There are times when you hear the words falling out of your mouth before you have a chance to catch them. Four little words, embedded with so much potential to bring me to rack and ruin, escaping from the zip-lock of sanity: "Why don't I play?"
The last time I played a proper game of cricket was 28 years ago and a few things have changed. For instance, Kane Williamson has been born. Twenty20 has been invented. Not to mention the Dilscoop and paddle sweep, high backlifts, third umpires, day/night games and the abolition of rest days in tests.
The body has also changed somewhat since my heady days as an occasional university social team purveyor of the drive (the only shot I could I ever play, regardless of the pitch of the ball). The head no longer bends on the shoulders into a batsman-like position - all that typing, I suppose. I have war wounds. I run like a turtle and field with all the dexterity of a war memorial monument.
So when the skip asked me what I could do, the questions were very easy to answer. What did I do, what did I bowl? 'No, I can't bowl'. Bat? 'I think I can block.' Could I run, throw, field, catch? 'Nope, don't do those either.'
So that was sorted, then: I was batting at three, in a men's team containing sharp first-class and international players, against an international side, under lights. No problem!
How I came to be in this potentially ruinous situation is a sad tale and entirely Anton Devcich's fault. Had Devvy not got himself selected for New Zealand A, New Zealand Croatia would have toured the Cook Islands a few weeks ago with 12 players. So when bowler and passionate fitness guru (Murphy's Law coming up) Matt Adsett, from the mighty Bay of Plenty, managed to detach a bicep in the first of five games in the week-long T20 tournament, there would have been a 12th man to cover it. Instead, with a double-header looming on the next match day, they ended up with an 11th-hour middle-aged doris coming out of a very long retirement.
There was also the small matter of being the only team member without a thread of Croatian heritage. But France is close enough. It's all Europe, isn't it? I was honoured to be presented with my cap. Before long I was saying "Hrvatska!" with the boys and claiming them all as cousins. It's nice to know that Joey and Devvy and I are all now related.
Anyway. After many years of gumming various poor interview subjects to death with my own cricket nuffy theories on cricket, batting and the universe, I was about to discover some home truths.
• It really is hard to sleep the night before.
• Buckles on pads are so last millennium!
• Wear a helmet that fits, especially when running, and pads that stop below your hips.
• If right-handed and middle-aged, you have to use your left thumb to push your progressives back up on your nose. No matter how many times you use your right glove, it still won't fit through the visor.
• It pays to be coordinated when drinking from a sucker bottle through your grill.
• Watch the ball. Watch the ball. Hey look over there yeah I really, really want to play a drive through that gap just there oops missed it should have hit that WATCH THE BALL.
• Running Margot out is a 'fine', regardless of whether you go on and get a hundred (that's actually just one for my batting buddy, Paul).
• Under no circumstances don't ever say to your partner, 'You had better do all the calling'. Even if you can't call either (ha).
• Bowling is a lot easier without your cap on.
• Fielding under lights is hard, especially when you can't field.
• Catches look a thousand times better from the middle, especially when you're bowling!
Yes, Gerrit Westenberg, I know you're out there and relieved to know you are no longer my only ever wicket. (You're still disputing that lbw though, right? Well tough, we were two decades too early for DRS).
It only took two balls, this time. I was just happy the first one actually landed full, and in line with the stumps, since my primary concern was whether or not I could bowl without sconing a close-in fielder. I came in off a whole three paces, and tried to at least look like I had a follow-through.
The Edgewater Cook Islands women's national side were nine-down at this point, because the Skip had bowled himself until he had five wickets. Also, I might add, he tossed me the ball before Joey got a look-in in the attack. That's another moment for the Guinness Book of Unlikely True Stories.
In all honesty though, Skip left it far too late to bowl me. That was abundantly clear when I stuck the second delivery deep in that channel just outside off and the dear batter tipped it up to the Skip himself, who lunged in from short to grab it. The winning wicket. And with 1-0 off 0.2, surely that qualifies as the lowest average, best economy rate and best strike rate of the team on the whole tour (just sayin'). Really, I don't know why you boys think this game is so hard!
The truth is I was so stunned that when all the boys came rushing up and gathered around, thrilled as punch the lot of them by this startling turn of events, I could only do an impression of a mute goby. But the snapshot my brain took of that moment is very cool and will be lodged in the mental photo album for the rest of my life.
Fortunately (or otherwise) there is a more permanent record of my dusty batting. Despite me having wisely hidden my own camera, equipped as it is with the technology of zoom scrutiny, Joey turned the tables on me to do a little filming and interviewing. This proved doubly ironic since it turned out I was in fact the team's new Joey Yovich!
Seriously, to my new Kiwi Croatian brothers and the lovely women of the Cook Islands national side, not to mention the fantastic individuals who makes Cook Islands Cricket happen in Rarotonga - thank you for a fantastic experience that reminded me why I like cricket so much.
It has everything to do with the people you play with.
Yours highly truly,
Here's the video of me batting. Thanks Joey!
And here's the scorecard. Check it out. A memorable 40-run partnership with Croatian international Paul Vujnovich, who actually did a great job of the calling (most of the time). Paul actually bats the way I bat in my dreams.
P.P.S I only missed the ball once, a double-bouncer, so that doesn't count. Oh, maybe twice. I left anything that didn't involve playing a drive. True to my word, I am. If I have to actually move to hit it, it's just a dud ball, isn't it.
P.P.P.S. I'm now back in retirement for another 28 years, but available for throwdowns Jimmy Pamment if the boys are in need this summer. Thank you for giving me your mojo Matt Adsett. And if New Zealand Croatia ever needs me again, I'm there brothers.
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