|Village cricket: living cliche?|
Wending my leisurely way around the Shires not so long ago, I passed through a charming village with the unfeasibly felicitous name of Stirk-on-the-Crease, where, just past the Nudge & Nurdle Inn, on the banks of the eponymous River Crease, I alighted upon a cricket match of mediocre quality, yet tangible enthusiasm. Having first checked for the availability of refreshments (baked and brewed), I decided to watch awhile, ale in hand, empty of mind, a large oak sheltering me from the early summer sun.
Now, I’m not entirely sure how it came about, but, around the time of the tea interval, the fielding chart of Stirk’s opponent (Panwick CC) somehow found its way into my possession. The diagram was clearly designed specifically for the spearhead of the, er, Panwick attack, yet it appeared also to convey some eternal truths about cricket at this level. Here, below, is the chart, and below that, my observations:
1/ WICKET-KEEPER: Although he himself is invariably something of a maverick, there are nonetheless a few rules-of-thumb for the Village ‘wickie’: (1) he always, always stands too close, seeing his position solely as a mark of courage rather than logically connected to the pace of the pitch and/or bowler; (2) he always wears cumbersome, oversized 80’s-era buckle-fastened batting pads that trip him up when scrambling for skiers; (3) he always sports a tatty ‘bucket’ sunhat, a la RC Russell, who brought a dash of Village garb to the international game; (4) having spent a P-Diddy rider’s worth of cash on dental treatment in his early years, he will have long since forsaken his ‘abandoned graveyard’ English teeth to the vagaries of the pitch and the dangers of the bucolic Village swipers standing in front of him; and (5) whenever a young bowler – under 28, say – is brought into the attack, he must stand up to the wicket as a matter of principle, to show the young whippersnapper that he hasn’t ‘lost it’. Regardless of the fact that he will either (a) end up being knocked unconscious and carried from the field, or (b) let through about 40 byes, runs unlikely to be recuperated with the willow, he will never waiver from this attitude, so don’t even try reasoning with him. Finally, it is obligatory for the Village ’keeper to be the purveyor of some distinctly average ‘chirp’, every bit as clumsy as his glovework; only injury resulting in a mouthful of blood is enough to partially muzzle this afternoon-long drone, so get used to it. You fucking prick.
2/ LEG SLIP: Stationed here because the skipper is inevitably a septuagenarian stickler who vividly recalls – via Pathé News rather than a memory affected by incipient Alzheimer’s – the era when leg slips used to take the odd catch or two. In this side, however, the leg slip’s primary purpose is to act as another line of defence for wayward bowling. That and a quasi-psychiatric, counselling role ensuring the stable mental equilibrium of the ’keeper.
3/ LONG STOP: See 1 and 2, above. (It should be borne in mind that this fielder is often a chuckling simpleton with next to no concentration span, whence the high bye count; on the plus side, he has the stamina and arm of Forrest Gump.)
4/ DEEP STRAIGHT MID-WICKET: More commonly referred to in Village circles as ‘Cow Corner’, this position will be occupied by one of the (inevitably few) fielders actually able to see the batsman from a distance of over 50 yards, and thus possessing a better than 1-in-10 chance of catching the ball should it be hit in this direction. If this position happens to be in front of the venue’s pavilion, and if the pavilion happens to house a bar (not always guaranteed), it is undoubtedly where the captain will be found, despite the inherent difficulty of skippering from the boundary. However, this is also often one of the busier positions in Village cricket, and given that positions 5, 6 and 7 (see below) will generally not be too keen to chase leather, even the promise of a quaff might not be enough to tempt skip to patrol these nether regions.
5/ SQUARE LEG: If the bar is in fact nowhere near Cow Corner (at either end), then square leg is the safest bet to find the skipper. Primarily, this is due to it being the best position from which to sweet talk (or bribe) the umpires; at the very least it guarantees him a regular – albeit dentally daunting – intake of confectionary, which officials in the lower echelons of the recreational game are near-certain to have on their person.
