Seasons in the Sun (Part 7): That Pompeii feeling

The question is: is cricket a batsman’s or a bowler’s game?

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind… a very strong North Easterly gale, to be precise.

Y’see, bowling is a technical art to begin with. It then becomes highly dependent on match day conditions – weather, pitch quality, field quality, fielder quality, umpire cruelty and so on.
Batsmen may argue that it’s eleven onto one and that you’re always just one ball from being back in the sheds, but let me ask you this: in 31oC with wind gusts pushing across the ground, would you rather be holding a bat or a ball?

Mantis and I had agreed during the week that it would have been smarter to bowl on the first day. The conditions were cooler and we would have been able to get a good look at how to bat on the small, lopsided W.A Smith Reserve. Instead, we were limited to 9/247. The Lalor Stars – and a finer bunch of blokes you couldn’t hope to play against – told us 260 was par.

As I arrive, the Stars look up and bristle like saloon bar cowboys.
“G’day, Callum,” spits Steve Cinni, offering a knuckle-crushing handshake.
“Steve,” I reply, wondering where this is going.
“Y’know, Callum,” Steve says. “I got an email during the week that someone was writing things about us on the Internet!”
The Benevolent Leader, I bet.
“Well, Steve, I only wrote down what you guys said – ”
“You called Johnny Vas ‘Vesuvius’!”
Vesuvius – described by his frank teammates as “a very ugly man” – pretends to be ropable.
“You WHAT??”
“Well, it was just for the way you went off at that bloke who let two boundaries through off you – ”
They all erupt in laughter.
“Sean!” growls Vesuvius. “You know what we put on his end of season jumper? ‘Scott Muller’.”
Helpfully, Griffo arrives just at that moment.
“And I wrote about how mean you all were to Griffo,” I say quickly.
They all turn on Griffo.
“Nice singlet, Griffo,” snickers Vesuvius.
“Hey, I just came from work,” Griffo defends. “What’ve you been doing?”
Vesuvius shrugs nonchalantly. “Second hotdog.”

I make my way over to the pitch. Heata and DK are already there, warming up and bowling to Jacko. The wind is pushing downhill and getting stronger. Whoever has to run into it… sucks to be him.

The Stars make their unhurried way across to the ground… except Vesuvius, who drives the short distance and parks behind the small tin shed on the short boundary.
“Goal is to hit Johnny Vas’ car!” declares a bloke named Mark Marshall.
I mentioned Mark last week – he clearly should be ‘Malcolm’ but he is, in the cruel universe of the Stars’ nicknames, ‘Fathead’. I shall refer to him as Malcolm.

“We need wickets today, boys,” intones the Benevolent Leader.
“First, let’s really bowl tight and put the pressure on them and then take our chances. It’s pretty hot, so it’ll be five or six over spells unless we’re doing something pretty special.
“They’ve got a couple of good bats. Vasilev [Vesuvius] has got one gear and that’s to hit it, so we’ll immediately push the field back for him. The other one is Marshall and the word is he’s got a bit of a weakness for spin.”
He turns to Steansy, our leggie.
“So Steansy you’ll come on to him if he comes in early.”

At this point The Charmer hurries over.
“Sorry boys.”
“Peppa Pig, Charmer?”
“No, Mrs Charmer had to go shopping.”

The Benevolent Leader tells me I’m opening as we walk out. I’m bowling with the wind but my bigger help is AT’s analytical eye at cover.
During my second over, AT gives me the run down on Rocky’s strengths and weaknesses.
“So he’s strong on middle and leg but he comes at it with hard hands on off, and he’s also a bit uppish,” AT recommends.
So I stick to outside off and get a few plays and misses – as a pace bowler, it’s the next best thing to getting a wicket. Unfortunately, Rocky gets used to it and delicately prods a few through third slip for runs.

