As he drove to the cricket ground, Chalky weighed up the odds and found them stacked heavily against his team. They had clawed their way to the grand final and now were going into the match as underdogs, tipped to go under to the minor premiers’ superior batting. The Westsiders had only lost two games this season so their confidence was running high.
Chalky and his team reckoned they had a slim chance of winning the Premiership but that was before they lost their two best batsmen. The Pub Team had struggled all season because of poor batting and now, without Stu and Jim, the outlook was very poor indeed.
He stroked his chin thoughtfully as he searched his mind for a possible solution. He smiled wryly as he recalled how nonchalently the team dismissed the problem last night. “She’ll be right, skipper,” Mac boomed as he drained his schooner and raised it above his head, “I’ve got an in up there; she’ll be jake.”
“Well Mac, old pal,” Chalky muttered as he swung the wheel to take the turn into the grounds, “we’ll be needing some sort of miracle to avoid a severe thrashing, so lets hope you went to Church this morning.”
The Pub Team lost the toss and were sent in to bat. The batting side provided the umpire and Chalky, being a bowler and a lower order batsman, took the first stint as umpire.
The pitch was the usual concrete slab designated to C Grade players but of the four they’d played on during the season, this was regarded as the most crude. The edges of the woven matting were frayed and worn at the creaseline as well as where it ended. It was perilous for batsmen and fielders alike if the ball happened to land on one of these edges and whizzed off any whichway.
Bowlers needed to acquire the skill of keeping an eye on the spot where they planted the foot at the time of delivery as well as the place they intended to pitch the ball. On this pitch, the tarred section between the stumps and the creaseline was a rough fragile surface that was prone to give way underfoot, allowing the foot to slide forward and under the matting. The result could be a hazardous follow-through after delivery.
The rough, uneven outfield spelled trouble for the unwary fielder who, diligently getting down to a ball racing across the field towards him, could be knocked senseless if it suddenly rose in the air an inch or so from his fingers.
Batsmen fared a little better, needing only to be alert for the crazy behaviour of the ball if it happened upon the edge of the matting or found a worn spot.
Despite the quirks of the number two ground, the Pub Team had never lost a game there and so they had come to look upon it with some affection. Each member of the team, whilst fiercely competitive with a strong will to win, possessed a relaxed attitude to the game which gave an immunity against being rattled by the eccentricities of the wicket and outfield.
Chalky, from his position behind the stumps, watched the opening bowler kick away a few pieces of gravel from the spot where he would plant his foot at the point of delivery, and he noticed the wary expression on his face as he went back to commence his run up.
The first delivery was a tame effort made a half a metre from the creaseline. The ball pitched wide, whizzing past the keeper as he lunged in a vain attempt to gather it in, and down to the boundary for four runs. Chalky signalled wides.
The bowler frowningly began to examine the crease, tapping down the frayed edges of the matting with his foot. Chalky moved forward and helpfully began to kick away some gravel and tamp down a spot where the tar was lifting. “Bloody dangerous, mate,” he said in a concerned tone, “a bloke could do his ankle in if he wasn’t careful!”
The rest of the over yielded six runs from the two playable deliveries. With his mind dwelling on the danger at the point of delivery, the bowler’s eyes were drawn to the placement of his foot rather than the placement of the ball.
Chalky felt he could afford to be magnanimous when, at the end of the over there were six runs on the board and both his openers looked easy. He offered a few words of sympathy and comfort to the hapless strike bowler and didn’t feel too badly that the bowler looked decidedly dejected as he went off to take up his fielding position at backward square leg.
A no-nonsense approach was taken by the number two bowler who thundered in from afar. Mutt, waiting for the delivery, looked a bit white around the gills as he tapped his bat up and down a couple of times, his eyes glued to the fast approaching figure. He watched the arm uncoil, saw the ball leave the hand and come toward him at a surprisingly easy speed. This gave him time to recover from his initial shock at the fast pre-delivery gallop and play a text book defensive stroke.
Mutt scored two runs off the next delivery, followed by a classic cover drive for four. This was too much for the middle order batsman of dubious ability called upon to open. His cup brimeth over with confidence and he could see himself like Bradman at his best, playing every ball with technical perfection and hitting up a score to remember.
