Despite a triumphant, title-winning campaign, leading a polished team has brought about its fair share of challenges, writes our secret village skipper.
Not so long ago, I was the leader and No.4 linchpin of a motley crew – average age 45, untucked shirts, competitive but no superstars – but an inflow of gifted youth and first-team hand-me-downs landed me with the strongest second team in our club’s history. The dynamics flipped after a fruitful winter recruitment drive. We became meaner, leaner, nimbler, louder. The slips held 50 per cent of the snicks. My leg-side actually had ‘legs’. I was hiding one in the field rather than five. The tail didn’t start at six and we had seven frontline bowlers – quickie, leggie, slow left-arm dob, you name it. We had pre-match warm-ups and steely-eyed team talks. At least 70 per cent of outfielders walked in. We all wore club shirts and caps. This was a proper team.
Despite being crowned champions, this season has been my toughest year as skipper. You’re told that success breeds harmony but with competition fierce and players’ time precious, placating teammates has been near impossible: how do you give everyone a game when you’re rolling sides for 70 every other week? Step one: drop yourself down the order. Once a leader in the trenches, now just an arm-waving, cordon-patrolling tosser. I’ve gone from the Steve Smith of second-team cricket (said no teammate ever) to Tim Paine minus the gloves; from the prized wicket at No.4 to forgotten failsafe, batting in fewer than half the fixtures. Just call me ‘The Shadow Batter’. Step two: dish out charity overs and batting promotions when victory is all but secured. Step three: take a week off.
As participation numbers decline in recreational cricket, one league’s eligibility regulations are stopping fit and healthy players from playing the game, writes @reverse_sweeper.https://t.co/kRnmlPbX8N
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) September 17, 2019
On a personal level my season never reached lift off, and while I was happy to put the team first (not all heroes wear capes, folks), I rather fancy a bat next year. I’ve regularly pondered whether this was my last year as skip. Life accelerates once you’ve drunk away your twenties. Traditionally a one-eyed cricket wonker – “Y’know, ‘the cricket guy’” to distant acquaintances – I’ve become increasingly empathetic with those who refuse to commit to the game I love. Yet while it’s difficult appeasing egos, prima donnas, one-eyed parents and selection policies alongside a career, marriage, searching for enlightenment and worrying about death, our post-match victory celebrations were a welcome reminder of why we’re all here, standing in a field, playing a sport that has marginally more street-cred than chess and trainspotting.
We play for the craic, the camaraderie, the fact we can all call each other mates and a hell of a lot worse – and get away with it. It might sound a little soppy, but the season’s over and I’m allowed to get emosh. Without team spirit, what’s the point of this summer-sapping slog? I hope we can keep this handsome crew together for 2020… though the current No.4 can do one.
Read the previous secret diary entry: On tour
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