Power Play - by Bob Cattell
Power Play - a short story in instalments by Glory Gardens author Bob Cattell. Each week, we will be publishing the next instalment, but after reading, let us know what you think will happen next for the chance to win a special prize.
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Part Nine | Part Ten | Part Eleven | Part Twelve | Part Thirteen | Part Fourteen | Part Fifteen | Part Sixteen | Part Seventeen
It began that day under the flyover. Down by the canal. There was me and Efrain and Seven. Isaac and Hugo were there too but they were mucking about on the canal path on an old BMX they’d nicked.
We were having a smoke and Seven took this brand new cricket ball out of his pocket and threw it at me hard. My reactions were quick cos I caught it one handed without dropping my fag.
“That’s hard, man,” I said.
“What’s that, Dan?” said Efrain to me, holding out his hand. He’s American, Efrain. Only been here for two years, so he doesn’t know much.
“A cricket ball, stupid,” I said. “Where’d you get it?” I asked Seven.
“Found it under a bench down the Park. Thought it might be worth a few quid.”
Soon we were chucking the ball around and then Seven threw it way over my head and it landed – splash - in the canal… in some scummy stuff on the other side. A black geezer in a track suit was running past and he stopped and fished it out. He skimmed the wet ball back across the canal – a real pro throw, low and hard – and I caught it easy.
“You play cricket?” he said.
“Nah. We ain’t got no cricket grounds round here,” said Seven.
“Let’s see you throw.”
I toss the ball to Seven and he hurls it with all his strength across the water. The bloke catches it one handed and flings it back twice as hard. Soon the ball is skimming back and forth across the canal. Isaac and Hugo join in. I never seen Hugo throw a cricket ball before, but he’s good. It goes on for some time without anyone dropping it. Then Seven lets one through his hands and it smacks into his nose and everyone laughs.
“Better go. Gotta get back to work,” the geezer says. “You guys should play cricket. Proper cricket. Think about it.” That’s how it all started, though we didn’t know it at the time.
Three days later I’m down the shop getting my dad’s tobacco and papers and when I come out there are Tash and Sultana.
I haven’t seen them for months and they are really chatty and want to know what I’ve been doing and we’re laughing about Seven and his big mouth when this geezer in a sharp suit walks past and smiles at me and says hello. I give him a blank stare.
“Don’t remember me?” says the dude, with a grin. “Down by the canal with the cricket ball.”
The two girls are looking at me, like saying who’s this?
“My name’s Everton,” says the feller, holding out his hand.
“Dan,” I say and we shake.
“Been playing any cricket?”
“Cricket?” says Tana.
Everton tells her about how we met while I take a closer look at him. He didn’t get that sharp suit from a charity shop.
“Dan used to be a real good cricketer when we was at Primary School.” I hear Tash say.
“Yeah remember… we won that borough champion cup,” says Tana.
“We had a good team, didn’t we, Dan?” says Tash to me.
“Want to show me how good?” says Everton.
“What you mean?”
“There’s a place on the Isle of Dogs. Me and my team go for net practice every week. If I book an extra hour you could show me your skills. You three…and bring those other mates of yours too. Yeah?”
“But we haven’t got any gear.”.
“No problem. We’ve got pads and balls and stuff. What’d you say? I’m a grade-two coach, by the way.”
“Grade two hey?” says Tash with a snigger.
“I say it’d be a laugh,” says Tana.
“Then you’re on. Next Wednesday. And bring your other mates, including the one with the squashed nose,” Everton said. He didn’t know what he was letting himself in for.
All sports halls smell the same. But the sound inside the Playon Sports Centre was like descending into an underworld of noise. The bowlers’ grunts, the sweet smack of the ball off the middle of the bat, the screamed appeals... multiply that by ten cricket nets squeezed into one massive hangar.
Everton waved from the net near the entrance. He was with a tall bloke in a tracksuit – they were talking to Tash and Tana and a little Asian guy.
“My cousin, Sabir,” said Tana. Sabir gave a shy smile.
“He’s good,” Tash whispered to me. “Left-hand bat.”
To start off it was a mess. The tall guy called Ralph, who was a fast bowler, tried to get us to do some warm-up stuff but no-one took much notice. Seven strapped on some pads…said he was batting first. Efrain ran up and chucked – ‘cos that’s what baseball pitchers do, he said. I bowled a full toss and it felt like my arm was coming off. Isaac swore a lot.
