Keep on keepin’ on

23 July 2017. 38 not out. Dropped three times. A single boundary. Some edges. Several leg-side full-tosses swiped at and missed. A contretemps with their wicket-keeper over a supposed leg-side edge. The winning runs paddled behind square from a long-hop off my splice. The most assertive action I had taken while at the crease had been to step to short-leg, requesting quiet before the game restarted, while the ‘keeper continued to mutter about me.

The club steward had walked the boundary with his dog while I batted. In the bar after the game, he commented how poor the opposition bowling had been. “Brought you down to their level,” he observed. I wish I could have concurred.

My highest score since 2014 according to the ECB’s cataract-ridden panoptican of the recreational game, I wouldn’t dare disagree and surely I would remember if it was wrong.

Afterwards, I was subdued. I felt embarrassed, unsettled. Top-scorer, but undeserved. Not the cricketer I believe myself to be, to have been, to want to become.

So, if this was it, the thought crossed my mind, I should call it a day, give up on these half-dozen games each season. 38 not out would be my retirement innings – undistinguished, but undefeated. There were certainly retirement gifts. Three drops, none of them particularly demanding of the fielder. Loose bowling from the young and the old. Muted, yet correctly pitched, congratulations from team-mates and opposition for taking the team to its victory target.

I once had a team-mate, Andrew P, who retired mid-match – mid-bowling spell. I can’t recall anything he did that day, before his abrupt decision to release himself, that departed further from the norms of acceptable performance than I had.

I slept badly that night. Re-playing images and incidents from the innings. Wrestling with its meaning, trying but failing to ‘put it to bed’.

Keep-on keepin’ on. 

Mike Brearley hummed Beethoven while he batted. Since the mid-1980s, I have silently but tunelessly repeated the lyrics of music far more proletarian (and much briefer) than the former England captain’s choice: the Redskins’ agitprop pop song. Not with their revolutionary intent, but as a reminder to myself that once out in the middle, any dilution of my focus, any dulling of my desire to continue to be right there, facing the bowling, would bring dismissal and disappointment. Batsmen get themselves out most of the time. Don’t gift the bowler though a lack of the asset you are not inherently less endowed with than other batsmen: concentration.

In the days following my 38*, I have reshaped my understanding of that innings. I’ve not denied the generally dreary quality of the opposition, or exaggerated the standard of my batting. But I’ve found many connections between my innings and cherished cricket. There were a few decent shots: a straight drive for three and two leg-glances where the bat gave the ball the merest kiss on its way to long-leg. 

More than that, though, it was the endeavour of an innings that lasted 20 overs. A succession of challenges, an evolving state of the game. Responding to the loss of an early wicket… seeing off the opening bowlers… shifting pressure to the fielders by running singles… becoming the ‘senior’ batsmen when joined by a new partner… continuing to accumulate, not getting over-ambitious, as we approached our target.

Yes, there was dross. I contributed a fair amount of it. But it was a cricket contest with its phases, varying tempos and psychological engagement in which I played a central part. Being out in the middle, making choices, sometimes trusting and other times falling prey to my own instincts. This is the sporting thrill that I hanker for most of all and is unmatched in any of the other activities I take part in.

Yesterday I completed the ECB’s cricket playing survey. Under the heading, ‘Playing Habits’, the ECB ask how much the respondent agrees or disagrees with the following statements (1): ‘I intend to play cricket for as long as I am physically able to’. I selected, ‘Agree strongly’.

Keep on keepin’ on.


Footnote 1: A later question was, ‘I worry about looking like a fool when I play sport/exercise’. I selected ‘Disagree slightly’.

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About chrisps

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

4 responses to “Keep on keepin’ on”

  1. Brian Carpenter says :

    Another nice piece, Chris, and one which a lot of people will identify with.

    I’ve found walking away from the game relatively easy (perhaps too easy). I originally ‘took a break’ a few years ago when my back seized up after a relatively long early-season innings. At the time I thought I’d play again later that year, but other things (mostly watching and writing about cricket) filled the void.
    I went to one of my old club’s games recently, was reassured by the poor standard and have since been pondering a ‘comeback’ next season. We’ll see.

    When I finished I hadn’t been the cricketer I wanted to be since around the age of 15, but then which of us is?

    This may be why the game exerts such a strong hold. One player of my acquaintance announced his ‘retirement’ at the end of one season and ceremonially burned his kit on the outfield.

    Next spring he was back, of course.

    • chrisps says :

      Delighted to hear you are considering a comeback. The key is (as with most things) expectations. Manage those, find satisfaction in the odd off-drive, catch or perfectly pitched delivery and you can keep going as long as physically possible.

  2. Baz says :

    This season I stepped back from Saturday league cricket not least so that my team finds a new identity and uses new and young players for their campaign. I resolved to pick and choose my games and to enjoy the season without the pressure of making myself available for league cricket every Saturday.

    It is no longer about form, consistency or next weeks battle it IS about enjoying each game like it may be my last. Ironically, in the last few weeks I’ve had the call from the higher side to bat 11 and field, I enjoy the standard, company and making a contribution in a small way.

    Turning 50 I will not fulfil this Super Sub role next season but I also wait for that innings, catch or match from the cricketing gods telling me its time to call it a day.

    • chrisps says :

      Thanks Baz. It’s great that you’ve adjusted to a new approach to the game. No reason to expect that innings, catch or match that signals the end to come for many seasons.

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