Power plays, fielding restrictions, a new ball from each end. Innovations and devices to liven up the middle overs of 50 over cricket. Yet the sumptuous cover drive still yields an ‘agreed single’ and finger spinners angle unflighted deliveries, over after over, at the batsman’s pads.
There’s no absence of incident in the middle overs of under 9 cricket and no artifice. Played 8-a-side in pairs format, overs 5-12 (pairs 2 and 3) are where, by convention or explicit agreement, the less experienced players bat and bowl. The seven year old, the debutant, the little sister or kid brother all find themselves in the guts of the game.
There are runs, if the lad in the covers gets his hand on the ball and flings his return past the keeper. Near things: a ball that evades the keeper and rolls benignly into open space at fine third man. The non-striker doesn’t notice as he’s busy practicing the off-drive that will never occur to him when it’s his turn to face and an easy two remains a dot ball.
Most runs that are completed involve a stutter as both batsman hesitate, set off, halt and then dash. Sometimes there’s a slip at the start of the run, which is nicely bookended by a dive to make ground at the other end. Batsmen are rewarded for good footwork. A chassé to short cover to belt a gently bouncing wide. Legside full tosses are spurned, body flexing inward to let the ball float by.
Wickets fall: the batsman standing frozen outside the crease having missed the ball is stumped after mid-wicket has run to the keeper to tell him what to do. And sometimes they don’t fall as the ball nestles against the stumps without disturbing the bails after a bagatelle journey involving bat, midriff and leg.
The danger of a runout is never greater than when a lad middles a ball straight. It feels good and instinct requires a run. The bowler has found the ball at her feet and turns to knock down the stumps.
But the scoreboard keeps ticking. Umpires signalling after almost every ball: wide, wide, no ball, bye, wide. The game’s moving on. No boring middle overs.