More Than A Score

                                More Than a Score                        (Cossonay CC –14/7/1996)                                         i. […]

                                More Than a Score

                       (Cossonay CC –14/7/1996)

 

                                      i.

 

     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!).

 

                                ii.

 

     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.

 

                                       iii.

 

     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!.

 

                                   iv.

 

     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!).

 

                                    v.

 

     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!.

 

                                    vi.

 

     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!.

Author: J. A. Bosworth

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