Some things you can't explain

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The Independent Online
THE WORST question anyone can ever ask of a low-grade amateur sportsman is 'Why do you do it?' After all, why do we do it? The only possible answer is that you do it because while you are doing it, you don't really have time to wonder about stupid things like why you do it. Doesn't mean a lot, but it usually shuts them up.

Still, as the cricket season truly gets under way, it's been a question I have been asking myself rather a lot recently. As ever at this time of year, I have fallen into the sad summer habit of studying every weather forecast, and occasionally toying with the idea of sending round an assassination squad to sort out Michael Fish.

Tragically, the weather has not been kind. 'Cruel' is a better word. Some might prefer 'psychotic'. Midweek, it has been glorious. The sun has been shining. Shorts have been de rigueur. Here in London, fat construction workers with vast love handles have proudly paraded their gigantic frames to a stunned populace. Then, every Friday, unexpected squalls have arrived from the North Atlantic. The temperature has dropped 30 degrees. Gale warnings have been issued. And when I arrive at the ground, I realise I have forgotten my thermal long johns again.

It's not even as though you can prepare for this. Nets, for example, help you not at all. For weeks you have been assiduously practising your forward defensives and crashing square drives in the warm and cosy atmosphere of the indoor net, with its hard, reliable artificial wicket and easy access to the bar.

Then you go out on to a real village pitch, with its broad patches of moss and exploratory rodent excavations just short of a good length. After all that rain, the pitch is so slow that you'd need a bazooka to get the ball off the square. As it is, you play the ball so early that you still have time to play another, entirely different shot before the ball finally drifts past and bowls you.

Faced with this annual conundrum, I decided this year to eschew the nets, and instead trusted to my natural instincts to get it right. Unfortunately I had forgotten that I don't have any natural instincts. In my first innings, I was out fifth ball for nought.

In fact, we have been lucky to play at all. That crucial, cathartic duck came only last Saturday, after the usual series of early-season cancellations (waterlogged pitch, problems of getting a team together, whole village swept away by tidal wave). Fortunately it was one of my better noughts - quite solid and correct, now you come to mention it, and undone only by a demonic straight ball on middle stump.

But if I wasn't terribly surprised by my own failure, I was astonished by everyone else's. The winter had not only had its usual ruthless effect on waistlines - it had also undone whole bowling actions, and nullified the skills of even our most talented batsmen. 'Ah, but we're all hard-wicket players,' said one wise owl, which should suffice as an excuse until a hard wicket comes along.

In the meantime, we did everything wrong. The bowling was 'steady', ie steadily smashed out of the ground. The batting was 'brittle', ie no one could remember which end of the bat to hold. In short, the opposition creamed us, while, in a nearby shed, an aspiring teenage guitarist inadvertently entertained us with idiosyncratic renditions of old Deep Purple and Status Quo hits, never less than half a beat out.

So why do we do it? Don't ask, just don't ask.

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