After almost a dozen air shots, Seven finally hit one in the middle of the blade and it sailed into the net behind the bowlers.
“Six,” he shouted, punching the air. Everton put his head in his hands.
I overheard Ralph say, “Where’d you dig up this bunch?”
Then it all changed. Tana found the target with her leg breaks and clean bowled Seven three times. Hugo bowled quick with a nice easy action and made the ball wobble in the air. He’d never let on he’d played cricket before but he knew what he was doing. And when Tana replaced Seven in the net Everton smiled for the first time.
“Great footwork, eh?” he said to Ralph, as Tana clipped a swinging ball off her legs.
Efrain was getting into his stride, too. After watching Ralph demonstrate he went from pitching to proper bowling in no time – aggressive run up, strong follow through with a lot of shoulder. He’s tall, so he gets the ball to kick. Even Tana had a bit of trouble deciding whether to defend or duck.
But, the star performance came from Sabir. He played the quick stuff with loads of time. Even when Ralph bowled at him, he had no trouble with the extra pace and drove hard off the front foot.
When the hour was up Everton called us together. “Do you want the truth?” he asked.
“Give us it straight,” said Seven.
“Well, you might one day make a cricket team.”
We went down the Playon twice a week. In the evenings we’d sometimes go to the park, too for a bit of practice. Right from the beginning, Seven kept going on about playing a proper game. Everton said we were way off being ready to play a match…but as it turned out we didn’t have to wait long. And it was all because of Fat Ted and Kate.
Efrain’s mum has got this old pool table and we often go round for a game. Only that day when we arrived Ted and Kate were already playing. They live in the flat next door. Fat Ted is, as you’d expect, fat and he talks a lot with a northern accent. Kate doesn’t say much at all.
"What they doing here?" Ef asked his Mum in the kitchen, sounding right pissed off.
"I saw their mother come home a bit... worse for wear. And so I asked the kids in. They don’t have an easy life with her when she’s…"
"Shit faced," said Ef.
"Don’t use that language, Efrain," said his mother sternly.
"Well she’s always drunk."
"She’s not had it easy since he left her."
"Serves her right living with a cop."
His mother sighed and took a tray of her brownies out of the oven. And we were munching them and talking about Everton, when Ted and Kate came in.
"Who won?" asked Isaac.
"I did," said Kate, without a smile.
"Were you talking about cricket?" asked Ted.
"Yeah," I said.
"Where d’you play?"
"The Oval," said Seven.
"We played for Columbus Conquerors," said Kate in a quiet voice.
"They play up Tottenham..." said Ted.
"Tottenham!" said Seven.
"It’s where we used to live, uh before..." began Kate.
"Kate batted six. I was opener."
"I kept wicket or else I’d field in the slips. You have to be a specialist to field in the slips," said Ted. He was bit up himself.
"What about you get us a game with them… the Conkers," said Seven.
"Conquerors," said Kate.
"Don’t see why not," said Ted.
Ted told us next day that the Conquerers would give us a T20 game. Problem was that it was fixed… for a week on Thursday. A WEEK ON THURSDAY! I was gobsmacked; Seven was over the moon.
First game and we’d still only got ten players, even with Ted and Kate. I wrote down the team in a sort of batting order.
I thought Everton would be pissed off – like he’d feel we were going over his head. But, when we broke it to him at nets, he laughed and said he’d come along and watch and bring the kit too. He’d even try and find us an eleventh player.
After we’d had a decent net practice Everton called me over.
"I take it you’re going captain this lot, Dan."
"Yeah, guess so."
"Then you got some thinking to do."
"Who are your best bowlers? When do you bowl them? Who keeps wicket? Where to place your field? What’s your batting order? And have you got a plan B?"
"What do you do when you’re getting hammered?"
"We ain’t going to get hammered," I said without too much confidence.
"Oh yes you are. If not this time, the next. Or the one after. And it’s your job to stop the heads going down. Understood?"
That was the beginning of the scariest week of my life. I watched a lot of cricket on Cricket World and tried to work out what the captains were doing. I made loads of lists, batting orders, field placings and so on.
But when I arrived at the Columbus Conquerors’ ground on Thursday evening I knew I wasn’t ready for this. Everton was there with a kid in a very grubby, old tracksuit.
"Hello, I’m Grafter," said Grafter.
