I took the new ‘cherry’ out of the bag, and as we walked onto the field, I casually threw it towards Weezel to practice our catching. He wasn’t really watching, and went down like a sack of spuds. I don’t know quite why he was whinging so much as there wasn’t any blood, and apart from the small bump on the back of his head where the ball hit him, he should be fine. I was more concerned that we may have taken some of the shine off the new ball – on a field like this we will need to take great care to keep the ball new for as long as possible. Unlike proper cricket, we used a two piece ball in the lower grades. These suckers swing like crazy, and for someone who can hoop a four-piece ball around like I do, I will need to be careful that I don’t swing it too much.
It was clear that I would open the bowling, as I was easily the most experienced and skilled bowler, but I knew little about my fellow players. I gathered the team into a huddle, and asked who else bowled. They all shrugged a little, before Stanley said he would give it a burl. He said he was an expert at cutting – I chose to interpret that as leg and off-cutters and not anything related to a stanley knife. However, upon consideration, those skills may come in useful later in the innings if we need some ‘Sarfraz’ tactics to get the ball to reverse swing.
I adopted my usual strategy as captain in setting the field. “Scatter” I instructed. This sadly didn’t work as well as normal. Two players got into a fight over who was going to field at first slip, whilst three players marched down to fine leg. It took a while to sort all that out. Soon though, I stood at the end of my mark and got ready to send down the first ball. Sport psychology is rapidly becoming a significant part of all great sportsmen’s preparation. It is a very technical and highly developed process of preparing the mind of an athlete for victory, just as thoroughly as the physical body is trained. For many elite athletes like myself, superior performance comes from a careful honing of both mental and physical skills. I closed my eyes and visualized what I was trying to achieve and where the first ball would pitch. This is part of the ‘mental training’ technique that I was given by my individual sports psychologist (well, he was actually courtesy of a court ordered anger management course, but I picked some stuff that was actually useful. That anger management stuff winds me up). I could clearly see the ball in my mind, starting on the line of leg-stump before swinging across and clipping the top of off-stump. I counted to three, consciously relaxed my shoulders and opened my eyes – I was ready and set to go. It was only then that I realized we didn’t have a wicketkeeper.
After a brief delay in convincing Prof. to don the pads and gloves, I again prepared to bowl the first ball. The opposition opening batsmen were typical of fifth grade standard. The player on strike had mis-matched pads, and a pair of gloves with the old green rubber ‘spikes’ on the front. I hadn’t seen a pair of them for decades. His bat was almost black with dirt. The only vaguely willow-coloured parts were the pig-skin binding that covered half the blade. On his head was a red cap with a bull’s horn logo on the front. His stance was similar to that of an early Kepler Wessels. The umpire indicated he was ready by calling out “can we just get on with it” and I started to charge in for the first ball of their innings.