new short story: The Unseen Fielder.

The Unseen Fielder
by
Stuart Larner
************************************

“Howzat?”
Yes! Out!
Another run out. Great!
Our opposition, Broad Oak, was now eight down for only fifty three in the eighth over! Our fielders had run out three and I was on my toes to get more.
This match was a Twenty Overs Evening Charity Cup quarter- final played at a neutral ground. We had never got past this stage before, but tonight Broad Oak’s best players were on holiday, and we were running riot. Mind you, we had suffered an early setback. One of our players had pulled a hamstring early on and was unable to stand, let alone bat. If Errol, my sister’s basketball-playing boyfriend, had not come along for the trip then we would have only ten fielders.
Errol had joined the club as an excuse to spend more time with Stella, not to play cricket. He had little understanding of the game. He was tall, black British with curly hair and glasses. A good catcher, and athletic, he had met my sister at a basketball/netball convention in the city. They would sit for hours together, she entranced by the stories he whispered to her about voodoo in Jamaica. In the car, his thin long arms curled around her on the backseat whilst I cherished the team’s kitbag in the front.
Initially, he had just wanted to just sit with Stella on a bench rather than field. However, after a short whisper together, she had said to me, “OK, he’ll do it – but you have to give us a lift to the Netball Convention in the city next Thursday night. I don’t like going there on the train.” So, I had agreed, and Errol became a substitute fielder.
The new batsman was right-handed and looked studiously round at the field placings before settling down in his stance. The pitch was laid north-south with the pavilion parallel to it on the west side. On the eastern side the field suddenly fell down a precipitous slope out of sight to the boundary, the footpath, and the river where Errol was standing next to Stella who was sitting on a bench. Behind the wicket at the northern end was the railway; at the southern end was the church. The particular wicket we were using was on the edge of the square nearest the pavilion. It was an easy hit to the pavilion boundary on this side, but on the other side it was a long hit to the boundary over the top of the hill and down the precipitous slope to the river.
The new batsman hit towards the slope side, but because of the distance, it just trickled over the edge of the slope towards the boundary.
I knew that the ball couldn’t have reached the boundary because it was returned so quickly up the slope. Judging by the speed of the return Errol was no longer sitting on a bench canoodling with Stella, but taking to his job with gusto at the promise of an uninterrupted session with her after his stint, and a trip to the city on Thursday.
It would only be for twenty overs, I had told him. Just stay there at the bottom and field any ball that comes trickling down. As he had a cream tracksuit, he wouldn’t need any proper whites. He liked it because he and Stella were privately out of sight down there. Only the square leg umpire could see them from his position if he peered down over the crest. Though Errol and Stella couldn’t see the game from the bottom of the slope, they didn’t need to. They could count the number of overs from how many times they saw the back of the square leg umpire’s head appear at the top of the slope. They would be free to go for their walk after they had seen him come to stand there ten times.
The oppostion had mainly right-handers, so the short boundary to the pavilion was to their leg side on only half of their overs. Whenever their best batsman was on strike, he would eye up this short boundary, and if it was on the leg side, he would try to hit a six. They began to discover though, that it was not always easy to do.
There were many occasions when their greed for runs made them miscue into the long boundary side towards the slope. Any ball that trickled over the edge and down the slope would come hurtling back at lightning speed. Because they could not see the fielder, the batsmen were unable to properly judge their runs and regularly had to dive into the crease without warning.
Now, in panic, they were collapsing. It was the eighth over of the match and they could be all out in an incredible ten overs at this rate. In only half their overs! What a chance!
We brought our faster bowlers back on as clouds built up and the light levels fell. Broad Oak batters continued trying to hit the short boundary, miscuing and running blindly, and were finally all out for 58 after 9.4 overs.
