‘Social distancing’ is a horrible concept, even more a very odd phrase, and when the 2019 season closed such a happening would have never been considered a norm. Yet throughout this year we have rather got used it, and on Sunday Wanderers took to taking things a little further when distancing their bats from straight deliveries and their fielding hands from the ball.
The opening match of this season was to be had in balmy July weather at the Preston Park cycle track, a convenient venue rather than a plumb choice for the lover of cricketing aesthetics. But needs must, and folk were desperate to play, even if their keenness had caused a mild amnesia where the tactical complexities of one’s game are concerned.
Of course, the viewing of this match was more of a chore for The Author, not because of the need for a scorer (the shiny new scorebook had proved the perfect bait) but because of his own senior moment in forgetting to bring his tea. The diet may have received a boost but the culinary memory of a cricketing event is worth a paragraph alone. Even the match reports have only returned in a half-hearted way as a result.
But some things will always stay with us. Like losing the toss. Once the coin had been tossed with gay abandon and the wrong call made everybody knew that cricket was back. Wanderers were sent into bat, it was a 35 over bash, and we back on track. Well, kind of.
Jordan and The Big Bear strode to the wicket like a pair of boxing heavyweights ready to do some serious damage. A confident swagger and a look of preparation for a run fest. It may be best left at that point as it was downhill from thereon in. The first over began, the familiar chatter gently swirling at the boundaries edge, and Jordan looked in turmoil from the opening ball. Nature decided to throw the towel in early as the fifth delivery of the first bout rumbled his wickets. There was a run on the board, the saving grace of a wide, and no first ball dismissal. Small crumbs. Lloyd barely had his pads on so The Author told him not to worry. Perhaps timing out may have been a saving grace, although Lloyd did his best to shake off the cobwebs with a combative approach.
Thankfully, the famous opening disaster at Littleworth in 2016 was surpassed with ease though. The second wicket stand producing almost as many runs as the entire innings of that mad afternoon in West Sussex. With the score looking like a shaping 34 Lloyd has a rush of blood and chases bowler Rusbridge down the wicket. He’s sharply stumped and the second wicket falls. No problem, he’s shown some promise, it’s the first match, and proud father Will Barber is making his way to the wicket to show his new born the field that may become his own in years to come. The Big Bear is digging in and, although not as fluent as usual, is building an innings. It could be a long introductory afternoon for the scorers’ pencil. Or not. 22 runs are added, Will with a lone boundary but seemingly out of sorts, then another wicket falls. Uncomfortable from the off, Will becomes bowler Wood’s first victim. There envelopes a feeling in The Author’s senses that a sharpener may be needed. I’m not wrong. It may be 56-2, but an uncomfortable feeling of short proceedings is in the air. And thus, it was.
The Wanderers tail is long, and given the rustiness that the delayed season has crusted upon the group, it’s giraffe long, and the time it takes to scythe through is shorter than the appendage of a Manx cat…. Anxious bats are left flailing at the high summer air, padded legs greet the straight delivery forgetting their wooden advance party, catches are gratefully and comfortably held. As the vector of disease becomes the sphere of calamity, It’s a rout. Seven wickets fall for 18 runs with five batsmen making 0 or 1. The score book looks like an old programmer’s log with its binary sequences.
|Venue||Preston Park, Brighton|
|Result||Worthing won by 5 Wickets|
So, Wanderers take to the field for the first time this season. Happy steps. Whatever happens it isn’t likely to be a long stint. There was, however, early promise. Lukey opened the bowling from the north end and Lloyd from the south. A competent looking two who didn’t appear much shackled by the long layoff. Apart from a couple of boundaries the openers begin in tentative fashion. With the score on 12 the first wicket in 10 months falls, and it’s the man Crathern who bowls batsman Rusbridge. How delightful to see the bails spilled and the celebratory grunts of the fielders. Jordan provides ample coverage behind the stumps and stands up to Luke. At 21 this is rewarded with a sharp stumping of the other tottering opener. When a third wicket falls on 26 in the first over of the 50th season from the oldest swinger in town, there is hope on our side. After all, would not one expect the opposition to have the same rustiness ? We’ve done this before. There is a game a brewing here.
Yet Unlike Wanderers on this occasion, the Worthing have a primed middle order. A steady stand develops between the two young incumbents. The oldest swinger gets swung by this embryonic pairing although debutante Hemmings stays steady at the south end. With little runs to play with the stand proves costly and when Geoff takes his first wicket with the score on 62, a catch at the wicket by safe hands Jordan, Wanderers have all been a bit dilatory. Ant and Phil are given a chance to turn their arms over, Ant joining the four bowlers already on most wickets taken for the season- one- with the first outfield catch of the season going to Will Barber. The Gents ease home with half their line up intact.
The playing season hasn’t so much started with a bang as a squeaky fart. There is little fanfare but more a sense of contentment that finally our favourite summer pastime is a part of our lives again. The new normal is now the normal. Some things remain though. Unfounded hope, middle order collapses, missed opportunities and comedic calamity. What also remains is a good bunch of folks enjoying themselves on a Sunday and making each other’s lives much richer for the experience. Bugger the result, it’s good to have that back.