adventurous
A run!. Hence, he was late to start and failed
To reach the crease I’d left before the ball
Had been returned and bails were taken off.
(I’d run him out, but still not scored myself!).
Our last two batsmen were a pair of youths
Who were not even born when last I went
To bat more than a score of years ago,
So it was up to me to win the match
For they were innocent of cricket-skills.
(Once more the dream-scenario appeared:
The hero-saviour of the day was — me!).
Knowing there was no need to hurry — just
A fraction more than two an over would
Suffice for victory — I prodded on,
Trusting the runs would come as once they did
In those remembered days of long ago;
The victory we thought our due would see
Me welcomed as the talismanic star!.
Somehow I nicked a single off the fifth
Ball of the over, but my partner failed
To keep the next from knocking down his stumps.
The last pair in, myself on strike and two
Full overs left to get five runs; the win
Entirely my responsibility!.
More than a score of years ago, my soul
Would have delighted in the challenge set
By such a situation in a match.
(The young and gifted won’t admit defeat
Until reality confirms the loss
With brutal incontestability!.
But old men, tutored by experience
And doubtful of their own abilities,
Are far less sanguine of a happy end!).
Today, playing from memory alone,
I feel my lack of confidence, my fear
Of failure and the impotence of age.
Five balls I fended off with body, pads
And bat, but then I tried to nurdle one
Down where no fielder was, at deep fine-leg,
But missed completely and the ball dislodged
A bail. And so the match was lost — by me!.
So much for old men playing young mens’ games!.
(Colin my son, in his first innings played
After some years of absence from the sport,
Scored ninety-six for Cossonay and had
So much success thereafter that he gained
Selection for the national team, until
The Swiss decided that their players must
Be born in Switzerland. Since his birthplace
Was Hong Kong he no longer qualified,
Despite his triple nationalities
As Anglo-Irish-Swiss). But I digress!.
I’d dropped a catch, run out a partner and
Scored only one run in the match; a poor
All-round performance ending in defeat.
Yet all-in-all — embarrassment apart —
I had enjoyed myself throughout the day;
Which was the object of the exercise.
I’d also learned that old men who suppose
They can repeat their youthful feats are wrong
In their presumption. Now I recognise
I am no longer able to perform
As once I could and must accept the fact
That in the future I can only score
With pen, not bat, as scorer of a match!.
Because, soon after this experience,
(Perhaps as aftermath of that severe
Collision on the field of play, though no
Blame can be placed on him who’d knocked me down),
The pains of rheumatoid arthritis came to plague
My later years. It was an accident —
The sort of thing all sportives dread — that woke
In me the latent stressful strains incurred
Both in my former military life
And later when I’d shifted heavy loads,
By hand, onto and off the vehicles
I regularly drove for several years.
Old age has many memories, but these
Cannot ignore its own infirmities
When one no longer has the skills that, once,
(For more than twenty years more than a score
Of Summers past never to be renewed),
Had lent to life its winning redolence
On happy days of cricket’s sporting fun
Playing the finest game of all — bar none!.