Despite the poor weather, our village team managed to get in a game of Twenty20 last night on a surprisingly true pitch. We were playing a team that we routinely thump. They are evidently enthusiastic scholars of the game, who take an age doing everything in a proper fashion, save for all those vital moments when they actually have to bowl a ball, hit a ball or field a ball, when natural ability lets them down.
But those facets of the game within their control are done to perfection. For example, the scorebook is a sacred text, where each wide, no ball and wicket is lovingly recorded. Every detail is scrutinised at length. The batsmen revel in the pomp and ceremony of taking a guard. The bowlers proclaim loudly that they are moving round the wicket after their third successive wide, re-marking their run-up as though everything is going to plan. There are long discussions in the middle with the new batsman, discussions between overs, even discussions between deliveries; and solemn sermons before, during and after fielding about the need to walk in, attack the ball and back up. In conclusion, they take it extremely seriously, but canâ€™t play for toffee. Most village teams have a player or two like that â€“ they happen to have a glut of them.
Needless to state, with this attitude (arrogance or complacency, take your pick), we were skittled out for 75. They did have a few better bowlers than usual, but given all but one of us was bowled, you can see what kind of shots we played. They then came into bat and their new boys quickly slapped us about to reach 55 for 2 with about eight overs left, at which point it was announced that we had previously miscalculated and the scorebook should have read 77. No great difference to the likely result, but a welcome gesture all the same.
The run rate slowed down, but they still reached 73 with 15 balls left and six wickets in hand. Five to win, four to tie. There was no way we could possibly win from here. Or so we thought. There then followed one of the most bizarre passages of cricket I think Iâ€™ve ever witnessed. As I mentioned, weâ€™ve played them a few times, so we know their players fairly well. The two at the crease couldnâ€™t hit a church door with a banjo. The next men in were pretty handy, or at least better, so as long as we kept the ball outside the off stump, where it was in no danger of bowling them out or rapping their pads (their umpires would have given them LBW in a flash!), we still had a chance. Of course, you should never purposefully drop any catches or muff a run out opportunity, although I guess that is down to each cricketerâ€™s individual morality.
â€œNo wickets, lads!â€ was the cry round the field, as we all crept in to save the single. Dot ball followed dot ball, interrupted by yet another mid-pitch pow-wow by the batsmen, although heaven only knows what they were conspiring. Neither could put bat on ball! In the end, they managed just three runs from the last two and a half overs and we won by a single run. Had the scorebook not been checked, we would have lost by a run.
It was heart-breaking. We didnâ€™t deserve to win and I almost wish we hadnâ€™t, because it surely would have meant more to those two batsmen to have taken their team home, than it did for us to win. You can add â€˜patronisingâ€™ to my arrogance and complacency, if you like, but thatâ€™s how it felt. They hadnâ€™t simply snatched defeat from the jaws of victory â€“ they had stuck two hands down her throat and yanked it from her belly.