Cricket, like pretty much all professional sports, offers nothing but a transient career. It exploits the period of your life when you’re at the peak (allegedly) of your physical condition. And then comes a point where the body cannot stand the exertions any more, leading to a career in TV punditry or pub hospitality.
There are some who have sufficient talent to make a few bob out of cricket, on the County scene if nothing else. And given the relative calm of the game when compared with, say, football or rugby, you can maybe squeeze a 20-year career out of it after leaving school. But some aren’t so lucky.
I, for all intents and purposes, am one of the latter. Any cricketing career I may have hoped to pursue was brutally halted at the age of 13 in a sobering moment of self-awareness. Any adolescent hopes of being the next all-round hero batting to win the Ashes in Sydney were smashed in just one, brief event.
Did I suffer an injury? No. Was I banned from participating in cricket in order to focus on my education? As if… my degree in media studies at Swansea Uni would testify to that. The moment my cricketing career came to its premature end came as a fledgling middle-order batsman in yet another Year 7 defeat.
We weren’t bothered about ensuring the game against another local school lasted as long as possible. We wouldn’t have batted first if that was the case. But batting we found ourselves on that balmy June evening. And in trouble we soon followed when one of our three decent players was obliged to retire on 25 not out.
The kid who ate chalk (this is embellished for comedic effect) came in before me. It comes as no surprise that he lasted a few balls. I had only been taught one shot – the Geoffrey Boycott All-Yorkshire Super Forward Defensive. Moving the score beyond 50 would require something a little more creative.
After grinding out an imperious 7 not out off eight overs – it is at this point I feel I should reveal that it was a 20 overs game, was the moment – Now, it would be docile medium pace. Back then, it was blistering reverse swinging tomahawks. I lifted my bat without so much as a forward press…
… and with the most attacking stroke I have ever dared (apart from the reverse sweeps that are always attempted in the nets every summer), I drove hard at the cherry in the most Matthew Maynard-esque manner I could. Launching the ball back, straight, over the bowlers head. Straight out of the textbook, Shastri says…
It deserved a full-blown six into the trees for its sheer elegance, with a majestic pose held for cameras and spectators alike (of which there were none). I would have settled for a four, truth be told. But then came the moment that crushed a career… the ball dropping out of the sky half way short with graceless haste.
A brief pause, and then panic. “RUN!” was the desperate cry to my partner who occupied the non-strikers end. I later found the correct call to be “YES”, but not one jot of difference it would have made. For my partner was still attempting to put his pads on. Six turned to four turned to two turned to one. Heartbroken…
I retreated to the only cricketing sanctuary I had – the forward defensive. I later fell, having spent around 13 overs in the middle for a score tantalisingly short of double figures. It would be six years until I recorded my first tenth-of-a-century; against the Teachers. I bowled 2-0-4-1 that day; the first three balls were wides.
But for the time being, the game was up. I didn’t return to the field in Year 8 – it had as much to do with the fact we were yet to win a game and I’m a bad loser. A call to come out of retirement in Year 10 was resisted. Again, it was only the lure of the Sixth Form games against the Teachers XI that brought me back.
When I look back, I search for the achievements. Did I help to take cricket to the Irish on my regular summer holidays to see mother’s family with bat under arm? No, I suspect it was there already. And I failed to taste victory at school level. The game probably was well off without me.
I don’t dare try to resurrect that once-promising career with a village club side. It would be foolish. That ill-fated drive of 1998 would only come back to haunt me.