"Your number 11," said Everton.
"So what's the name of this team?" said Grafter.
I shrugged my shoulders. We hadn’t even got a name.
The name Isaac came up with was The Shandiz - after Shandy Square where he, Hugo and I live. It didn’t sound much like a cricket team but no-one could think of anything better.
It was obvious that Ted – who Seven now calls EffTee, standing for Fat Ted – thought he should be captain instead of me. He started annoying me even before the game began.
“If you win the toss, Dan, definitely bat. Right?” said EffTee.
I ignored him and walked out to the middle with the Conquerors’ captain, a tall kid with glasses named Archie. I called ‘tails’ and lost.
“We’ll bat,” said Archie.
At last the game got underway. Efrain’s first ball for the Shandyz was a fast low full toss. The opener took a wild swing and there was a huge crack. Half the blade of the bat shot through the air straight at Kate, who ducked just in time. The ball took off in the opposite direction and was stopped by Grafter running jerkily round the boundary. His throw was under-arm and it only reached half way but he saved two runs.
“That supposed to happen?” asked Ef.
“These modern bats are rubbish,” said the umpire.
A new bat came out and Ef ran in again. This time it was short and whistled past the batter’s nose. Seven reached for the ball over his head, dropped it, picked up, threw at the stumps and missed by a mile. They went through for an overthrow.
“What was that about?” Efrain asked Seven.
“EffTee should have been backing up.”
“I was,” said Ted. “But not where you threw it!”
It wasn’t the best of starts...but it got worse. Efrain bowled two big wides and the second one went for four. An edge flew through the slips for another boundary.
And then things got better. Last ball of the over and Ef charged in and bowled the perfect yorker, fast and deadly. It flattened the opener’s middle stump. Ef stood in the middle of the pitch bellowing, his hands raised in triumph...his first wicket in a cricket match!
Hugo had the two batters defending but Ef started spraying it around and leaking runs at the other end. I took over from him, got a couple of balls on a length and then I tried a slower one. It looped out – a rank full toss – and was slammed for four. The next was short down the leg side and the batter helped it to the boundary.
It wasn’t till the fourth ball of my second over that I found the perfect spot. It bounced, cut away and the snick flew to Hugo at point. He caught the ball above his head like picking an apple off a tree. They were 27 for two.
Seven was having a hard time behind the stumps against the quicks but when Tana came on with her leg breaks, the fumbles got worse. He let through a couple of byes and then missed an easy stumping and Tana howled something rude at him in Bengali.
Tana’s bowling slowed the scoring, however, and then she got one to turn and stop. The ball looped back off a leading edge for her to take a diving catch. A run-out followed – a direct hit from Hugo at short cover – and they were 48 for four at the halfway.
On came Isaac. He tried to bowl too fast and he went for 16 runs in his first and only over plus four byes through Seven’s legs. I threw the ball to Kate. She was on the spot straightaway…varying her pace and flight.
She floated one just outside off stump and Archie, the captain went for the cut. There was a noise as the ball passed his bat and amazingly Seven caught it cleanly. He tore off his gloves and rushed over to fist bump Kate. “Pound it up,” he screamed. But Kate was looking at the umpire. He hadn’t raised his finger.
“You hit it, mate. Go on. Walk,” said Seven, nose to nose with the batter.
The batter shook his head.
“Cheat,” yelled Seven. “You hit that, you bastard.”
The umpire came down for a word with Seven only to learn that he was ‘blind and deaf and should be looking for another job’. By the time Hugo and I rushed over, Seven had completely lost it.
The game would have ended then and there if it hadn’t been for Everton. After Seven stormed off swearing at everyone, Everton walked on calmly carrying the wicket-keeper’s gloves, pads and a box. After a long talk with the umpires, he handed the kit to me.
"Put them on and get behind the stumps," he said.
"But I’ve never kept before…"
I learned that it wasn’t easy - specially against the spinners. The ball bounced off my pads, went through my legs for byes. Then Tana got one to turn and the ball looped off bat and pad. I dived forward and the ball landed in my glove.
The new batter hammered his first ball straight at Tash in the covers and ran. He was sent back and slipped. Tash under-armed to me. I took a wild swing at the stumps. Missed completely. Luckily I had time to have another go and complete the run out.