6/ SHORT MID-WICKET (‘THE GRAHAM GOOCH POSITION’) or SHORT STRAIGHT MID OFF (‘THE MATTHEW HAYDEN POSITION’): Dependent as to which Ashes DVD the skipper has been watching in the lead-up to the game (obviously needing his grandson’s help to operate a DVD player), this position, ostensibly an attempt to appear innovative on the captain’s part, is actually more about getting the team’s principal practitioner of sledging both within earshot of the batsman and out of earshot of the umpires (which, to be fair, could actually be inside the umpire’s own skull if the latter has turned up sans hearing aid). If the incoming batsman happens to be short of his twentieth birthday, this position also serves as a kind of not-quite-short-leg, one that’s as close as any sane fielder dare get (see 11, below) and put in situ principally to apply notional, vague ‘pressure’. Irrespective of whether the batter in question happens to be coming off the back of a double century for the regional U-17s, it will take at least a dozen crisply punched drives through extra-cover before the penny drops for the skipper that the benefits of sledging the young gun are being heavily outweighed by having only one fielder in front of the bat on the offside for a tyro whose cover driving is akin to Lara in his pomp.
7/ NEITHER LONG ON NOR LONG OFF, BUT SORT OF FLOATING BETWEEN THE TWO (AND NOT QUITE DEEP ENOUGH): In most forms of cricket, an extremely unusual position; in the Village game, however, a common, almost mandatory place to station a fielder, if only because it’s designed not so much to cover two distinct positions, but simply to distract the batsman by having someone legitimately standing in front of the sight-screens – or rather, where the sightscreens would usually be found in higher levels of the game (for this reason, if this fielder is sufficiently portly, his lily white-clad girthage may well serve to assist the batsman, in which case he should be moved).
8/ COVER: This is where you’re likely to find one of the team’s few non-smoking fielders: usually a young guy with genuine talent ‘persuaded’ to remain loyal to the club by a demented, self-serving father. Having the entire offside to himself (in front of the wicket, that is, although he will also do a fair bit of the fetching from behind square, too), this young buck is invariably too frazzled for batting after a session in the field, making it crucial to win the toss (which also gives six or seven of the side that bit longer to shake off the fug of four lunchtime jars).
9/ FIRST SLIP: The oldest member of the side (other than the captain) will field here. He’s capable of snaffling anything – well, anything above the height to which gravity has lowered his plums, below the height of his feral eyebrows. He ought to be capable, also, of tolerating on only half-a-dozen Nurofen and a shot of brandy the manic stream-of-consciousness babble emanating from the ’keeper (see 1, above).
10/ SECOND SLIP: The fattest member of the side will field here (that is, if said player is neither already captain nor first slip; problems may arise if the skipper is both the oldest and fattest player in the side,* since he cannot field at both slips… Well…). Occasionally, he will be moved out to mid off, where he will inevitably stand far too close, often little more than 15 yards from the bat by the time the bowler is in delivery stride, giving him the opportunity to be further away from the ball than the bowler – whose cursory follow-through will inevitably stop at little more than one or two steps, of course – and thus able to shirk/delegate having to chase…
11/ BOWLER: Usually relatively young (around 45 years old or thereabouts, with sparrow legs and hot water bottle tummy) and a self-designated medium-pacer (“used t’have a yard, I did”), the Village opening bowler is morally obliged to run in from a preposterous angle, round the back of where mid off ought to be, all the while fiddling with the unruly rolled-up sleeve on the Burton’s Menswear polyester shirt he sports in homage to DK Lillee. Moreover, he will invariably be so slow that the batsman has time to adjust his thigh-pad – by which I mean the beach towel that is doubling for a thigh-pad – before grossly mistiming the trundler’s pathetic ‘effort ball’ in a gentle parabola to…yes, the Graham fucking Gooch position, thus ensuring the captain’s re-election for the next five seasons…
* Wiseacres from Moddershall CC are advised to keep schtum about this.