It's one of the great beauties of cricket that a team game can sustain mad, glorious, destructive, overwhelming personal ambition. Tom's great quest reminded me of another, even simpler aim of an opener I used to play with. His desire was to hit the first ball of a match for six. That's it. That simple. The desire gripped his soul and would not let go.
This was back in the days when sixes were a rarer currency. I was 13 or 14, just starting to play senior cricket along with age-group games. We'll call him Pete, because that was his name, a lovely man in love with the game. After twenty-odd years of playing, he was still to make a fifty, in part due to the pursuit of his dream. He opened the batting because he'd been at the club for as long as anyone, and there was no man there who wanted to deny him his chance.
That chance was tougher because it was dependent on batting first, so sometimes he would go weeks without getting the opportunity. But when it came, well... Pete died often, but he never died wondering. He heaved at every first ball he ever received, short or full, wide or straight, good or bad. I would imagine he got more first-ball ducks than any other opener in the country, but he never adjusted his game, never thought 'I'll just bat and try and get that fifty,' never allowed reason to crush his vision, that pure and perfect vision of a bowler running in as the clock turned one, all heads pivoting as a new red ball sailed up and out into the endless sky.
He never did it, or at least not to my knowledge. Tom Redfern is a much better cricketer, but I think he knows the feeling. 'Too many batsmen weigh risk,' he writes on the excellent, self-effacing blog that documents his mission. 'This is the credo all batsmen live by. After all we only have one chance, one life. From Test to village cricket, batsmen are wizened by risk'.
His refusal to bow to that tyranny has cost him several ninety-odds, but it doesn't matter to him because they were just nineties anyone could have got. He has eschewed easy runs against lesser players because his dream of that first time, that perfect first time, sustains and nourishes him, enriches his love for the game.
Pete did get that fifty. It came in an in-house game, the U-17 team I'd joined to play for against the men's side. We had some good players in that junior team, including a couple of very decent opening bowlers. They batted. Pete carved at the first ball, which missed everything. Then he carved at everything else, and miraculously, it came off. Balls fell wide of fielders, edges went for four. Finally he swung, connected again and the applause came up from the pavilion. 'Twenty-five years I've waited for that,' he yelled, his bat held high above his head, his face split by the grin that said every moment of the wait had been worthwhile.
NB: Tom has the most mythic of harpoons as he pursues his whale. He's been to Millichamp & Hall and had a bat made, a quest that has occupied my own dreams for some time. They are the wands of god. I must have one, but, like Tom, like Pete, it must be a particular one, made and bought when my bank account can bear it and, more importantly, when I feel like my game deserves it. Just call me Ishmael, too...