Five archetypal figures from the recreational game.
Words: Ed Kemp
Illustration: Joe Provis
The eternally-out-of-form batting ‘gun’: shiny kit, decent technique, asymmetrical haircut. An established ‘batsman’ on the strength of that one long-remembered 80-odd about a decade ago, his selection remains unquestioned. Through the winter he’s creaming cover-drives for fun and timing the pants off his pulls – no one notices if they’re all at catching height when you’re in the nets – and everyone starts to believe: this is his year. But by mid-August, after yet another brutally binary run of scores (including some of the best-looking noughts ever compiled) eyebrows are being raised at his subterranean season-average. Come that week’s selection meeting, it’s reached crunch time. “He looked mustard in the nets again,” says the skipper, before inevitably slotting him in at No.3. Never mind that you have to spend three days scrolling back on Play Cricket to find the last time he made it past 12.
The lower-league legend
While some spend night after night dreaming of a place in the club 1st XI, other more humble folk are happiest swimming in smaller ponds. A regular in the seconds, thirds, fourths or beyond, your lower-league legend has made his bed in the county combination leagues, and even a call-up to the big boys after a hard-fought fifty once a season isn’t going to budge him from his people. He’s been he heart and soul of his side, has been captain on and off – whenever there’s no one else – and while his record is decent, his availability’s impeccable. Sure, he welcomes the colts into senior cricket: settles them in, builds up their confidence, but when they inevitably move on up through the teams? He watches them go with pride. Like a cricketing Moses, never to see the Promised Land for himself.
The keeno prodigy
Player’s son – the opening bat’s boy, probably – who’s been turning up to every game at god-knows-where, demanding throw-downs from whoever will listen – old, young, opposition, pet, whatever – since he was two-and-a-half. You join in. You humour. Once dismissed, you throw balls and offer advice – however cruel, unjust or heartbreaking your demise has been – and you take satisfaction in his improvement. Then before you know it, he’s made a hundred for the county under 13s and he’s nicked your spot in the side.
The worldly umpire
Baby boomer. Retired gas engineer, probably. White haired, respectable. But he loves being a part of it on a Saturday, loves the away days, in the cars and the changing rooms, joins in the blue bits – one of the boys for a day a week. Out in the middle, he stands there straight-backed in his white coat, scrupulously fair – if anything, he gives them the other way – like a model of old-world morality. But back in the bar, when he’s finished his awkward chat with the opposition ump and joins the throng, another side presents itself: there’s a beguiling glint in his eye as he recalls the early gas-board house-calls of his virile pomp. And you almost forgive him for turning down another stone-dead LB that’s cost you the game against top-of-the league.
If you’re looking for the Blitz spirit at work in the 21st Century, look no further than the humble clearings of club cricket, where one man can arrange fixtures, organise nets, make the teas, apply for grants, roll the wicket, man the bar, and also be relied upon to send three-and-a-half-thousand SOS text messages whenever a team is short. If our hero heard there was a game in danger of cancellation on the South Pole he’d swim there in his whites and carry 10 others on his bat. On Cricket Force weekend, of course, he’s first on with the gardening gloves, and if you think he owns a pair of tracksuit bottoms unsploshed with sightscreen whitewash, then think again. And after all that, he’ll still turn out for whichever team needs him and chip in with a crucial unbeaten 14 and a well-taken catch at square-leg.
If you have any suggestions for more club titans, comment freely below or shout at us on Twitter at @AllOutCricket