A ringer for Jesus

I have been a ringer for Jesus. Not in the sense of having a resemblance through beard and sandals; nor have I chimed the bells at my parish church. I was a ringer by playing cricket for a team when not qualified to do so – for Jesus College, which neighboured my college.

Jesus College had organised an end of term tour of Manchester, but found their cricket playing resources stretched. Four players from my college were drafted in: Captain Dunn, the Brummie Dreamboat, Sophisticated Simon and me. With the role of ringer comes an expectation – of competence and performance. How did we live up to expectation?

Captain Dunn opened the batting in the first match. It was an evening game, played in Mancunian drizzle on a pitch that a lanky left-armer made spicey. Dunn took a blow from a lifter on the end of the thumb of his bottom hand. He retired hurt from the match and competitive duties for the tour. The broken thumb meant he missed a university representative tour the following week and cancelled his bank cards when presuming them missing; they lay at the bottom of his cricket bag, which his injury made too painful to search thoroughly.

The Brummie Dreamboat was one of a number of promising young batsmen that our college turned into quick bowlers. His tour was distinguished only by antics in a Manchester club car-park that have been know to lose an England captain his job.

Sophisticated Simon bowled leg and off-cutters that were suited to the damp wickets, but excelled as always off the field with charm and a nicely turned anecdote.

On this occasion, I came closest to fulfilling the role of the ringer. A chancy 50 in that opening match seeing Jesus to victory in the loaming.

None of us came close to the ringer faux-pas of being just too good; being the bloke whom no-one knows, who dominates the match and destroys the contest. A team-mate, Mr October, played a match at a public school last season. His side was bolstered by a recent New Zealand Test batsman. The erstwhile Black Cap faced the first ball of the second innings, with 250 the distant target. He drove a length ball to the right of the cover point, who got a strong hand to the ball, from which it ricocheted to the backward point boundary. The fielder was still wringing that hand 20 overs later when the match was done. That fixture might not be renewed this year.

Cricket habits and traditions tend to trickle down from the first class game to the club and recreational sport. The ringer, in recent years, seems to be percolating upwards. As county cricket is increasingly run to the convenience of ‘Team England’, international players have started to be placed in teams that they are not ‘qualified’ to represent. Andrew Strauss, as England captain in 2011, played for Somerset against India to help prepare for the Test series. For other authority-approved ringers, the opportunity has been less propitious. Nick Compton top-scored for Worcestershire against the Australian tourists in 2013, but was dropped from the Test team. James Taylor made an unbeaten hundred in the colours of Sussex against the same team three weeks later, but has not been selected for an England match since.

International cricket also has the ‘ringer-esque’ movement of players between nations – a subject that gets ample exposure everywhere else. The 2014 Under 19 World Cup brings the story of Zimbabwe and its overage players. Administrative error, the ICC has clarified, when confirming that the five not under 19s can continue to play.

Returning to ringers in club cricket, their presence in touring teams and recreational sides has a strong tradition. Competitive, league cricket is altogether different. Players are registered to clubs and fielding unqualified cricketers is usually proscribed with matches or points forfeited.

I have come across one sanctioned use of ringers. Relatively recently, Lancashire would release players not in action for the county to play top level club cricket. Clubmates tell me of turning up at the Sale CC home ground for a match to find Ian Austin sitting on his cricket bag. “Who are you playing for?” he was asked. “Don’t know, just told to be here by midday.” He bowled for the visitors and predictably took wickets.

Other than that, the use of ringers in club cricket competitions is cheating. So, not only have I been a ringer for Jesus, but also a cheat. A couple of years after the Manchester tour, Captain Dunn and I headed to the north-west again, this time to help out our former Number 4, now skippering a club team, who found himself light of players for an end of season fixture. The opposition had won the league the week before, but a strong finish would allow our adopted team to claim second place. Batting first, the Captain clattered a half-century that had our team being very careful to be nonchalant and familiar in his presence at tea.

The champions lost wickets regularly in their reply. Our adopted club had the chance of a victory to cap their season. With nine down and an over to play, a ball was hit high to a ringer on the boundary. With hardly a step required, the ball fell to hand, but didn’t come to rest there. The catch was dropped and the match drawn.

It was my worst ever moment on a cricket field. If a team mate drops a catch, there’s an easy empathy. We all know if could have happened to us and it probably has during the course of that season or ones before. But if some bloke you don’t know, who was brought in because he’s ‘a useful cricketer’ drops the catch that denies your team the match and second place in the league, it’s different. That’s what I felt, not what my temporary teammates actually said or intimated to me.

I knew I had been one devil of a ringer.


Photo credit: George Franks, GGF Photography (george.franks@O2.co.uk)

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About chrisps

TouchlineDad to three sporty kids; cricket blogger and coach; and the alpha male in our pride.

7 responses to “A ringer for Jesus”

  1. Brian Carpenter says :

    Some interesting stuff there, Chris.

    1. Is the photo you, by any chance? Not sure I knew you were a left-hander.

    2. I missed hearing about the Zimbabwe situation. On the face of it it seems ludicrous (although perhaps typically ICC) that they were simply allowed to continue.

    3. Who was the Black Cap, out of interest? Drop me an e-mail or text if you don’t want to reveal it here.

    4. I’ve got no direct experience of ringers or ringing, but I think I told you last summer that we used to have someone (who’s now back living in Australia) associated with my club (and another village league club which he played for more, in fact) who was a genuinely close personal friend of Matthew Hayden (he’d shared a house with him for a year or two when Hayden was just breaking into the Queensland side). When the Australians were in Taunton in 2001, Hayden came down for a look at my team-mate’s other club one Sunday (which the local press enjoyed) but neither they nor we had a game on that particular day. Mike told us later that if we’d had a game he would have been happy to play, although the team management might not have been quite so keen.

    I think we would have been obliged just to field him and bat him well down the order. There are ringers and then there are ringers…

    • chrisps says :

      Brian, yes a photo of me succumbing to the pressure of opening the batting in a 20 over game. At least I played relatively straight on this occasion – straight over a half-volley.
      The Zimbabwe thing did seem to be confusion around cut-off dates for U19s rather that anything egregious.
      I’m pretty certain Aaron Redmond was the Kiwi, but I have a slight doubt now that I’ve checked cricinfo and seen he is still playing FC cricket in New Zealand. A very good bloke, my teammate tells me.
      I think Hayden would have made a club ground look Lilliputian. Maybe he could have batted right-handed (with all switch-hits forbidden).

  2. wrongunatlongon says :

    Nice article. 90% of the cricket that I played couldn’t exist without ringers, drafting in whoever will play just for the sake of getting a game.

    When I was 15 I played for my old man’s pub side in the annual ‘Mutley Ashes’ between the Fortescue and the Hyde Park. I didn’t bat in our innings, we got an average score. By the time I bowled a few of my usually innocuous overs in the return innings, everyone else was so half-cut that my landing it on the strip was seen as some form of ringer devilry, I took something like 3 wickets for 5 runs to effectively tie up the game against an equally half cut Hyde Park batting unit, and even though I was happy, the fact that one of the departing batsman had shouted ‘ringer’ as he trudged off certainly took some of the gloss off the victory.

    • chrisps says :

      That has the makings of a saying, along the lines of: ‘his success was as inevitable as that of a sober boy in a drunken cricket match’. Many thanks for sharing the story.

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