75 for six. Not bad but could we could keep up the pressure? My latest problem was losing track of the overs. How many had Hugo got left? Two, it turned out. And Kate? She was bowling great, varying her pace and flight. But the catches were going down. EffTee grounded a hard chance flying high to his left. I missed one off Kate. Isaac’s was a sitter. It lobbed into his hands and lobbed out.
Hugo the bowler screamed in frustration. "That was sodding lamentable".
"Wa’ dat mean?" said Isaac
"Look it up, thicko."
Isaac swore. I sent him to deep square leg, as far away from Hugo as possible.
Kate came to the rescue with a plumb lbw. And then there was another run out which slowed the scoring for a bit.
With four overs left, only Efrain and me had overs left to bowl. I gave the pads to Sabz and tried to concentrate. Their little left-hander was hitting the ball hard and he hammered me to the boundary twice. Ef ripped out the other batter with a fast yorker. I finally got my revenge on the left-hander when he edged behind to Sabz. But he’d already done the damage. They finished 141 for eight.
"Where’s Seven?" I asked Everton.
"Who cares?" he said. "I don’t want to see him again unless he apologises to the umpire."
I put Seven out of my mind and nervously watched our 10-player reply to the Conquerors’ innings. After four overs we seemed to have already kissed goodbye to our chances of victory; we were 4 for three.
To be fair their opening bowlers were sharp, especially Archie, their captain. Tash was bowled off an inside edge. Hugo was, ridiculously, run out by EffTee. And then Tana lobbed one off the shoulder of the bat to point.
Sabz joined Ted and immediately stroked two classy boundaries... a square drive and a pull. EffTee carried on defending.
"All he can do is shout, No," sneered Hugo, who hadn’t forgiven the run out.
"Too fat to run," said Isaac.
At the halfway stage we’d scored just 44. EffTee’s contribution was three runs, Sabir’s 30. Then disaster struck. Sabz was given out lbw. We heard the inside edge onto his pad from the boundary. But not the umpire – his finger went up.
I was in. Helmet, gloves… check thigh pads. Ok let’s go.
"Make sure you run him out," Hugo shouted.
The third ball I received was short. I pulled it for four – sweet...off the middle of the bat.
I went over to Ted. "Nine runs an over," I said. I didn’t think he’d got the message but he edged the next ball over the keeper for four. Then was caught on the boundary swinging at the next.
Kate did her best, pushing the singles to keep me on strike. I laced a couple more boundaries but when Kate fell to a thin outside edge to the keeper it was game over. We were 65 for six with five overs left, and in came Efrain.
"Just get some bat on it and run," I said.
Ef grinned. Swinging away with his baseball shots, he went SIX. FOUR. FOUR, FOUR. I’d never seen anyone hit the ball so hard. Then he ran me out and was clean bowled next ball. And that was it.
We were all out for 91 with Grafter not out out 2. Seven didn’t show up again that evening.
Seven didn’t come to nets for weeks. He told me cricket was a stupid game. And if people were going to cheat it was even stupider.
Everton didn’t say much after the game but he got us all together before the next net practice.
"You want to know what went wrong last Thursday?" he said.
"We lost," said Hugo.
"I don’t give a damn about you losing. But I care about you being bad losers."
"It was Seven’s fault we were down to ten players," said Tash.
"It was Seven’s fault for disrespecting the umpires and behaving like a spoilt brat. And he wasn’t the only one. Believe me I’ll do my best to make sure you don’t play another game until you can all show me you understand the spirit of cricket."
"What’s that? Like a ghostie," said Isaac grinning.
Everton sighed. "I thought you might make a cricket team. But I’ve changed my mind. Good night."
And he left, taking the kit bag with him. We all stood around wondering what to do next.
"He’s right," said Sabz, who normally doesn’t say much.
"Yeah. We ain’t going to win anything unless we’ve got discipline," said Tana.
"But what’s he want us to do? We can’t stop Seven being an idiot," said Efrain.
"I think he’s talking about attitude," said Kate quietly. "And I think Dan should give him a call and say we’re sorry and we’ll do it his way."
It was a long speech for Kate. And I knew she was right. Next day I rang Everton and apologised.
"Water under the bridge," said Everton. "See you next Wednesday."
But next time we went to the Play-on there were only eight of us. Seven was still sulking. Tana didn’t show up because she was having trouble with her family, especially her brothers, who said they didn’t like her playing cricket with boys. And Isaac had been arrested.
