The Unseen Fielder
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?”