“Watch it, Mutt old fellow,” Chalky muttered half under his breath as he interpreted the body language of his opener, “you are about to cop a bouncer to take you down a peg.”
The delivery was pitched short and the over-confident Mutt was taken by surprise. Too late he tried to duck, instinctively raising the bat to protect his head. He yelped as the ball struck his hand, sending the bat flying into his stumps. As the stumps trembled and the bails fell, the wicket keeper was engrossed in making a spectacular diving catch. The field rose up in elation thinking one way or the other Mutt was gone.
It took a few seconds before it dawned on everyone that the umpire had called a no ball because it was above shoulder height. “Bloody hell,” the keeper moaned, “how bloody lucky can you get?”
Mutt’s confidence was shaken somewhat and as he faced the next delivery, the pain in his hand was a grim reminder of his recent experience. Expecting another short pitched ball designed to keep him rattled, he didn’t move his feet at all, electing to reach out and take a swipe. He managed to get an edge to it and, to the absolute dismay of the second slips fieldsman, it went to ground a few centimetres from his outstretched hands.
Somehow Mutt saw out the over with his wicket intact and found himself licking his wounds at the non-strikers end.
On his way to his position behind the stumps, Chalky took a little time out to ensure the safety of the strike bowler. He made sure that his helpful concern was observed in order that the seed of anxiety be nurtured and kept fresh in the mind of the bowler.
At the end of the over, the score had advanced by six runs and Mutt was still at the non-strikers end. He removed his glove once again to inspect his injury. He winced a little as he flexed his fingers but noted with relief that he appeared to have escaped with all bones intact. An ugly bruise was apparent at the base of his index finger and it was still smarting painfully.
Gerry, facing the number two bowler for the first time, looked a trifle nervous and played defensively for the first two deliveries but managed to get the third away to the covers for a quick single.
Mutt expected the bouncer delivered to him and, determined to get even for the dull ache that throbbed painfully in his hand, he plucked it out of the air and hooked it high over square leg to bounce into the boundary for four runs.
The shot astounded Chalky and knocked the wind out of the bowler’s sails while Mutt himself did his best to look as though this prowess with the bat was not something new to him.
Obviously the bowler considered the shot something of a fluke because his next delivery was a repeat performance. It was dispatched to the boundary with the same force and judgement as the previous one. Scoring two boundaries from successive deliveries was medicine enough to kill the pain of the bruised hand and repair the damaged confidence. Mutt looked set to hit up a hundred.
During the seventh over however, the strike bowler forgot about the dangers lurking at the crease and bowled a dilly of a yorker to claim the wicket and send Mutt off to the sidelines.
Soon after Mutt’s departure, Gerry snicked a catch to second slip which had Chalky groaning inwardly. Then lady luck showed she had not deserted the Pub Team when the mid wicket fieldsman dropped a sitter of a catch. The bowler bellowed his displeasure and delivered the next ball with malicious intent. Chalky was delighted to yell “no ball” when he overstepped the line on delivery and the batsman survived being clean bowled.
Somebody up there was looking after the interests of the Pub Team, Chalky thought to himself – Mac must have gone to Church this morning.
The Pub Team were in bad shape after thirty overs however, with the score at six for seventy. Chalky had handed over the umpiring to Mutt and was padded up and ready to take his place at the crease. Meanwhile, Mac and young Steve the wicketkeeper were out there doing their best.
Mac survived long enough to add three runs before holing out while trying to hit a six over mid wicket. Chalky joined Steve and was run out after making eleven. When Steve finally succumed they were nine for ninety-two.
With two bowlers at the crease and just three overs left it was a last ditch effort. Tanker Gilbert swung his bat in the style of a baseballer and smote a rapid fire twenty runs. The last wicket stand of twenty-four runs left the opposition with jaws agape.
With the respectable score of a hundred and sixteen runs to defend, the Pub Team took to the field with pumped up enthusiasm. To win they had to bowl well and they were determined to give it their best shot.
