Musings From The Padded Cell

No Fear

Pre Match Preparation

Sat in the wonderful Royal Oak in Eccleshill last Friday, I was musing with “Smithy”, a PE teacher at a local Secondary, over the state of sport in general as the Olympic jamboree was launching simultaneously in East London with Boris tucked comfortably into his free seat for the next few weeks urging us all to “get on down!”; what did London do to deserve this idiot? A crowd of us meet most weeks for the early quiz and the chance to win a few beers from the fierce incumbent “home” team; rare victories are savoured almost as much as the ales on offer.

Out early, home early – with the occasional lapse – so goes the plan and a necessary evil these days as a hangover and three hours on a cricket field the following day do not make good companions at my age; roll on the wild, indiscipline of a carefree winter and sod the headache. Smithy was talking about coaching kids and trying to instill in them the instinct of playing with no fear as we all know from experience that the mind and body are interwoven when playing sport. Success is rare without both fully functioning although I am not implying you have to be super bright as a few of my team will testify.

Conquering the “fear” or simply the roller coaster of a season’s ups and downs and the impact on your confidence throughout is often as big a challenge as fending off some spotty teenager who is trying to send you to A&E for the afternoon courtesy of propelling a shiny, hard cricket ball. Anybody who says they never get nervous before playing sport is either lying or simply does not care which is enough to make you suggest they should find something else to do. An old team mate of mine could never go out to bat without one last visit to Trap One; if it was occupied then the innings was simply delayed. So, if you commit to even turning up, then it should matter.

Winning Above All Else?

Smithy’s view was that kids can be unnecessarily inhibited by over bearing coaches desperate for the result almost above all else. I see this every summer with some opposition junior cricket coaches and you can spot them a mile off. It is fair to say they will never have actually played the game but have a son they hope – without any supporting evidence – will be a world beater making up for their own failings. The game will inevitably centre on the Precious One and I will spend most of it tempted to break the unwritten rule and fire him out LBW – even if Hawkeye suggests it is missing – just to get rid of him. Kids should have fun first; we can worry about the rest a bit later.

The “no fear” bit resonated with me as, it is fair to say, this summer has hardly been a run feast for the veteran here. In the autumn of my cricketing life the competitive edge is still fierce even if it is always worth checking the team sheet each week now given my unique selling point of being able to drive is no longer unique; it may indeed be time for the two-seater? As you get older the need to prove yourself again and again seems to actually intensify hence the endless nights fiddling with batting stances in front of the purpose bought double glass doors of the fridge freezer, lining up my feet along the floor tiles.

Funny Old Game?

The last few weeks have been strange to say the least for our team. A few weeks ago we anticipated another tough contest with Knaresborough only to bowl them out for 37 on an afternoon everything went right. Only one week later and we were on the end of it ourselves, succumbing weakly to Ilkley for 45 so at the interval a week later versus in-form North Leeds and facing down 233, it looked a steep hill to climb. Cricket, though, is a strange game indeed and never underestimate the power of “momentum”.

After 10 of our allotted 50 overs in reply I was 0 not out and being barracked so badly by the home drunks in Dementia Corner – aka Critics’ Corner – that even the opposition had sympathetically stopped sledging me. Our skipper was whispering into his mobile, presumably I thought, to try to try to arrange a sniper to get me off the field and I confess to feeling as low as you could get on a sporting field. At least in most other sports I would have been substituted to a few boos from the drunks. I had simply got too wrapped up in the intricacies of batting instead of just trusting 40 years of knowledge to go out and hit the ball…without fear.

“That Lad Could Bat Wi’ A Stick O’ Rhubarb!”

At the other end, my partner Danny was saving my neck batting sublimely and taking on the opposition single handed. And then it clicked; Big Barry bowled one on my legs, contact was made and we were away to ironic cheers from those long enough retired to forget how very ordinary they were “in their day”. Soon, unbelievably, the ball was pinging off the bat to all parts – had I indeed been substituted – North Leeds must have been considering a drug test. No it was simply a complete change of mind set only possible because the one thing you learn after all these years is never panic…or at least stay hopeful a straight one will take out your middle stump!

In a thrilling finish to a game spanning almost seven hours, with not a penny in admission charged and with the drunks scattered to all parts by the rapidly reducing temperatures, we scraped home; not with a triumphant, confident strike out of the ground but a scruffy inside edge down to the vacant boundary. Recreational sport at its very best; played hard, played fair and with more twists and tales than even Boris could hope for in the coming two weeks. No fear? Not a chance; I was bricking it as we edged closer to the finishing line…simply because it mattered.

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