Thursday, 12 March 2015


Stone CC
The Stone Charity Cup final is played over two midweek evenings in July, 16 eight-ball overs per side. You bat first and fourth (or second and third), and there’s a ‘last man stand’ rule (and, if Amir Wasim’s behaviour for Hem Heath in 2000 is anything to go by, you’re allowed to kick the ball away from fielders if they’re about to run you out, but let’s not go there…). It’s obstinately quirky, but a lot of fun to play in. It usually draws a good crowd and produces a reasonable spectacle, since Stone (which always hosts the final) is invariably a decent surface for batting: it spins a little, the bounce is on the low side, but with a covering of grass you’ll get adequate carry for cross-bat shots. 

In 1999, the year Moddershall won four out of five trophies – North Staffs & South Cheshire League title, Talbot Cup, JCB knockout, and this, missing out on the Staffs Cup after a loss to Knypersley in the quarter-final – we faced Checkley in the Charity Cup final. They were a feisty team with a smattering of talented players (if not as much depth as we had) who seemed to have a special dislike for Moddershall – either because we’d half-inched two of their best players in brothers Iain and Darren Carr (cousins of two of their stalwarts, Gavin and Andy Carr, also brothers), or as a legacy of previous rivalry in the North Staffs and District era (we joined the NSSCL in 1990, them in 1995). 

They batted first and made around 125, if I recall correctly. Early in our reply, Roger Shaw gloved a ball from Jason Carrigan that went through the top and was caught in the gully. He hadn’t worn a helmet, and neither did I when I crossed him on the way out, first wicket down. “They’re all coming out with no lids on, Jase”, someone with highly tuned observational skills piped up. It was true – but, as I say, Stone was not a bouncy pitch and I didn’t really have time to let one ball disturbing the surface make me scurry for a helmet (post-Phillip Hughes, things might be different). 

Carrigan was a good bowler: lively pace, hit the seam, bowled good lines. But he was not an out-and-out enforcer – certainly not at Stone, anyway. Predictably, he tested me out with a bumper, which meant my first scoring shot was a hook for six that hit their dressing room window. The testosterone was now being released left, right and centre: me, them, our dressing room. OK, if you’re going to bounce me, I reasoned (hormonally), then I’m going to run at you (a strategy that wouldn’t really have worked on a springy deck!). Thus, the next memorable shot involved me charging Carra and pulling him, while still on the run, over long on for six, just clearing the fielder on the top boundary, who’d snuck in a few yards. 

I’m not sure whether I was ‘in the zone’ or just ticking slightly wildly, but it soon become apparent, with that slightly macho shot, that I’d aggravated the sore back with which I’d finished our Talbot Cup game the previous Sunday. Annoying, too, as I was just starting to enjoy myself: good deck, good form, licence to have a swing. I told Hawk, my partner, that I might have to retire hurt. I could feel it stiffening up by the minute. He advised against it: “No, mate: either use the pace or just play golf shots, with your forearms”. It proved to be wise counsel. 

Gavin Carr, a few years later
Bowling by this time was Gavin Carr: tubby, hyper-competitive, accurate and, if you were lining the ball up well and balanced, just about the perfect guy to face on a road. Feeling simultaneously in the groove and stiff as a wardrobe, and not sure I could carry on much longer, I eyed up the gap at deep extra-cover, between the clubhouse and the old tea hut, and decided it looked the most inviting and plausible boundary option. 

Gav bustled in, hard and purposefully. I glanced at the gap, my gap. At the last second, just as he was throwing that barrel physique into his delivery, I shuffled away a foot or so, opening up the offside. Gav was bang on the money, as expected, as desired. His low-trajectory wicket-to-wicket stock ball thus became one to smack over extra-cover, which I did, with a slight fade (golf shots, remember!), for a one-bounce four that felt pretty good. It certainly surprised the bowler (and myself, truth be told, as all the best shots do). 

At some point during his run-up to bowl the next ball, an idea flashed into my head (last-minute pre-meditation, you might call it): having done the golf shot, I now remembered the other advice offered by my recently self-appointed batting mentor, Hawk: use the pace

So, the instant before Gav threw himself into his delivery stride – i.e. so he could see what I was up to – I again faked to back away, only this time I quickly bounded back across the stumps, showing them behind my legs. I got the synchronisation of movements just right – not too early, not too late – allowing me to pick up yet another accurate length ball from Gav miles over deep backward square leg as I fell over to the offside. Man, I timed that ball sweet… It landed on the roof of the third house down from the scorebox, prompting an almighty roar from in front of our dressing room from Iain Carr, Gav’s cousin, not one usually given to such outbursts. It was the single greatest cricket shot I ever played – and, I can now say without fear of contradiction, the greatest shot I am ever going to play. 

I made 72 from 44 balls as we finished the first night with a lead somewhere in the region of 40 runs, a sizeable amount for them to claw back. I’m not sure we thought we had it absolutely sewn up – that would have been hubris – and the fact that we got on it that night should not be taken as a sign that there was any complacency. That was just what we did: we had a few lagers. Win or lose, always booze

Anyway, after six or seven pints of Jim’s Carling – he kicked us out around 1.30am – I was dropped off in Stone town centre, where I bought myself a doner kebab on the advice of my nutritionist (myself), then zig-zagged home down Lichfield Road, just opposite the scene of that night’s strokeplay. Resisting the temptation to sit cross-legged on the hallowed square and soak up some positive energy (I think it’s called chi, but I’d have to check with my spiritual guru), I shoved a bit more reconstituted lamb in my gob and staggered the last few hundred yards home, ready for a good kip. Unfortunately, however, I had misplaced my house keys – I’d only moved permanently back from Nottingham two weeks earlier for what ought to have been the last few months finishing off my Masters (in an uncanny omen of things to come, it took me another year) – and so, despite being 26 years old, I suddenly regressed to a fearful 16-year-old as I contemplated waking up the old chap at 2.30am on a week night. (There was no hidden key.) 

