In the last week, the red shiny stitched sphere we all love has been renamed: ‘A Vector of The Disease’ by our cricket-loving Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. The once seemingly harmless cricket ball, (unless in the hands of some crazed overseas bowler, or as it screams teeth high through the covers off the bat of some hulking great lump wielding a tree trunk), has become the reason we are no longer allowed to play our beloved game. There have been many crazy stories coming out of decisions since the start of COVID-19 in this country, but suddenly it is deemed that should a cricketer be so unfortunate to come into contact with a cricket ball he or she will instantly fall victim to the disease. Therefore, whilst people are back out enjoying tennis, basketball and Frisbee us cricketers are still left looking longingly at the beautifully manicured outfields, lush striped squares and can only listen as the laughter and stories of the ghosts of cricketers past drift on the wind from the clubhouse bars.
It brings back a distant but startlingly vivid memory of standing at the top of my bowling mark in an invitation game, ball in hand, thinking it smelled a little funny. I looked around my field to check all was in order and everyone was vaguely where I wanted them. What was I faced with..? Well, let’s start behind the stumps.. Pete the Stumper – a stereotypical wicket keeper, in possession of some of the oldest and most foul smelling kit known to man. He could take it off and it would pack itself into a putrid kit bag, dripping with the exertions of 30 unwashed seasons. Next to him, at slip, the captain Johnny, who seemed to have a particularly ill-fitting jock strap as he forced his fingers ever deeper into his trousers to try and dig out the offending cheese wire from his arse crack. Down at 3rd man I could see my bowling partner warming his hands down the front of his trousers again, whilst at point George was busy extracting a sizeable bogey from his left nostril. The pre-match stories that came from the young Aussie batsman about his conquests with the local barmaid last night were not for the faint of heart and standing on my left, Tugger-Tom apparently didn’t get his name from his efforts in the young farmer tug-of-war team. To my right, I dare not look, but I can imagine Dan was picking left over lunch from between his teeth. At midwicket, Miles the vet. God forbid we ever get to hear exactly where he has had his hands. Square leg was home to farmer Chris whose hands and fingernails were constantly caked in pig muck despite his insatiable appetite for Swarfega.
Every one of these fine men would each touch the ball I was busy trying to shine with a combination of my own saliva and perspiration throughout the course of the afternoon, each transferring God knows what to the ball to generously spread around the team. Worse was to come, however, as we were all expected to enjoy our match tea and be thankful to Tugger for his egg and cress creations later in the day.
Mulling this over as I ran in to bowl, I imagined that cricketers must have some of the most powerful immune systems going around in order to withstand the germs we must come into contact with throughout a cricket match! I haven’t, yet, even mentioned the changing rooms and etiquette, smells and horror therein! As I neared the crease though, I focused all my efforts on thinking where I must bowl this ball to ensure it goes down to fine leg where the immaculately turned out and scrupulously clean Dr Stevens would be the fielder…