Sunday 2 November 2008

Watching Genius (i)

I have only seen genius  - genuine, undeniable, ineffable genius - on two or three occasions. The first was at the Batsman's first club on a warm August wednesday in a long-ago summer. The Hampshire team - captained by Richard Gilliat, the Patrician left hander - arrived to play our First XI in a benefit game for Barry Richards. 

BA Richards was the Batsman's first hero. We'd been in position for two hours just watch his car, which turned out to be a red Ford Granada, take the speedbumps down the laneway to the club. It did so in some style. No-one had the nerve to approach him as he opened the door and stepped out, drawing the revered red-striped Gray-Nicolls from the boot, glowing like Excalibur... When Gilliat came out of the pavilion to toss up, Barry emerged from the dressing room with his pads on, from which we gathered Hampshire would bat however the coin came down. 

For many weeks we had been anticipating BA's encounter with the club's quick bowler, a demon PE teacher with a film-star beard named Dinger Bell. Dinger bowled at us Under 13s in the nets sometimes from a few paces, hair billowing behind him, and it felt like facing Michael Holding. Today, he was off his full, glamorous run. Bazza adjusted his famous blue cap and walked to the middle, the same fuzz of hair and teeth that we saw on TV in the John Player League. Dinger opened up from his favoured far end, wicketkeeper and slips (plural - there was optimism for you) halfway to the boundary. Richards let the first one pass. Christ, we though, maybe even Barry Richards thinks Dinger Bell is quick... 

Dinger ran in again and let one go, short, at Bazza's ribs. Richards backed away, took the time, apparently, to enjoy the view and wave at his girlfriend, before placing a horizontal bat under the ball and lifting it directly over the wicketkeeper's head for six. It was still going up as it went into the car park, quite close to Bazza's red Granada. Here was genius, on our own ground. 

Despite his reputation for boredom at the crease, he scored 60-odd before he retired, including one flick off his legs that went over the trees, out of the ground and landed on the first green of the adjacent pitch and putt. His bat rang as he hit the ball. In the tea interval, I asked for his autograph. 'I'm just eating my sandwich at the moment,' he said. Genius had spoken. How the Batsman treasured those words...

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