There’s a place for us.

19 Feb

Sean McPartlin

 

Sean McPartlin Blog #2

There’s a place for us.

With various Scottish cricket squads heading off this month to far flung destinations, it’s a good time to reflect on the importance of ‘place’ in the summer game.

The very earth upon which the game is played is crucial to performance, tactics, and result, and cricket grounds seem to have a personality.

At the millennium, my club, Holy Cross, played the Bat and Ball CC on a southern English tour. Significantly, this pub side play at Broadhalfpenny Down, Hambledon, in Hampshire – long considered the cradle of cricket as we know it.

We were, apparently, the first Scottish club to play there – a fact commemorated by the quaich we donated, which remains in the pub’s trophy cabinet.

The nerves which afflicted us, as we prepared, reflected a wish to avoid letting down club or country, but much more so, our awareness, to coin a phrase. of the hand of history on our shoulders. This was exacerbated by the homeliness of the ground – no renovated showpiece this! Hambledon CC moved away long ago, leaving Broadhalfpenny free to be itself. Indeed, it was lost to cricket for the better part of the 19th century till CB Fry resurrected it in 1908. The wicket is good club standard while the outfield has the rough edges which remind you that this was always ‘a village ground’. Standing on the square, looking out over the countryside as the downs fell away in front of you, you felt the power of precedence; the ground itself can’t have changed dramatically since cricket began there in 1753.

Not wishing to risk defeat by ‘the Jocks’, the opposition had put together a team including former 2nd X1 County players, while we were distinctly more social in make up (and in the midst of a tour…) Many of us would have to play out of our skins to avoid embarrassment.

Luckily, we managed to do ourselves justice and posted a respectable score.

When I was called upon, first change, my team mates reported me as ‘ashen’. I was clearly not myself, as I bowled to a length and took three wickets. The last of these dismissed the opposition captain. He dispatched me back over my head with a perfectly timed straight drive. As hundreds of times before, I flung my hand hopefully aloft. The ball stuck. He was incredulous, my team mates amazed, I was stunned. I decided there and then to retire. It would never ever get any better!

But, in a way, it did.

Part of our squad was veteran leg spinner, Chris Kerr. This would be his final game, an injury to his shoulder curtailing his wicked spin. Also, controversially, he would have to bowl underarm.

The umpire double checked: “Underarm over the wicket???”, and sought both captains’ agreement.

My son, scoring for us, reported their scorer, Broadhalfpenny’s historian, got very excited: “My goodness! First time there’s been underarm bowling here in 192 years!” he muttered.  It was an electrifying cricket experience, and, yes, Chris got some turn and a stumping was narrowly missed!

Around 6pm, the twilight arrived early, accompanied by drizzle. With the lights in the bar of The Bat and Ball glittering attractively, we agreed an honorable draw.

As I left the field, for the last time as a player, I took a moment to look around.

In the gloaming, the Downs stretched out below us, far into the distance; in field after field, tractors, headlamps burning, were gathering in the harvest.

It was like a scene from Thomas Hardy.

With tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, I followed my team to the dressing room.

From Broadhalfpenny Down to Sharjah, Cricket is universal.

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