The reassuring aroma of freshly-cut grass and freshly-baked pies wafts across the ground. George watches on from square leg as the spinner stands at the end of his mark, tossing the ball from hand to hand, a reflex as natural as breathing, contemplating his next move. Slider, flipper, doosra, the choice is his.
At the other end, the batsman pulls up his collar as if to deflect the stream of abuse from behind the stumps. His parentage is questioned; his sexuality also. He shuts it out, eyes only on ball as it is delivered. It seems to gather menace in the air; floating, drifting and dipping before spitting off the pitch at an obscene angle. Unplayable. But he has survived. The bowler’s eyes narrow as the keeper tosses the ball back to him.
Another waddled run-up, this one drifts down leg, but it’s quicker and the batsman is late on the sweep. No run, the batsman tied down. Something has to give.
The bowler pauses, plotting. The batsman inches forward, desperate to seize the initiative, but the bowler senses him coming and tosses the ball up higher, above his eye-line. The cherry-red ball, seam sharp and defined, drifts towards leg-stump and the batsman sees his chance. A flick of the wrists and the ball races to the boundary, only the ball does not skip over the rope and the crowd does not stand to applaud his century because he has been deceived in flight. The ball does not land where he expects, instead dipping spinning viscously off the dry pitch, missing everything but his stumps, which clatter sickeningly behind him.
The brilliant young batsman, utterly outfoxed by the veteran. The danger man out, done by an outstanding delivery, the bowler casting his wicked spell. England horrified. Australia overjoyed. George catches himself breathing a little faster. On such moments, on such duels, are series’ won and lost. This, this, is what Test cricket is all about.
The batsman does not slope back to the pavilion, rather strides with his head held high, unbowed, as the speakers around the ground optimistically announce the next man in and the crowd’s despair turns to hope. Six feet of Lancastrian muscle steps out of the pavilion, brandishing his bat like a barbarian wielding an axe. A square-jawed comic-book hero, a man born to wear the weight of expectation of an entire nation, to thrive on crises. The Oval cheers. All will be well.
This is an experiment to create narrative from a moment in a cricket match that hopefully appeals to those who don’t even understand the game. I’ve tried to keep the flavour and idiosyncrasies of the sport without completely alienating non-believers in the hope that an idea I have had can sustain a longer, perhaps novella-length piece. I’ve read a couple of great American novels with baseball at their core and I think there’s the opportunity for a cricket-based novel. I will continue The Appointment tomorrow, I promise 🙂