As rain started to fall the umpires made comments that tonight the game would never be restarted if stopped, and would have to be replayed at a later date. Broad Oak would then have all their best players back off holiday. I couldn’t let that happen. I was desperate to get the match finished quickly. Not wishing to waste time changing, our wicket-keeper opened the batting in his keeping pads. Our other opener rushed out to join him, fastening his pads on the way. In these circumstances you have to have the winner’s mindset. You have to go out there and show that you want to take the game forward. On paper we might have our full twenty overs, but we knew the weather might allow us barely half that. To win you have to be streetwise, and we had worked out a plan.
We had the advantage of having right-handed and left-handed batters in our team. Instead of everyone trying to hit out if the short boundary was not to their leg side, they would take a single into the slope side of the field to bring the appropriately-handed batsman on strike to treat the short pavilion side as his leg side.
If a right-hander were on strike at the northern railway end, the long boundary down to the river would be to this leg side. So he would take a short single to bring the left-handed batsman on strike to hit into the short boundary pavilion side, and he himself would be at the church end for the next over ready to launch on his leg side into the pavilion.
Similarly with our left-handers. We tried to manipulate the scoring so that we would have the appropriately-handed batsman on strike, depending on which end it was.
We were making good progress towards our target but, like Broad Oak, we also began to lose wickets frequently. Broad Oak had placed extra fielders on the pavilion side when they saw our tactics. Some of us were caught out easily when attempting the big hits, or were kept down by the extra fielders to singles, thus disrupting our strike strategy.
Finally we came down to our last man and me. We were both right-handed. The rain was hammering down now. Though we needed a dozen more runs, the umpires were close to deciding to stop the match as the rain was so heavy. Even though we were in our ninth over and should have plenty of balls left, a result was in doubt. One of the umpires wanted to go off immediately, the other was in favour of just one more over after this ball.
I knew that now was not the time to hide away from the fact that we had come here to win. You just want the same result as everybody else: a win. Here we need to stick to our guns at the back end. I knew the chase today would be tough and we had done well to restrict the opposition to so low a score in so few overs, but here now was our final test. I smacked a four through to the pavilion boundary. Then it was the end of the over. The umpires screwed up their faces and tugged their coats tighter in the rain. The next over, batting at the northern railway end, my partner had the short boundary to the off side, and took two balls to get me back on strike. I then hit a couple of two’s into the side with the long boundary and slope. Now we had only three runs to get, but the rain was belting down even harder. The umpires had wanted to go off with barely nine of our overs used, and would certainly stop the match at the end of this over. I was on strike, and I knew I really only had two balls left to score three runs.
The bowler bowled a full toss on leg stump and I took a deep breath and swung high towards the slope. It sailed over the two solitary Broad Oak fielders there and disappeared over the edge of the slope. A certain four, if not six. There was a female cheer from below the slope.
My batting partner ran up and embraced me. In the torrential rain, my spirits high, heedless of how wet and sodden I was, I ran madly around to shake hands with all the sad bedraggled fielders. The rain stung my eyes as I ran over even to those who were furthest away. Then I started towards the pavilion in triumph. Everyone in the pavilion rose and applauded. I lifted my bat in recognition of a great moment in our club’s history and of my part in it. Tears of joy mingled with the rain down my cheeks. Onward, into the semi’s!
Then suddenly they all stopped applauding, and went quiet. Their faces fell, their foreheads furrowed in consternation. The umpires looked bemused. One of them started to reach in his coat for his pocket edition of the laws of the game. The other was pointing to behind me.
I turned round.
Errol and Stella were coming across from the slope.
Errol was holding the ball aloft with a big smile.
Stella shouted. “He’s caught it. Right in the twentieth over! Is that right?”