The Benevolent Leader, steering himself uphill through the wind, takes our first wicket, bringing Steve to the crease. The Leader bowls a testing inswinging yorker that hits Steve on the ankle. We’re all up in a screaming appeal and Sean the Umpire gives Steve out lbw. Steve accepts the decision graciously and departs without another word…
Unsurprisingly, the Leader decides that it is in the team’s best interest that he continues to bowl beyond the original five or six over plan. The wind tests his determination and he gets redder and redder.
His spell finally ends as Malcolm slaps him for a towering six that fades over the fence to Jacko’s dry remark, “Uppish, lads….”
“Righto Steansy, you’re on.”
Steansy limits the scoring and eventually gets Malcolm, who tries his delicate prod one time too many and is snared by a leaping Bronty at gully.

The umpires rotate with the batsmen and Steve returns to the field to stand behind the stumps. The first ball of Heata’s spell strikes Malcolm on the pad and we all optimistically appeal.
“I’m Steve, not bloody Sean,” replies Steve. I suspect Steve will be fined for Anti-Solidarity Actions. Heata replies with a bumper that Malcolm flails weakly at and misses.
“You wouldn’t’ve missed it if it was a KFC bucket!” comes the yell from over the fence.

Bronty comes on, powering through the crease with the wind at his back, and bowls Rocky. This, unfortunately, brings Vesuvius out. He lives up to the Leader’s predictions; at tea, he’s hit 30 with four sixes.

As we troop across to the pavilions for tea, we observe a tight tussle between the Stars and Eltham in Barclay Shield. A highly disputed umpiring decision has led to both sides barking at each other as they leave the field… which Steve and co. are only too keen to exploit.
They hide next to the door and yelp, “Pack of cheats!” whenever the Eltham players look away. By the time they realise that the Barclay Stars aren’t actually saying anything, the E-Grade Stars have well and truly scurried away.

“You’ll be coming on uphill after lunch,” the Leader orders.
Vesuvius has his eye in and the wind is now really picking up. Fun, fun.
As I lumber in, it feels like I’m doing an ungainly Baywatch impression. Vesuvius sends my first ball into the adjourning playground.
Thankfully, DK takes two quick wickets and we’re not yet out of it.

Jacko taunts Vesuvius from behind the stumps when he can.
“Two bucks, you didn’t hit that well…”
“Two bucks, there was another run there…”
But there’s just no stopping the big fella. Mid-off, mid-on, mid wicket, it doesn’t matter. A late inswinging yorker misses his leg stump and we’re effectively done.
Eventually his partner, who has a beard like Abraham Lincoln, gets going as well. However, he perishes in one of the most unlikely ways: when discussed later, it was labelled “the worst catch of all time”.
I really rip my final delivery at Lincoln and it softly bounces off in a gentle arc towards the waiting AT at cover.

AT trips.
And falls.
Over nothing.
And rolls.
Onto his back.
Sticks out a blind hand.
And the ball.
Just lands on the edge of his fingers.

It takes a while for the fielding cordon to compose themselves for the next delivery. My worst fears are realised when Vesuvius brings up his century with a tremendous flat six over mid-off. As I watch the ball sail merrily over The Charmer’s head, I decide. Cricket is definitely a batman’s game.
Vesuvius gives me a wink as we walk off.
“Which car’s yours again?” I snap at him.

Vesuvius walks off to his teammates’ guard of honour and a chorus of “Good one, Johnny Fathead.”

“Look, we gave it a crack and I thought we bowled pretty well,” says the Benevolent Leader. “But now we just need to win next week and get a bit better at taking our chances.”

We relax after the game with the Stars… except for Sean, who scurries off before Steve can make a meal of him.
“What, ya got trigger-finger?!” Steve inquires after Sean’s retreating back.
“I know you were swinging it in and I know it was hitting leg, but in this Grade it shouldn’t have been given,” surmises Steve to the Benevolent Leader.
General silence greets this defence.
There’s clearly a good reason that Steve is a cricketer and not a lawyer.

Lower Plenty 9/247
AT 85
Jacko 52
The Benevolent Leader 40*
Griffo the Beleaguered 3/18

Lalor Stars 7/265
Vesuvius 101*
Rocky 44
Malcolm Marshall 39
Lincoln 39
DK 2/40
The Benevolent Leader 2/45

About Callum O'Connor

Here's to feelin' good all the time.

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