The loneliness of the run-scoring batsman

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Today I bring you a complete cricketing story for boys called:

On Victory Bent!

Az Oakeshott strode out to take guard in his first innings for England against the old foe, South Africa, he was greeted by a barrage of friendly insults from the fielders in a language he did not recognise. Afrikaans? English spoken in an Afrikaans accent? Or was it simply Xhosa? There were lots of clicks in the Xhosa tongue, which came in very useful if you wanted the umpire to think that the batsman had nicked the ball. More than one English batsman had judged caught behind when he hadn't even offered a a stroke, such was the convincing click in the Xhosa tongue...

"Don't pay any attention to them," said a voice. "They don't mean it. It's just the way they play cricket."

It was Jim Grayling, the other batsman, who had come to meet Tom Oakeshott as he arrived at the wicket. South Africa had already batted their 40 overs and had made 250 for 8. It wasn't a bad score, but England, who were now 80 for 2, could easily overhaul them if they put their heads down.

Tom Oakeshott put his head down. He started scoring freely. He hit boundaries, he hit singles, he hit twos and threes. After six overs he had already scored 40 runs.

Grayling, however, had only scored two in all that time. Oakeshott felt he ought to have a word with him. What he wanted to say was: "Pull your sodding finger out, mate!" But as Grayling was the senior player, all Tom said to him was: "Shouldn't we be pushing the score on a bit?"

Grayling looked sullen and bit his lip.

"I suppose I'd better tell you, young fellow, that I can't afford to push the score on. You see, I've got a bet on with some chaps. Fact of the matter is, if England lose this game, I'm going to be stinking rich. But if you go on scoring like that, I'm sunk. Slow down, young fellow, and I can cut you in on it."

Young Tom Oakeshott's face went red as he went back to his crease. He couldn't believe what he had just heard. As if to show Grayling what he thought of his treacherous words, he cut the next two balls for four. At the end of the over he went to talk to Grayling again.

"Look here," he said. "If a chap is going to bet on his team, he might as well bet on them to win. I think it's rotten of you to bet on England to lose."

Enlightenment dawned on Grayling's face. "I say," he said. "You don't mean you've got a wager on for England to win?"

"I certainly have," said Tom. "I've been paid a thousand down, more to come, if I can steer us to victory."

The two batsmen stared at each other. One was dedicated to winning for England and his bank balance. The other had sold his soul to see England lose. It was not a great basis for a batting partnership. In the next few overs, Tom became aware that Grayling was reluctant to back him up when running.

"Look here, Grayling," he said between overs. "It looks very bad if I hit the ball towards the boundary and you shout `No!'. And another thing. Will you stop trying to run me out?"

"No, I won't," said Grayling. "I can't afford to."

The next over, something extraordinary happened. Oakeshott took a swing and missed. There was an appeal for a catch. Tom recognised the voice. It was Grayling's. The umpire shook his head. Tom strode down the wicket and told Grayling to cut it out, then went back to his end, where he found the South African captain waiting for him.

"I get the feeling that you two blokes are having a disagreement," said he. "If it's any help, we're all for you winning. Financially speaking, of course."

"You want us to win?" said Tom.

"Of course," said the South African captain. "We wouldn't be bowling rubbish like this otherwise."

He winked and went back to the field.

Somehow the heart went out of Tom's batting after this revelation, and he wasn't totally unhappy when he was given out LBW a few overs later.

"That was never LBW, was it?" he said as he passed the umpire.

"No," said the umpire, "but you were starting to score far too fast."

"Why would that worry you?"

"I know it's a long shot," said the umpire, "but I've got my money on a tie."

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