I saw white. I’m supposed to see stars. Not me! Not now! White light, sound and impact merged into a wall of noise and pain. I didn’t feel myself fall. No, I feel myself float. I saw myself glide to safety. And there in the calm and silence I slept.
I then woke up and I slowly look around. I’m sitting on a bench. Behind me are lockers. Sporting equipment is scattered all around. I’m dressed in white. So are the others around me.
I slowly start to make sense of it all. My mind is foggy. The world is grey-white. I know these people. Now I understand. I’m in a dressing room. I’m in heaven with my cricket mates. What?
But none of them could be angels. I’m sure of that.
I look down. Attached to both legs are bulky cricket pads. A bat is leaning across my knees. Cricket gloves inhabit the bench next to me. Why are we expected to play cricket in heaven? Are we in hell? I must have said it aloud as I hear the reply, “That’s where opening batsmen go to.” Another adds “…that’s where they are now!” Grim laughter. We have a match to win.
And then began the interminable waiting. I wish for something to happen to break the monotony. Then I hope the monotony returns so maybe I’m not needed. One thought and then another only make me more and more nervous. In the meantime, I listen to the other conversations. I hear the radio with the commentary. Perhaps it’s my teammates talking about the game. As for me, I prefer to suffer in silence. I finally decide that it would be easier being out there batting. And just when I relax, it happened.
A moment of quiet. The game stops for a millisecond. A shout from the middle of the field. Yeah-that! I know what that means. Everyone goes quiet. The commentary stops. My teammates stop what they were doing. And look at me.
“You’re next,” the captain said to me. I check that I’m ready. I’ve got my pads on. I have my bat nearby. I reached down for my gloves. I stretch down and reach out for them. Found them. Then I put them on. I had to push one finger through at a time. Am I nervous? Not at all. I’m too worried. I’ve never been this slow before. I almost forget my helmet and tuck it under my arm.
Even more slowly. I open the door. The heat slams into me. I stop and almost step back. I duck my head as I slowly walk my way down the steps. I don’t look to my left or my right. I steal through the gate and out to the wicket. There’s no crowd or perhaps a silent one. I start to worry. If I take too long, they’ll send me back. Which would be terribly embarrassing. But they wait for me. Very patient they were. Or maybe it was time standing still in crisis. I somehow fumble and put my helmet on. My head is now in a hot plastic cell with a steel grille for a door.
I reach the crease. I look at the wicket. It’s a white grass carpet with too many flecks of green. I stand still. I lean down and tap my bat. I look up and ask the umpire for centre. He just nods at me. I scratch out my mark with my foot. Then I place my bat there. I look around me. I only see one fielder. He’s on my right halfway down the wicket. I look to my left over my shoulder. A helmeted fielder is crouched close. I turn my head further to my left. In the distance is another white suited fielder. I know where the rest are. So I wait. And wait. And wait.
I could hear the commentary in my head. “One down for eighteen. The new batsman has just arrived. He’s taken strike. He looks a little nervous to me this morning, don’t you think? Let’s see how he shapes up to the first delivery.”
Nervous? I know so. I look beyond the umpire. In the distance is the bowler. He seems to be pawing the ground like a bull ready to charge. He starts his run towards me.
I hear the scrape of his right toe on the ground. I hear the whoosh of his arm. The clump of the ball hitting the pitch. The fizz as it instantly appears near me. Lead-footed and lead-armed, I pull my bat away. I feel like I’m walking through molasses. Except I don’t see it at all.
“Swift ball first up. He steps back and across. He shoulders arms and lets it go. Lovely judgement there.”
And the next ball. I feel like I’m stumbling and falling in slow motion. And no-one knows but me. And more nervous. One false move and I’ll be gone.
I hear the ball after that. I know that it’s closer. I just see its outline in time. I move my foot towards it in slow motion. The bat even more slowly follows. I hear the hollow clunk as ball hits bat. A thud and the ball rolls forward a little. My arms jar slightly at the impact. My hands start to sweat. Whether it’s from the heat or fear I cannot tell.
“He jams down the bat. He’s just managed to get hold of that one. This boy’s a few yards quicker than last match. He’s really worked up a lot of pace. He’s really putting the batsman under pressure.”
I am a thin man in a fat suit. I’m not playing cricket. I’m waving a match stick at bullets. I think that if I don’t get through this game, it will be my last. And that really scares me. But it also comforts me somehow. I get to finally find out after all the uncertainty. And then slowly ever so slowly the game gets better.
I can see the ball now. It’s still dull. It’s vaguely shaped. But I know better where it is. I still feel that I inhabit another body. A body borrowed from another sportsman who vaguely remembers the game.
“And he’s just starting to get his eye in now. The new boy is showing some more confidence after a pretty torrid spell here.”
And then the commentary stops. There are no more balls to be bowled. I have to know what’s going on. I try to speak and ask, “Have we declared? Has the skipper called us back in and closed the innings?”
