Our previous junior school headmaster had just retired to tend sheep on Welsh hills. With his retirement went some memories, like his consternation when I set him up to play chess against a spectrum computer and his revenge game against me.
That memory as a child was stronger then when he called me over during break time to see my mother who had been inexplicably missing for a few weeks. I asked how my disabled brother was, and why she was not at home with me and Dad. Her tears and sobs are the only answer I remember. Not realising by law my headmaster had said she could not take me away earlier but he wanted to give her a chance to see me.
Divorce would soon answer my question and reunite me with my brother and mother. The headmaster kept a distant eye before he moved on to another flock to watch. The only child with divorced parents and a disabled brother stuck out even more now.
I wanted something else to be remembered for – a brief moment of glory.
New Batting Order
The only significant sporting prowess I had was playing poker dice. Called to the outgoing headmasters study one final time we assured we were not gambling. The idea to do so was now put in our heads – what had just been fun became a serious racket involving sweets, football stickers and whatever else kids valued with no currency in the materialistic world beyond the playground.
The new headmaster was determined to make his mark on us young ruffians early – and he started with forming a cricket team. The only state junior school cricket team in Hampshire.
Straight to the library I thumbed quickly through Geoffrey Boycott’s book which in each corner showed you how to play a different batting stroke as a moving image as you flicked the pages quickly down – genius idea. None of us played cricket – there was a level playing field to be had and I wanted an inside edge.
I tried out but did not make the final twelve (that will be explained). Dejected I remember during PE seeing the team practise on a lower playground while we played football on a higher one – where no glory was to be had as bigger menacing boys dominated and a win for me was not being injured in a no referee game. My job was to retrieve the ball whacked down the hill miles down to the lower playground. Sums up my abilities and instinct for survival.
Retrieving such a ball that day, one of the cricket team came over. One of their number was ill and the lads, most of whom I had turned into degenerate gamblers, had persuaded the headmaster to include me.
That vote of confidence did something, and after only two weeks of any of us playing cricket we had our first game on that lower playing ground. Each batting pair had three overs and rather than being out you had six runs deducted from the teams score – hence 12 players. My father came to see my first game, his first visit since the divorce.
To the crease as last pair I realised no one was behind the wicket keeper – plus the bowls were to my eyes slow. So much so on each ball I moved to the side and twisted smacking the ball directly behind. Once they started putting three people behind the field opened up for me and my batting partner Justine (only girl playing that day) to score. We were not the highest, but the tactic worked for us to score more.
However, the experience of the other side soon showed with less wild hits, and controlled stroke play. It came to the last over, the last ball.
The pressure got to the batsman and he scuffed the ball into the higher reaches of space where the gods themselves decided it should be sent from an almighty height hurtling down towards little me.
Watching a cricket ball that looks like a full stop in the sky coming towards you when you are eight – the potential pain is nothing compared to the ignominy if you miss it. Yet I met my first moment of transcendence in my life. I knew I was going to catch that ball.
Which must have concerned my team mates – because I only had one eye. From birth my left eye had been partially closed. Looking into the sky it would completely close and tear up.
I kept my eye on the ball as I walked backwards, slow steps to keep my balance. There was no doubt in my mind I might have lacked the perception to catch this ball, that my team mates would blame me for losing our first game, that the parents would forbid their children socialising with such a dysfunctional kid.
Head raised to heaven, both wrists in front of my mouth the cricket ball became a red beach ball as it crashed into my hands. It stayed there. I heard cheers and saw blurred shapes rushing towards me.
For my right eye had joined in with my left for a different reason to cry as reality rushed back into my consciousness all at once.
Like Tom Holland in his Financial Times article on cricket and practising with Alistair Cook I have had youngsters take me out for a duck; at family get togethers.
That does not matter – because for one brief moment of glory I was one with the cricketing gods. And for us incompetents those moments matter more than all the trophies in the world.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog