Last season was probably my worst ever with the bat. I remember clearly driving home from the final game feeling relieved that it was all over. I've been long reconciled to the idea that I'm not going to get any better. But I didn't really plan on getting much worse, either. A sort of gentle decline which nonetheless contained flashes of old glories and was compensated by extra nous, by know-how and cricket awareness* was more what I had in mind.
Instead, what was in my mind was a kind of white noise, brought on by a series of dismal, self-inflicted failures which had culminated that day in hitting a knee-high full toss straight to square leg. There was no common factor to them that I could figure out, except an increasing desperation. I've always had a rough game-plan to get to twenty and then see what comes. For some reason, probably dating way to back youth cricket, twenty always seemed like the liminal point between failure and success. Twenty wasn't great but it wasn't terrible either, and more often than not, you can go on from it. It's when batting always began to feel enjoyable.
Because I kept failing to get there, it became a thing, self-sabotaging and damaging. On the way to games I'd imagine unlikely scenarios - hitting five fours in the first over I faced, for example - just to be past the hurdle and into the sunlit uplands of a half-decent score. It threw me out. I lost sight of what I'd always been alright at, which wasn't hitting lots of boundaries right away but getting in and set, at riding out the early angst.
On that drive back after the last game, I turned it all over in my head. It was hard to think of a way forward. But as winter came the angst kind of drained away and some good vibes returned. I could start to imagine how it felt to play well again, and I decided that next season would be different. I'd be willing to accept failure - after all, there was nothing riding on how I batted. There are far better players than me in our side, and we'd won plenty of games that I'd contributed very little to. I'd just get out there and enjoy it.
I had a bit of luck too, in that Newbery got in touch through my blog and offered me my first ever free bat - their stunning new Kudos - to play with. 'At last,' I thought, on the smug drive back from their showroom at Hove, 'Sponsored... Exactly as I should be' (I'm not really. They've given me one bat not six, and I somehow doubt they're going to give me another one either, but in my head, it's a sponsored bat).
So, some lovely willow, a new season, a team that, of all the teams I've played for, I love the most. And as we reach the end of May, I have, so far, made one run. Not a thousand. Not even a hundred. In fact not even ten. One. And as today's game is off and we don't play again until next sunday, which is June 1, one it shall remain.
It's happened like this. First game at the end of April - rained off. Our second game, played out in the shadow of Windsor Castle versus the Royal Household CC, was as majestic in setting as it was disappointing in outcome. They had several fearsomely young and hard-hitting South Africans and Australians, one of whom got 140-odd, and who it transpired, didn't actually work for the Royal Household.
That's right, even the Queen has ringers.
I got a four-ball duck. I played back at the first, which ran down the bat face and bounced over the stumps. In my new mood of carefree abandon I drove hard at the second, which was wide, and missed it. I left the third and was bowled by the fourth. It seemed to keep low, but as Jammo, who'd been batting at the other end, pointed out, I'd just not moved my feet. Classic early-season dismissal. I could live with that.
Third game was cancelled, and in the fourth I got in for the last over after some excellent batting from the skipper and others. My job was simply to get that apparent ever-present in my new batting life Jammo back on strike, which was accomplished with a first ball prod to extra cover. One not out (I did get a bowl though. Bowling - it's so stress-free...)
Fifth game - cancelled.
Yes, that's it. Newbery, that's your return. One run in May (the bat has, however been much admired in warm-ups, and the middle really goes).
We all have our dreams, fed by the game. Mine are still there. I can feel those runs, just around the corner. Serendipity, come my way. Bring on June, flaming June. I'm ready...
* It's this year's 'executing your skills'. Cheers Nasser.
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