The cops had come for Isaac at five in the morning. They’d hammered on the front door then kicked it in before anyone had a chance to get out of bed.
"Get your clothes on was all they said and they shoved me in a police wagon," Isaac told me after he’d been released pending trial. "Then I was banged up in a cell. They didn’t tell me nothing. No breakfast neither. It was hours before I found out what it was about."
Isaac had been arrested for a robbery at a newsagent’s. A young shop assistant had been knifed in the raid and a girl outside the shop had identified Isaac even though both the kids involved were hoodied up.
"Weren’t me bro," said Isaac.
"When’d it happen?" I asked
"You got a solicitor?"
"Yeah but who cares? I’ve got previous for nicking stuff. I’m black. I live on a council estate. The cops ain’t listening to me."
Isaac had given up. For days he hardly spoke. We had a tough job persuading him to come to nets the following Wednesday but he bowled fast and clattered my stumps twice. And he looked a bit more cheerful at the end of the session.
Meanwhile Everton had heard the news of Isaac’s arrest and we told him the rest of what we knew – least me and Tash did. So he took Isaac, Tash and me for a coke after nets.
"I assume you didn’t do it," he said to Isaac, coming straight out with it.
"Too right," said Isaac, shaking his head.
"Then when’s it supposed to have happened… this incident?"
"June 1st," mumbled. Isaac.
"And what time?"
"Evening. About 8."
Everton searched in his phone and then he smiled. "June 1st was a Wednesday."
"8 o’clock, you say?"
"So you’ve got an alibi and a dozen witnesses, dumbo. You were here at cricket nets."
Isaac looked at me with his mouth open and then at Tash. And the biggest, wickedest smile spread across his ugly face. We didn’t know it then but, in a couple of weeks time, it would be Isaac’s turn to come to the rescue of the team.
Everton told us one evening after nets that he could fix up a game for us against the Mile Enders. We’d met most of them 'cos they sometimes use the Play-on net next to us on Wednesday evenings. They’re a young team, mostly Bangladeshis, very competitive. They won the borough league last year.
But before we could play another game we needed Seven back in the side. And also Tana.
The problem with Tana was her brother, Rashid. We all know about Rashid; he’s trouble. He drives about in a swanky Mercedes CLS and he’s an elder of the Livingstone Massive, the gang that runs the Livingstone Estate. Tash said he’d given Tana a hard time about playing with the Shandiz.
"He told her it wasn’t right for a Moslem girl to play cricket with boys, let alone a bunch of no-hopers like you lot," she said.
"Effing nerve," said Isaac.
"True enough though," said Hugo with a grin.
"Tana’s not scared of Rashid but her dad doesn’t like trouble. He’s told her to keep away from the team until things calm down," said Tash.
"So what can we do?" I asked.
"I reckon we could get him to change his mind."
"Well, her mum and dad both love cricket. Specially her mum. We could try and talk to her. Convince her that the picture Rashid has painted is all wrong."
"You mean a sort of delegation?" said Hugo.
"Yeah. Dan and me – ‘cos we both know her family. And perhaps Kate."
"I’ll come too," said Isaac.
"You sure?" said Tash and me together.
"Yeah, trust me. I’ll convince her."
"That’s what worries me," said Hugo.
But we agreed the plan. We wouldn’t tell Tana. The four of us would go and see her mum tomorrow afternoon when, Tash said Tana would be at the gym.
"Tea?" said Mrs Rafiq.
She’d seemed pleased we’d come round. She guided us into her back room and we sat on two big sofas covered with clear plastic. The tea was very sweet, strong, hot and tasted of condensed milk. Isaac nearly choked on his first sip, which made Tash and Mrs Rafiq laugh.
"Lovely tea," he said, which made them laugh again.
The conversation soon came round to cricket. We discovered that Mrs Rafiq was a mine of information about the game. Her eyes sparkled when she talked about Mashrafe Mortaza, her favourite in the Bangladesh national team.
Isaac supports the West Indies. Chris Gayle is his hero. He and Mrs Rafiq were pretty soon talking about the IPL and the T20 Blast. They’re both Middlesex fans and I was amazed how much Isaac knew about players I’d never heard of. Then suddenly he blurted it out.
"You know we’ve come here ‘cos we want Tana to play for us against the Mile Enders."
"Mile Enders!" said Mrs Rafiq. "Two of my nephews play for them. They’re good."
