It’s easy to understand why a batsman should take the plaudits for scoring a century, or a bowler knocking over 5 of the opposition. Why they should enjoy their moment in the limelight and the adulation from the crowd with a wave of the bat/ball in a gesture of “Yes, I AM that good” to the adoring fans.
To the more casual viewer, however, there is another skill set that oft goes unnoticed in my opinion in pretty much all forms of the game (and especially at club level) – the art of stopping that little red ball once the all powerful batsman has wielded his mighty willow blade.
I should perhaps offer up a confession at this juncture. I can’t bowl (at all) and I can’t bat (very well).
Despite this, I turn out twice a week, for two different sides, every week from late Spring through to early Autumn to chase that little red ball like an over excited labrador puppy who has had too much kibble. Indeed, some of my team mates have said I bear an uncanny resemblance to the very same when chasing a cover drive toward the rope!
Of course, not every effort in the field passes the world by without so much as a nod. There are many many videos of spectacular catches on the internet, and every club will have a folklore tale of “that” catch that Fat Barry took at gully one handed without spilling his beer, but there is so much more to being a good fielder than simply knowing when to go fingers up or getting the pinkies locked underneath a skier that deserves recognition. Elements that I relish every time we take to the field.
There’s the anticipation of the batsman’s stance and foot movement once the ball is headed toward him. Is he shaping to flick it down leg, or is he daring to take me on and try and flash his favoured cut shot past my left ankle at lightning speed. Might he have misjudged the bounce, meaning it’s more likely to come through by my left ear? Am I in position if it does? On my toes, ready to go either way – left or right, up or down. Can I get something behind it if it’s along the ground?
The ball pitches.
Thick inside edge for a chinese-cut. Lucky so and so. Not in my direction this time.
That doesn’t mean I’m not involved though. A quick sprint to be in position to back up the throw. A more leisurely jog back to position to await the next delivery, and another chance to pull off a “Colly” (an homage to Paul Collingwood – possibly the finest fielder this country has ever produced – and someone I’d give a bodily appendage to be as good a fielder as).
A quick shout of encouragement to the bowler. Check we’re not fielding with three behind square over on the leg side. Make sure the skipper doesn’t want me to adjust position. Keep the hands sticky in case it’s aerial. Wait for the bowler to turn. Walking in…
This one’s mine! Hard and low away to my left I’m already turned and running before it’s level with, and very quickly, past me. I’ll reach that before the rope, I know it.
Head down, running hard. Mind the drain cover. That rope’s getting closer. Account for the dip where the goalmouths are from the Summer football. The rope’s a lot closer! Going to have to get the dive out to reach this (it should be mentioned at this point I consider it a bad day in the field if I don’t have at least one grass stain on the whites at the end of play!). Not yet. Still chase it. Nearly… now!
Full length, head first, arm outstretched. That little red ball just in front of me. That little red ball that pops up as it crosses the rope. The very same rope that takes a fine layer of skin off my chin as I slide over it head first. Four.
Oh well, I’ll catch the next one. Without doubt.
Anyone got any kibble?