We’re back with five more archetypal figures from the recreational game.
Words: Ed Kemp
Illustration: Joe Provis
The earthly groundsman
At one with the soil, our devoted curator doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. In fact, judging by the state of him what he most fears is getting them clean. No stranger to a dust-crusted palm or a crease-paint-speckled knuckle, he’ll even turn up to your suit-and-tie end-of-season do with nodules of grime under his fingernails. But he takes pride in his product, and while others rush inside for tea at the innings-break, he relishes the solitude of the empty square, brushing and painting and rolling towards a place of enviable inner-peace. But turn up to a game and dare to walk across his strip, even in flip-flops? Or casually bounce a practice ball on next week’s belter? He’ll turn like a startled ostrich protecting its young.
“How did you go today?” – line one in the textbook on post-match bar-chat, under the heading ‘Players From Other Teams Within Your Club’. But pick the wrong man – the self-appointed captain of storytelling – and you could be in for a long night. What should have been a back-and-forth dialogue becomes a delicately woven one-man show. Every delivery is an epic, every shot a drama; his own dismissal becomes a rich tapestry of description involving countless twists of plot and intriguing developments of character. But in the end it still winds up with him being seen off for sod all. We understand you misjudged the flight and it might have been missing leg, mate, of course we do, but it’s a quick re-cap on the details of a cricket game, not Beowulf.
Rain, shine, win or lose, there’s one of your number who – though you love him dearly – is never happier than when having a good, old-fashioned grumble. He should have bowled sooner, the umpire diddled him, government cuts have ruined his batting average and no one helped him with the boundary markers. But don’t worry: once a season, after his annual fifty, he’ll be back to the bar, with a full jug of beer and a clubbable grin. And you realise that no amount of miserable-gittedness would be worse than seeing him like this the whole time.
The prodigal son
A former player who’s moved away can take on mythic status at a cricket club, where the memories are long and the spectacles rose-tinted. As time passes, the miserable mid-teens batting averages and low-level post-match gutter-talk become highly accomplished middle-order run-scoring (“he’s what we’re missing”) and the witticisms of a peerless raconteur. Ahead of his rare return, excitement builds with whispers that our mini-celeb is “coming down this week”. Prodigal sons everywhere: enjoy the rep while it lasts. It only takes one crap caught-and-bowled nought and an evening of pedestrian banter to remind everyone that you’re just as dull and useless as everyone else.
The serial retirer
Steve Redgrave famously gave the world permission to shoot him if they ever saw him in a boat after the 1996 Olympics, before going onto to a record fifth gold in Sydney in 2000. But failing to follow through on promises of retirement had been a British speciality long before the champion rower’s volte-face. Every club’s got one – at least one: the ageing legend who’s made more comebacks than Prince. Every season he threatens it’s his last; you even buy him a drink, last game, to celebrate a fine career. But when you turn up to the first session of winter nets, there he is, adorned in crisp club attire. “It’s just to keep fit this winter,” he insists, brand new batting pads poking out from his kitbag, “I’m not coming back.” Even if cricket’s claws aren’t fully sunk until the summer, a team will be short before long and our man will “reluctantly” step into the breach, roll back the years with a pleasing 40-odd and then be locked in for the rest of the year. The truth is folks, when it comes to club cricket, you’ve never truly given it up.
If you have any suggestions for more club titans, comment freely below or shout at us on Twitter at @AllOutCricket