There are few better cricketing feelings than, as a number eleven batsman, saving a game.
These days, club cricket – even Sunday afternoon friendly cricket, is all about the 40 over game. Everything revolves around the world of win or lose. There’s no grey area and no room for compromise, so the much beloved timed game is becoming a very rare animal indeed. Yet as we’ve seen in Cape Town over the past five days, the draw can be the most fulfilling and nerve jangling of results.
I’ve lost count of the number of games I’ve ‘saved’ batting a ten or eleven – by keeping out an opening bowler with a circle of fielders playing ring-a-ring-a-roses around you.
As a youngster, 13 or 14 years old, it was a great way to contribute to the team you played for. Yes, you could hare around in the field, and you might get to bowl a few overs or have a short bat if your side was batting first and setting a target – but actually saving the game – that was real mans stuff, and meant you could puff your chest out a bit – heck, even raise your bat to acknowledge the applause as you came off the field.
On several occasions we had been totally outplayed all day – the opposition had run up a 220 plus score and our proper batsmen had perished in quick order leaving us something like 100-9 with ten overs left. The choices then were ‘have a swing’ and ultimately perish, or decide to dig in and make the bowlers work for their victory.
My first experience was a typical example. With the scenic grandeur of the Ferrier Estate in Kidbrooke providing a compelling backdrop, chasing (chasing?) 200, we were 78-9 with twelve overs remaining. We’d been utterly outplayed from start to finish and, in all honesty, a loss would have probably been the fairest result based on what had happened in the preceding six hours.
But the rules state that a team has to take ten wickets to win the game so we blocked, and blocked, played and missed – left the ones we didn’t need to touch, edged a few short of the slips, survived a couple of LBW decisions – and gradually twelve overs become eight, then six and then four – and then finally it was the last over. The opening bowlers, who’d earlier ripped out the top of our order, were back on by now, and the light was fading – gone 7.30. We went right back in the crease jabbing down on balls we had to, dodging out of the way when it was short.
When you survived to the end and shook hands with the opposition – you felt a million dollars, and felt you actually belonged in this crazy, wonderful world of club cricket.
As an aside, no one would be sledging, or appealing every time the ball so much as brushed your pads. Nor would they be claiming catches when the ball patently hadn’t come within a yard of your bat.
And even as you get older – saving the game, or even scratching the last few runs to win it with 9 wickets down – there are very few better cricketing feelings.
The point of all this nostalgia? – Well, imagine how smug Graham Onions is right now. He must be insufferable!!