"So are we," said Isaac and Kate in stereo.
Mrs Rafiq smiled. "I believe you, Isaac. And I’ve got no objection whatever about Tana playing with you, And I’m quite sure Mr Rafiq will agree with me."
"What about Rashid then?"
"Ah Rashid," said Mrs Rafiq with a frown. "If only he was a nice polite boy like you."
"What a creep you are," said Tash to Isaac as we left by the outside stairs.
"Creep? It worked didn’t it?" said Isaac.
And he was right. On Wednesday evening Tana showed up at nets with a huge smile on her face. And then about ten minutes later Seven walked in. He said something to Everton, strapped on his keeper’s pads and crouched behind the stumps where Sabir was batting. For a short time he remained silent, concentrating on each delivery. But it didn’t last.
"Rubbish ball, Ef. Pitch it up… Put some shoulder into it, Dan…" Then he caught an outside edge and went on a wild victory circuit of the nets, howling at the top of his voice. Seven was back all right.
Everton fixed the game for a Wednesday evening instead of nets. The Mile Enders play on Victoria Park on the public cricket pitches. There’s a new pavilion now and, as we changed, I was thinking about the toss. I’d sort of decided to bowl because most of the team think we’re better chasing a target.
It was a warm late summer evening, perfect for cricket. The Mile Enders captain, a skinny dude called Asif, chatted non-stop as we walked out to the middle to toss. He knew a lot about cricket.
"Played many games this season?" he asked.
"Not many," I said. I didn’t want to let on we were complete beginners.
"We've only lost one," he said proudly. "Best season ever."
He won the toss and said, "We'll have a bat."
I opened with the seamers: Efraim, fast and slingy at one end, Hugo’s wobbly medium-pace at the other. They began well. Put some pressure on the openers. But Seven put down a sharp nick and EffTee fumbled a run-out chance. After four overs I went for a double change.
Isaac had been bowling well in the nets, so I gave him the end with the breeze behind him and Tana bowled her leg-breaks at the other.
Breakthrough! Isaac’s third ball was a full toss and the opener hit it straight to Kate at mid-off, where she took a good, low catch. Rubbish ball takes the wicket. Asif, their captain came strutting out to the middle and hammered his first delivery square on the off-side for four. You could see right away he was class.
But Tana got some turn and Isaac bowled a mostly tidy spell and, after ten overs, they were 61 for one.
I replaced Isaac. And then, with the last ball of her four-over spell Tana spun one between bat and pad and knocked over the other opener’s middle stump. Asif took a single off my first ball and, with a new batter to bowl at, I fired three down a bit too wide of the off stump. But then I got the in-cutter in the right place and had him plumb lbw. Everyone appealed and the umpire slowly raised his finger.
Kate came on at the other end bowling her quick off-breaks… turning it, too. She spun a couple past Asif’s bat and in frustration he went for the big hit. Up it spiralled over square-leg. And who was under it? Only Grafter.
Grafter saw it only when we all screamed, “Catch it,” at him. He waved his arms about and ran to the left and then to the right and then backwards. I had my head in my hands. I couldn’t bear to watch… but then I did.
The ball dropped out of the sky and hit Grafter hard on his chest. His hands got nowhere near it. It bounced up in front of him and he snatched at it with his right hand and fell forward. Miraculously he held up the ball in his clutched fist. After a moment’s astonished silence, we all rushed over to congratulate him. No-one had ever seen Grafter take a catch before,
They were 96 for four and we had got rid of their best player. Now keep it tight I told myself. I gave Efrain another over – it was a mistake. He was a bit wayward and he’s extra pace resulted in a couple of edged boundaries. 14 came off the over.
But Hugo wobbled away and took two more wickets – an lbw and then came another miracle. The batter edged hard and Seven dived. He took a spectacular catch inches from the ground in front of the vacant slips. Up on his feet immediately he did a lap of honour with his arms spread out like a plane.
Hugo and I finished off the 20 overs. I was swung for four in my last over but got my revenge next ball with a perfect yorker that knocked out the middle pole and the bail hit Seven on the nose. They finished on 131 for seven.
I was pretty pleased with that, and so was Everton.
“The fielding was tight,” he said to me. “And everyone bowled well.”
“Big total though.”
“Getable. Tell your openers not to go mad from the off. Just get a feel for the wicket first.”