Somewhere in the distance, I hear the commentary resume. I hear another voice, “He’ll find it a comfort in his condition.” At that moment, I assume it’s my mind saying that. But why are there footsteps nearby? They fade away.
The game continues. I even smile a little in between balls. I hear a shout and my heart sinks. The fatal rattle of the stumps falling. It’s over. I look up and my batting partner is out. He looks up at me. I just look back as he turns and ashamedly leaves the ground.
The new batsman arrives. He’s sprinted onto the ground. But then he’s out. He looks like he has played and missed, but then there’s a shout. I turn and look at the umpire. He’s raising his arm and one finger is outstretched. Out. Another one. How many is that?
And then it’s a procession. One in, another out. And I’m standing there as my team falls away in front of me. Yet I still keep going. I’m still there. Until they turn their attention to me. They call back the swift fast bowler.
The game becomes a blur. He’s quicker than I remember earlier. I have to force myself to relax to keep playing. I start playing and missing. I get more and more nervous. I’m hounded by the recurring thought, if I go, we all go. I stop and catch my breath. I become more insistent on calming myself.
And then it happens. I see the ball leave his hand. I see it hit the wicket. I see it fly towards me like a whiplash. I move back and then pivot. I start to play the shot. The ball hits the bat. I’m hit by an uppercut. I see white.
I lie there on the ground. I resolve to myself that I will never ever play cricket again. It’s all too difficult. And then a voice interrupts. “We’re yet to find out if he will continue. He’s taken a pretty nasty knock there, but he’s come back before. Let’s see if he does this time.”
I decide that I would like to find out too. I lean forward and grasp my knees. I pull myself to my feet. I wander around a little. I stretch my arms and kick out my stiff legs. I feel some warmth return.
I start again. Now I have nothing to lose. Now it doesn’t matter if I get hit. If I’m hit I’m hurt. Now it doesn’t matter if I get out. That’s enough to ensure I relax. I see the ball clearly now. I even can pick out the scuffs and cuts on it. I hear the ball coming towards me. I hear the sound of the bat. I hear silence as I hit the ball. Silence now means perfect timing.
At last, after so many years of waiting, I’m having fun. I’ve discovered that this is a game that can actually be enjoyed. I wish for it to last forever.
The afternoon sun stretches into twilight. Finally, the night comes down: the umpires are asked to adjudicate on the light. They accede and I trudge off.
“Welcome back to the second day’s play. It’s a beautiful day for watching cricket.”
I slowly feel I’m not a wooden marionette anymore. I hear the ball tossed to me. I bend forward and just catch it.
“Looks like they’re giving the all-rounder a trundle.” I didn’t know I was an all-rounder! I’m just a batter who bowls or a bowler who bats a little.
I take my few steps back. I hold the ball in my hand. It’s not a cricket ball. It’s a red grapefruit ripe and ready to fall out of my hand. I grip it tightly enough so it doesn’t slip and loosely enough so it might spin. It still feels more difficult today. But I slowly spin it, toss it in the air and catch it even more slowly. Why is everything taking so long?
But now I feel the spongy grass under my feet. My feet scuff as I start my run up. I hear the slow swish of my arm. Then the slow bubbling fizz of the ball as it spins towards the batsman. Then the almost silent thud as it hits the pitch. Then the drawn out whoosh as it flies a little higher and quicker than expected. A soft click of wood against leather. The extra-long silence as the ball flies high, higher than even the fielder expects. The endless silence of fingers stretching and falling short. The softest thump as the ball hits the ground. I walk back to bowl again.
“Well, he’s got that to bounce and spin more than the batsman expected. Too bad the fielder grassed it. Remember catches win matches and a dropped one is an extra batsman.”
Ugh! I don’t need to re-read the coaching manual. In the meantime, I am slowly turning from a human scarecrow into a bowler. But the pains and aches are so real. The exhaustion starts to set in. I start to flag a little. But then I know from past experience if I push through, it will become easier. And so it does.
And then I hear the shout. All go up as one including me. Howzat! We turn and look at the umpire. Well? I say to myself. There’s an eternal pause. Up goes the arm and he raises his finger. Out!
“And he’s given him. Took a while for the umpire to make up his mind. Smart bowling that.”
And then it all stops. I open my mouth to protest and say, “Skip, I was just getting into it. I’d got my length and line right. I even got the top spinner to work (which was unusual).”
Then I hear the commentators start to wrap up their description of the game. Then from a distance I hear other voices. They grow louder. “We decided to leave the radio for you. We thought it would help you get better.”
I wake up. I’m in a room. I’m wearing white. I’m not in heaven. I’m in a bed in a hospital. I slowly recollect what happened. But all I remember is the near-fatal blow. I open my eyes and say, “Long match that was. But I got there in the end.”