When I Swashed And Buckled

When we were at school footy training, that’s rugby union training, I used to have a good time. Some kids hated it but I didn’t I loved it. To some it was having free time stolen from you to be forced to practice in a team you didn’t want to be in for a match you didn’t want to play on the weekend. The idea that one afternoon after school they would take away an hour or two of your leisure time (or study time, if you were so inclined) was anathema. To me, it was pretty near a perfect way to spend an afternoon. I enjoyed playing footy, and was good enough at playing the game to get a lot out of playing it, without ever being one of the very best. I was never in the top team – teams were graded, and I tended to be in the Bs most of the time – but there were a few ‘sliding doors’ moments where I wonder now how things might have turned out differently, and what benefit proper coaching might have conferred, and so on … until I tell myself to stop wondering. It’s silly. You don’t want to be a footy player anyway. But there you go.

When we trained we would often play games of practice moves – chains of passing, combinations, forward structures – against other players from other teams. And that meant often playing against, or doing opposed work, as it was called, against the As. A lot of my friends were in the As and as a consequence I played well in these drills and mini matches as I had no fear. It didn’t matter that we were playing against physically bigger opponents who were better players, if it was against mates of mine then it was just fun. This attitude never really found an expression for me on the field. I was always mindful of the possibility of an accidental kick in the head or some such misfortune and my performance was always a little muted because of that. Except in attack, with the ball in hand, where it’s all about being elusive and not letting them catch you, which is helped if you are a quick runner, and I was – then I felt freer to express myself.

But we played against strangers, and as strangers it was never certain what sort of people they were and what they were capable of, and in this very small way a fear of the unknown could be said to have hampered my performance again. Except in one instance: the crazy fast bowler from the school we hated.

Yes, this is cricket, not footy, but the same general principles applied usually in this game as well. When batting it was important to be cautious, to be watchful, and not do anything stupid. And then when you had been batting for what seemed like long enough – it was as though there was an internal clock fitted to all of us – you would lash out and be dismissed. That’s how we played. That’s how I played, mostly, with exceptions, for half an hour, here or there, of bright, positive batting as though the cloud of doubt which seemed to follow me around on the sporting field had been blown away temporarily.

The crazy fast bowler from the school we hated was different though. Some of the teams we played against fielded roughly the same players every year and so as we grew up they did too and we sort of remembered each other. I remembered this guy from long association with (against) him: he used to try to hit batsmen as a way of getting them out. I already vaguely knew of him when my mate Steve (not his real name), who was a bit of a ladies man, attempted to get to know a bit more intimately a young lady from a nearby school who hadn’t revealed, as she ought to have, that she was in fact still going out with a certain fast bowler from a certain hated school, who ended up being a little bit unbalanced. There was a moment when Steve was on the phone to the young lady and suddenly he realised that the crazy fast bowler was on the line too – he had snatched the receiver away from the young lady or something, I don’t know – and we were soon to play against this young man and his team and Steve became very slightly fearful, very briefly, until he recalled that he was in fact a very good fighter, not that this was a skill we needed much at my school, but he was, and that he, Steve, was also a fast bowler of frequently unpredictable habits as well.

So a showdown of sorts was to ensue. Crazy fast bowler was a bit of a dickhead, in some ways, threatening to get people out in ways which didn’t make sense if you actually know the laws of cricket, and just generally threatening, physically, all the members of the other team when he was playing against them. He had hair which swooped and flew as he ran in with the ball, and this was not a popular hairstyle at the time, but the Byronic windswept thing suited him somehow, and he bounced the ball mostly about halfway down the pitch and attempted to strike you on the body. He would do this repeatedly until the intimidation became too much and you flinched at a straight delivery and were bowled. On this day I attacked him. I ran down the pitch, towards him, and swung hard at the ball and sent it into all parts of the field. Many of the shots weren’t completely under control but it was daring and it was fun. It was a bit like being a matador against an out of control bull which has already gored a number of matadors. I got a good score that day, and another good score doing the same thing next time we played the team from the hated school, and I kept getting good scores against him. I felt strong. It seemed like being the champion of the underdog against a bully who should have been taught a lesson years before. Like I was on the side of right.

And then one day, as this crazy fast bowler had set about decimating my team, again, and I had played a typically swashbuckling, but abbreviated innings, I was sipping from a water bottle as the crazy fast bowler came off the field briefly to get a drink himself. He tried to work out, aloud, how many wickets he had taken and how many were needed to get my team all out. He spotted me and said, “Oh, you’re you”. And I knew what he meant: we’re equals. Combatants who have shared the honours on many occasions. It’s a pleasure to know you. Or he could, possibly, have meant: “You’re that bloke Steve’s mate. I hate that bastard”. I can’t quite recall the look on his face now.

Published in: on January 17, 2013 at 7:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

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