I stuck with EffTee and Tash as our opening pair. Their bowler measured out a very long run up and bounded in with perfect rhythm. He was a left-armer and, as his first ball scourched past the edge of Tash’s bat, And I knew we were in for a battle.
Tash got off the mark with an edged two. She wasn’t comfortable against the extra pace. A short ball smacked her on the shoulder and then she survived a huge shout for lbw.
At the other end EffTee got his nose down with his exaggerated forward defensive. But he couldn’t handle the pace either. In the quickie’s second over he lost his leg stump – the bat came down but the ball had screamed through and done the damage.
Sabz was in and a helluva lot depended on him. He and Hugo both see the ball early and have time to play fast bowling. He watched two balls whizz by outside off stump and cracked the third square to the point boundary.
“Take that,” bellowed Seven, holding up one of those cards with ‘four’ on it that they hand out to kids at cricket grounds.
The two opening bowlers both came off after two overs apiece and Asif turned to spin. Spin is what Bangladeshi teams excel at and these two were good – a leggie and an off spinner. Sabz swept hard. Tash tried to do the same and top edged to square leg for a simple catch. Hugo survived one shout for lbw and fell to the next. And I walked out on 25 for three.
“I’ll keep turning over the strike,” I said to Sabz. I got a single off my first ball. Sabz drove the next sweetly to the boundary.
Get the feel of the wicket, Everton had said. This one was turning sharply. I got forward to the leggie and angled the ball on the off side with the spin for another single, Sabz and I went along like that for a couple of overs – him knocking the twos and boundaries and me taking the ones. And then Sabz got one that spat and turned and he gloved it to the keeper. 42 for four.
Immediaely Asif brought back the opening fast bowler for Tana. Another couple of wickets and we’ll be through them, he must have reckoned. She played and missed a couple of times but she got into line and refused to be intimidated by the pace. He was quick though – one flew past my ear and I heard it but I swear I never saw it after it pitched. At the halfway stage we were 58 for four. Surviving, but well off the pace.
And then I screwed up. I pushed a single.
“Yes… No,” Changed my mind when I saw the fielder pouncing. Tana turned to regain her ground, slipped and the throw beat her despairing dive. I didn’t look at her as she walked off.
With the run rate now seven and a half an over, we had to up the tempo somehow without losing any more wickets.
“Get your eye in,” I told Kate. “And run everything.”
She smiled. “Like Tana?” she said.
I didn’t answer. And with a bit of anger I hooked a short ball to the square-leg boundary and then dispatched a full toss on the off-side for another four. That felt better. Kate was batting calmly, pushing the singles. It was up to me to give the run rate the hurry up without overdoing the risks. I got lucky with a top-edge over the keeper. The next delivery was the slower ball and I didn’t pick it till too late and drove in the air straight back to the bowler. Crap.
79 for six said the scoreboard as I walked off. And to make things worse there was Seven lurching out towards me on his way to the wicket.
“Leave it to me, Dan mate,” he said. “No trouble.”
Before I’d got my pads off Seven had gone… missed, four, missed, six. The six came smack off the middle and soared back over the bowler’s head way over the rope. Seven kissed his bat and grinned at the bowler.
Talk to him Kate, I said under my breath, but I knew in my heart that Seven can’t be talked to. Another boundary came off a thick edge and next ball Seven almost swung himself off his feet and his middle stump bit the dust.
With just Ef, Isaac and Grafter left we were in big trouble. Seven’s innings had given us a bit of momentum though. We needed 37 off six overs, and Kate approached the target sensibly running quick twos and singles with the field set back. Ef’s not the worst batter but he’s got a lot of baseball shots in him. A lobbed pull earned him two runs as it fell safely between two fielders.
The tension was getting unbearable. Hardly a word was spoken on the boundary. Even Seven was silent. Isaac was sweating like a pig waiting to go in. He didn’t have too long to wait. Ef top-edged another skier and this time the boundary fielder took a good running catch.
We groaned. With the score 110 for eight Isaac rose from his seat and walked out to bat looking like a rabbit that had met a Rottweiler. We needed 22 more runs and a miracle.
Now it is over to you. Simply guess what you think will happen next and whoever gets it right, or is closest, will win a copy of First XI - Bob's recent compilation of 11 cricket-inspired stories. Usual Cricket World competition terms and conditions apply.
Come back next week to see if your guess was close and to read the next instalment. Good luck!