Short pitch: that was the 2015 junior cricket season
No more volleys of texts to check player availability have to be sent. The cones marking out the playing area for a ‘skill-based game’ have been collected for the last time. A small group of youngsters wanting to know the score or when they’re batting has been hushed for the final time. The last waddling batsmen have had their pads and helmet checked and been questioned to verify they are wearing a box.
The junior season has finished.
Usually, the weather is dry and warm at this point of the summer, so we complain about the season ending just when the best time to play has arrived. This year, late July has been damp and chilly – doing a good impersonation of September, when it is easier to reconcile oneself to cricket rounding off as autumn makes its presence felt.
In 2015, I have concentrated on cricket with boys and girls in the under 9 age group. It’s the entry level to the sport, with a wide span of ability shown within most teams. In practice sessions, we try to find different ways of rehearsing the basics of the game. Repetition balanced with interest; grooving with competition. Matches are an extension of practice and are designated as friendlies without results being digested into a league table. Most matches progress without use of a scoreboard; the scoring itself can be inscrutable: start at 200, add runs, subtract x for wickets, etc. My team lost some matches so heavily that the precision of my scoring wavered late in the game. But at the end, the team still crowded around me find out if they had won.
Adult cricket, despite the wide span of the ground, is mostly played within particular corridors of activity, with familiar, recurring shapes to play. Under 9 cricket is free form. Two fielders, the bowler and batsman converging on a ball that settles in the middle of the pitch. A batsman, fielder and wicket-keeper rushing to reach the mis-directed delivery dribbling out towards what we know of as cover-point. The bowler, turning and speeding past a slower teammate to retrieve the ball from long-on and sending a throw bounding past the unattended wicket and down to the third-man boundary.
My favourite play of the year, for sheer devilment, started with the batsman swinging forcefully and missing the ball. The keeper collected the ball and stood with it in her hands. Everyone froze, except the live-wire at mid-wicket who sped to the stumps, whispered something in his teammate’s ear. Responding to this prompt, the keeper crumpled the stumps while her teammate withdrew back to the on-side. All the while, the batsman had been standing out of his ground. I gave him out. The fielding team’s coach, who was keeping score, rejected my decision. We all laughed.
Some other favourite moments of the season, in my role as father. My younger son, on his hard-ball debut, batting capably against bigger older bowlers bouncing the ball up to his chest. Then back in under 9 cricket, that same son, playing that rarest thing in junior cricket, forward defensive strokes to straight balls bowled. The highlight of the season was watching no. 1 son, when he was tossed the ball for the 17th over of an under 16 cup final with the opposition accelerating and needing nine an over to win. I shivered and squirmed with nerves, while he bowled full and straight, picked up two wickets, conceding 11 runs from two overs helping his team to a five run victory.
We are already planning for next season: teams, coaches, training approaches. There will be indoor matches in the autumn and after Christmas. A gradual build-up to another three months of texting players’ parents, setting out cones, dodging showers, hushing talkative kids, worrying about protective gear and playing cricket, wonderful cricket.