“No person, I think, ever saw a herd of buffalo, of which a few were fat and the great majority lean. No person ever saw a flock of birds, of which two or three were swimming in grease, and the others all skin and bone.”
A few years back – in the days when I still regularly turned out for my local village cricket team – I underwent the following experience the which might just stand as an allegory – albeit not a particularly elegant one. I will endeavor not to blind too much with cricketing jargon – though I feel sure that the gentle reader will in any case get the point.
The village team – being composed chiefly of a blend of those of advancing years and those still wet behind the ears – plays only friendly fixtures, with the earnest intention of avoiding the over-competitiveness of league cricket. On occasion the opposition will drop out at a fairly late stage for the usual reasons – can’t raise a team… had a better offer… etc, etc – and the squad finds itself at a loose end on some sunny Sunday. There exists – fortunately – a sort of ‘fixture exchange’ mechanism by which teams that find themselves in such a position can pick up an alternative game at even quite a late stage – with some other club that has been similarly let down.
This had indeed occured on the occasion that is the subject of this parable. We thus found ourselves travelling a considerable distance to a ground with which we were not familiar, to take on a Sunday social side that we did not know.
Following our arrival it became rapidly apparent that the opposing side – although broadly akin to our own – had been augmented for our benefit by a couple of first-team players from the club’s Saturday league side – eager for a bit of practice. These guys were definitely a cut above.
We were put in to bat first and slowly and untidily attempted to accumulate a score. The problem was that we also lost wickets at regular intervals and by the time we were all out after around 30 overs we had amassed (something of an exaggeration in this case!) the pitiful total of 118 runs.
This was clearly not going to be enough, but we took to the field determined that our ragged bowling attack should give as good an account of itself as possible.
In such situations in village cricket the team batting second has a choice. The preferred option is to try to make a game of it – and to keep everybody happy in the process. This is done by promoting some of the lesser players up the batting order, secure in the knowledge that not only will more of those who have turned out get a crack with the bat, but that the match will doubtless still be won comfortably in any case.
In this instance however – and to the obvious displeasure of the remainder of their colleagues – the two league players decided instead that they would open proceedings themselves. In the ensuing carnage they knocked off the 119 runs required to win within 6 overs! This is a rate of nearly 20 runs an over – such as would be considered extraordinary even in the modern professional 20/20 game which trades on just this sort of outrageous pugilism. We spent a highly unpleasant 45 minutes clambering over barbed wire fences, struggling through bramble thickets and braving the nettle beds to retrieve the ball from the adjacent fields whence it had yet again been propelled. All the while our tormentors leant on their bats and engaged in smug conversation.
At the culmination of this abbreviated fixture we drove away sulkily, swearing by all the cricketing gods that we would never again play this bunch of lowlifes, and cursing that we had travelled all this way just to have our day ruined. Nine of the opposition players doubtless huddled irritably in their bar, ruminating on the fact that not only had their day’s enjoyment been hijacked by two of their own, but that there was also now no-one to stand them a round of drinks after the game – as is the custom.
And what of the terrible two? Well – any smug satisfaction that they might have gained from demonstrating their superiority must surely have been tempered by the knowledge that, a) given the difference in ability they had only done what was inevitable anyway, and b) we had not provided a sufficient test to have given them useful practice. Comes to mind the memory of the chess-swot at school who – because no-one else would play him – took to offering me a queen and two rooks start, and then still beating me in five moves!
There is – of course – a moral to this tale. That – however – can wait for another post…