Not Out

Frankly its a humiliation when you’re a good middle-order batsman pushed down the order behind the bowlers and the keeper. That’s where I found myself for that one-day game.

The recurring knee injury that would eventually put me out of the game had twanged in the field in the morning session, so I got pushed down to tail-end Charlie for our innings in the afternoon. The boys were holding the league leaders to a close finish when, late on, Johno got himself out with only one over left. That put me in with Bates, usually the bunny at number eleven. I turned down the offer of a runner, which I regretted as I tried not to limp on the walk out to the crease.

The scoreboard said we were eight behind, which gave me a dilemma; keep the strike and risk it, or turn it over to Bates who could at least run.

The bowler facing me was becoming my nemesis. A tall youngster, he had a baboon’s arms and legs and ran with a stoop. We likened him to the middle caveman in that ‘Ascent of Man’ cartoon – that is, until he took a massive final stride and stood up at the end of a fierce delivery. Both times we’d played before, this character had me out with a nick of outside edge, with me in better form. Practice during the week had been nothing special and the knee told me it wasn’t my day. But as the sports psychologists will tell you, the best atheletes develop the toughness to overcome a low mental state when it counts. Yeah, right.

I had to remember to breathe, as the bowler made his approach took that big final stride, stood up and lobbed a wide right past me. I hadn’t even moved.

Reset for the second. Same action, a better line this time. I lifted the bat; nothing.

Right before the third ball I noticed him scowling, a distration which meant I got late onto the ball. Contact! Not even thinking about the knee, we made two runs of it, keeping me on strike.

Five balls left with the extra. Six needed on the score.

Next ball, I stepped up early, smacked it full face to Square Leg where it dropped a few feet from the rope. Four! I could hear the boys applaud over on the veranda, I think from sheer surprise more than anything.

The opposition tried to hustle things along, hoping to rush us into a mistake. I swung at the next ball: nothing.

My knee was starting to burn, the sun was getting low and the apeman was scowling worse than ever.

The next delivery came off-line on my weak side and took a shocking in-swing. I got the bat to it and pushed as best I could, with no idea where it would go. It had no height, went by the legs of the in-feild, dropped to the grass and skittered on. An outfielder sprinted across, but by the time he closed, it tripped over the boundary rope. Four! We’d made it with two balls to spare.

I know this sounds like Boy’s Own Comic stuff; the kind of game you hate when you’re playing it but afterward, a win’s a glorious win. The truth is, it wasn’t an important game, we weren’t in the running for the trophy or anywhere near. But I do remember batting number eleven on a narrow margin, that apeman of a bowler and thinking as I walked in that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

[Unpublished extract of a sporting biography]