To the Essex coast, to watch my cricket team in action. I have barely played this season, for all sorts of reasons: knee injury, then too much work, then mild depression, then too much work again, then ankle injury. I sustained this last one on my doorstep after a jolly evening, and should have put some ice on it straightaway. But no, I thought – it's only a twisted ankle, it'll be better in the morning. Six weeks later, I am still hobbling about.
But if I can't play, I can watch, I can keep score, maybe do a little umpiring. It's not that I add much to the team even when I actually play. I don't bowl, having retired from that discipline in 1985 after an over that included nine wides. I bat low in the order, though some would say it's not low enough.
I can stop the ball in the field, and I take more catches than I drop, but I can't throw for toffee. Cricket has a way of throwing a spotlight on incompetence. You can carry a donkey or two in a football team, but in cricket even the least perspicacious batsman will spot the useless fielder, and hit every shot in his direction. You can run, but you can't hide. In our team, most of us can't even run.
We have aged together. Earlier in the season, I totted up everyone's ages and worked out that the XI had an aggregate age of 604 years. You should see our fielding practices before the game. Passing motorists slow down to stare, as they would for a spectacular motorway accident.
This Essex game is one of our favourites, mainly because they like us and "get" us, and also because they have an unusually benign microclimate, so it's often warmer and drier there. But the other reason we all queue up to play this particular game is that the hosts always lay on an enormous dinner afterwards. More than cricket, possibly more than life itself, my teammates like food.
We win the toss and choose to field first, to build up a proper appetite for tea. The hosts score 179 before declaring. Among the highlights of their innings are two run-outs, one of them perpetrated by Francis, who has become rather stately in the field. But not, on this occasion, as stately as the batsman.
Our opening batsmen wander out after consuming a pile of scones. Simon, the more nervous of the two, is aware that he is on 49 career ducks, mainly because Tim just told him. Three balls later Simon is out for 0, bowled by a young woman who looks about 12. She turns out to be 20 and the best bowler on either side. Back in the pavilion we are wondering who in our team today is most like Captain Mainwaring in Dad's Army. It's a tricky one, but everyone agrees I am Sergeant Wilson. Simon, whose entire philosophy of life could be summed up by the phrase "Don't panic!", is Lance-Corporal Jones. Half of the rest of them are Private Frazer, the other half are Private Godfrey.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. With an over to go, and four runs needed to win, last man Francis strides out to the crease. But he is a decent batsman, who's only insisted on batting at 11 because he's in a strop. He hits the required boundary and strides back. It is our fourth victory in 16 games, an incredibly high ratio for us. The sizzle of incipient barbecue greets the returning fielders.
You don't need to die to go to heaven. If you can avoid the roadworks, it's just a short drive down the A12.Reuse content