Chalky opened the bowling as usual. He was a source of amazement to his team mates, not so much for his ability as a successful wicket taker, but because he was not the healthiest looking specimen in the team. He was an asthmatic with a dicky lung that was inclined to deflate now and then and he suffered from arthritis of the joints. He compensated for his physical disabilities by outsmarting the opposition and hammering his men with his will to win.
With an attacking field set and his weak fielding link at fly slip where his excellent throwing arm would not be wasted, Chalky began his short run-up. Three little shuffling steps before settling into rhythmic strides, the right foot pounding into the turf at the crease on delivery and a loud ‘umph’ as he put his all into hurling the ball down the pitch.
The ‘umph’ for effort served as a red herring for his slow deliveries and helped deceive the batsman. Today it worked very well when he dismissed the opposition’s big gun for a duck with his third delivery.
Mac took up the attack at the other end and after a maiden first over, took two wickets in his second. Westsiders were reeling at three for eight.
In his enthusiasm, Mac tried to achieve the speed of Dennis Lilley and, in doing so, sacrificed the accuracy that served him so well in his first few overs. After one erratic over, the batsmen began to take advantage and the runs were steadily adding up on the board.
Chalky finally yelled his exasperation when Mac bowled his third wide in the over. “F’Christ’s sake, Mac, if y’don’t know where the bloody stumps are, aim for the bloke holding the bat.”
Already annoyed with himself, Mac reacted furiously to his skipper’s bawling out. He let fly with a string of invectives aimed at the game in general and stomped back to start his next delivery.
When he turned and started his run up he had a murderous look on his face which, coupled with the way he came thundering in, had the batsman shaking in his boots and looking as though the last thing he wanted to do was stay there and defend his stumps. The wicketkeeper didn’t look all that comfortable either as he crouched, pale of face, behind the stumps.
Mac unleashed the full force of his fury in the delivery to end all deliveries and found himself a victim of the wicket. He had planted his front foot a few centimetres to the right of the spot it usually landed upon. The next thing he knew he was fighting desperately to keep his balance even after his legs left the ground and the rest of his body bit the dust.
There was a short time lapse before the stunned field moved and he was surrounded by a ring of anxious faces. Cautiously he raised himself onto his elbows and spat out a mouthful of grit. Then he moved other parts of himself, muscle by muscle, as he tested for injury.
“Gee Mac. What sort of stunt was that? You okay?’ Chalky asked as he squatted beside him.
“Of course I’m not bloody okay” Mac growled and spat out more grit, “I bloody nearly broke my neck, didn’t I?”
Chalky grinned widely. It seemed only his pride had suffered. He watched as the big man hauled himself to his feet and began slapping the dirt off his whites. Someone handed him the ball and he turned at once to make his way back to have another go at completing the over.
After that a more subdued Mac continued the attack, capturing three more wickets in his second last over.
Westside’s fortunes were looking rather grim when they were eight down for seventy-nine runs, and when they lost their ninth wicket with the score at eighty-eight, the Pub Team had the sweet smell of victory in their nostrils.
They were anxious to mop up but the two tail enders turned out to be fighters who were not afraid to go for the runs. They put pressure on the field with cheeky singles and got away with three near run-outs.
Westside reduced the deficit to eight runs with three balls left. Chalky took a deep breath before he turned to start his run-up. He decided to try his slow ball since the man facing him had not picked it last over. As soon as the ball left his hand, Chalky knew it was a good one. The batsman’s stroke was too early and slowly the ball continued on towards the stumps, just brushing the leg stump enough to ease the bail from its mounting.
After a moment of stunned silence the Pub Team rose up in unison, shouting jubilantly. Chalky found himself surrounded by his team mates all trying to slap him on the back. “I told ya, didn’t I mate?” Mac grinned, “I told ya I got an in up there.”
“You did, Mac, but I took that as being the schooner talking.” Chalky looked at him thoughtfully. In his mind was a clear picture of Mac downing schooners and chatting up the barmaids. “Are you sure your influence is up there, Mac? I’d reckon it’d more likely be down …there!”
There was a good bit of laughter and Mac had the grace to look sheepish. “Well,” he said, “what the hell – we bloody won, didn’t we?”
Note: Errors and omissions excepted 🙂 A story written from tall tales told in a country pub’s beer garden.