I figured Dad wouldn’t have been overly chuffed at being roused, notwithstanding me basically having played like Viv Richards earlier (and thus being more or less entitled to be banging on the door, several sheets to the wind). So, putting my education to good use, I decided to take the safer option: I would deploy the neighbours’ wheelie bin to bunk myself up on to the garage roof, and from there climb over the house roof and in through the back bedroom window, which, on a sultry summer’s night, I knew to be open. “Yes, that’s the better option”, I assured myself, overlooking the fact that I hadn’t been blessed with the archetypal cat burglar’s frame. And that I was drunk. And that I had a bad back. 

So, in the dead of night, as the almost-defeated Checkley players slept soundly in their homes, there I was ‘borrowing’ next door’s bin – a very light bin, too, I thought, prematurely and mistakenly pleased with how easy it was to manoeuvre into position against the steel garage door. Next, I stood on the protruding bumper of Dad’s squat little red TVR Vixen, and, in the brief moment of balance attained by leaning backward and pressing my calves against the boot, visualised my short leap on to the wheelie bin. (I can’t quite remember, but I think the aforementioned spiritual guru once told me that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single leap from a car bumper to a wheelie bin while p*ssed on a Tuesday night. It’s something like that, any road…) 

And then I leapt. Nay, soared!  

The house on the left is my old place; wheelie bin in shot here
In the Hollywood re-telling of this story (I believe George Clooney has signed a pre-contract to play the lead), they will no doubt slow this moment right down for maximum drama. If they do, there will be not a flicker of distress on my face, no sign of the massive catastrophe that was probably less than two seconds of my life away. I thought I’d nailed it, see. But I hadn’t. No, I hadn’t. Where earlier my footwork had been assured and nimble, now it was clumsy and imprecise. I landed right on the left-hand edge of the top of the wheelie bin – the wheelie bin with absolutely no weight at all inside it, that is – and it instantly gave way from under me, flipping sideways like a skateboard and crashing loudly into the garage door, waking up every dog within a half-mile radius. At the same time, I fell from the height of the wheelie bin – and again, the film version will have this in super slow-mo, only now there will be a look of utter horror on my face – straight on to a tarmac drive, all my weight landing on the point of my elbow.

I’m not going to lie: it hurt a little bit. Not as much as the following day, when the anaesthetising effects of alcohol were out of my system and the x-rays had confirmed I’d shattered it here and there, pretty much everywhere, actually, making even the slightest movement dizzyingly uncomfortable. But still a very lot.

I lay there a while (I can’t be sure of the time spans involved now), groaning and feeling faint, when I noticed the garage light come on. Dad used to be a heavy sleeper, but the sound of a wheelie bin slamming into a suburban garage had penetrated the thick fog of unconsciousness and alerted the slumbering head of household to the fact that there might be DANGER! afoot. He must have been slightly disappointed – and I dare say a little irritated – to have found his son lying on the drive, bladdered.

I was in too much pain to explain that I was in a lot of pain, and that I wasn’t drunk – or rather, wasn’t just drunk, there was another thing happening – so he left me there. For the wolves and coyotes.

Some time later, after all the lights in the house had been extinguished and with me no closer to being given the kind of urgent medical attention I needed, I rolled myself to my feet, paced backwards and forwards several times, up and down the driveway, with the sole aim of forgetting about the massive pain, then I headed inside. I poured a glass of water, guzzled it down, then set off for bed. Unfortunately, the throbbing pain chose that moment to deliver its decisive blow, and, half-way up the stairs, I blacked out, cracking my head on the banister as I fell a few steps backwards to the floor. More ouch.

I have to admit, when Dad appeared at the top of the stairs I wasn’t as Zen as I might have been, letting off a wee bit of f-word-inflected steam at him for, y'know, having left me on the driveway with a fractured elbow. Truth is, I was angry at myself – angry for not having done the simple thing and just woken him up; angry that I’d be missing the second night of the final (and, it turned out, the Talbot Cup final, plus all but the last two games of our title run-in), missing the celebrations, and missing out on a nailed-on Man of the Match award.

Mum put me in a sling, then I lay down uncomfortably and slept badly. The following morning, bright and early, I went to A&E, where they gave me a better sling and better painkillers. Later that afternoon, I rocked up at Stone, where the Checkley players were a little surprised and perhaps a little happy to see the state I was in. 

With little to lose, they played aggressively, and well, on the second night, and we only just squeaked over the line, winning the first of the season’s bag of trophies. It was, as you might expect, a little bittersweet for me. But and here that education did come in handy I was clever enough never to climb on a wheelie bin again.

As was the case with what I consider my third best innings – when I passed out on a pub car park after winning MoM in the Staffs Cup final, ending up in Longton nick – the night of my second-best knock involved me becoming unconscious and ending up in a somewhat compromised situation en route to an institution. I don’t know what to make of all that, really, or what it says about me. It tickled Jimmy Adams, though. 

1 comment:

Brian Carpenter said...

A good friend of mine attends the same church in Canterbury as Jimmy Adams. No doubt tales such as that could be worked into a sermon about the evils of drink.