Ends

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My batting inspiration by Stuart Larner

I met my hero only once, and in that moment he set my technique for the rest of my life. Yet, for over forty years I never knew his name. I had his autograph, but I couldn’t read it.

I remember meeting him when, with my school friends autograph-hunting, we were waiting in the car park outside the back of the county ground pavilion for the last players to emerge from the club buildings after an exhibition match in early September . The Lord’s Taverners had taken on a Rest of the World XI. Dexter had made a tremendous 86, pulling fast bowlers disdainfully for six over the stands and into the river at the back. Our gang of eight was the dedicated core of the ardent followers and we awaited Dexter especially.

Suddenly there shouts from the back of our group: “There’s one!”, and “Autograph mister, please?” We all gathered feverishly in awe round a man whom I did not recognise and who had appeared unexpectedly from somewhere behind us. He was reluctant to sign at first, but he relented when he saw the fervour of our support.

I scrutinised what he had written, but I could not read his signature. It looked like W Woollens, or W Willans. So, rather than committing an act of gross impoliteness and show my ignorance of the game in front of him and my friends, I decided to ask him if he could give me any tips on technique. I thought that was really clever. Depending on whether he gave me batting, bowling, or wicket-keeping tips, I would be able to deduce his identity.

“Well, yes, I’ll tell you what I try to do,” he said. “ When it’s really getting buzzing, I clear my mind of the last one, and then I look into the distance, and concentrate on the one coming.”

He took up a two-eyed right-handed stance against an imaginary fast bowler with left foot facing down the wicket, and pointed into the distance to his left. “I follow it all the way down with my eyes, and as it goes past me I lean slightly towards it, then ’dosh-chit!’ and into the gap!”

He turned his wrists at the last moment and pointed in front of him and to the side between fourth slip and gully.

I was so impressed by his advice that I used it in my next school game. I never had any talent at batting, and going in at number eleven, was often out for a duck. Yet I found that on that day I was able to keep my wicket intact against some terrifically fast bowling, and allow the captain to slowly accumulate the winning runs at the other end. Since then whenever I had to face fast bowling the technique helped me focus on the ball. I gained confidence that I could achieve results with a minimal flick of my wrist. Many grateful times I heard the beautiful “Dosh-chit” sound of ball on pad and outside edge as I carefully guided it to run down past diving slips and gully.

However, I must admit, that after he had gone, and after all that he had said to inspire us, our group could still not deduce his identity.

For over forty years I used this technique and would never have known who he was had it not been for a chance encounter with an old school friend in the street. He used to have a Saturday job which we all envied at the cricket ground. He was paid ten shillings to turn the handle of an inky duplicator to print off match scorecards. Typically when he had done five hundred or so he was allowed to watch the match free. I asked him if he remembered the day that Dexter made 86. He said that he clearly did, and I followed it up by asking him if he remembered a name on the scorecard that day by the name of W Woollens or W Willans.

He thought carefully and said, “I don’t think so. What did he look like?”

“Perhaps a few inches taller than you with a green jacket on.”

“And from what exit did he come out of the building, players, or officials?”

“Well, that’s the curious thing,” I said. “He seemed to come out of the car park behind us, not out of the back of the pavilion. I have often wondered since whether he was a ghost.”

“Oh!” he laughed. “That was Willie Williams, the car park attendant .You know, there were no automatic barriers in those days. It was just a man with a money bag round his neck and a roll of tickets standing at the gate. He was famous. No matter how busy it was on match days there were never any queues at his gate, unlike the others.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“It was all due to his technique. For when things were really busy he would first clear his mind from the previous customer and then watch for the next one coming in the distance. He would stand sideways on and watch the car approach all the way up to him and just when it drew level with him he would quickly reach into his bag with the change and a ticket. ‘Dosh’, then ‘chit’, and then with a flick of his wrists he pointed past the entrance, saying ‘… into that gap there please, sir!’”

Welcome To The World of Cricket Fiction

This site is for short fiction about the sport of cricket.

If you would like your story posted here, then please send it in the body of an e-mail addressed to slarner@sky.com with a short biography of up to three sentences written in the third person with any links to your blog. In the subject matter of the e-mail put your title and name. I do not open attachments. I accept simultaneous submissions and reprints where you hold copyright.

Submissions should be roughly in the range 800-1200 words.

Unfortunately I cannot pay you at the present time. However, your story if published will be read and appreciated by the cricket community. I reserve only the right to post it on site and I will remove it later at your request.

This site is not for short quips, though the stories can be humorous.