Bringing home the silverware…

team photo, Innellan Cricket Club, Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh CC

We had a great night last night at Inellan Cricket Club’s annual dinner. Previously these things have been all male affairs, a bit like stag nights, but this year we made an effort to make it a family affair.

I am not really what you might describe as ‘clubbable’. I am not always at ease in social groups and tend to find my place at the edge of things when I can, looking in. In the scheme of things, a cricket club seems a slight thing- we are hardly saving the world. We are hardly contributing to the great cultural life of the nation. However, I would like to suggest to you that in these times when our culture has splintered and broken down into indvidualised consumer components, there is a deep value in clubs like ours. They are part of the glue that is helping us cling together.

The club is going through one of those transitional phases, when a lot of the long standing players, who carry the memories and the traditions of the club, are one by one slowing down, nursing broken bodies and choosing to hang up their bowling boots. Some of them are turning to that most dreadful of sports, the graveyard of leisure pursuits; golf….

Last night, as he has done for decades, the MC and heart of the evening was Gordon McKissock, president and sartorial example to us all as he took centre stage. But this was for the last time, as Gordon is stepping down as president and player. He will be very much missed, and I am secretly hoping he might yet change his mind.

Quite simply though, the club needs new players more than ever. In the new year I think it is time for an advertising campaign…

But last night was all about celebrating the history and traditions of the club, which was formed some time back in 1985. It has been a place full of characters, and the stories told of their exploits are rich and long. Some of this history has been gathered into the prizes awarded each year- the Duck Cup, supposedly for the player with the most ducks in the year, but often awarded fairly randomly. The Wayne Pursely trophy for the best fielding- in memory of a young former player who died. Then there is the Tim Weal trophy, in memory of a true bearded original, known for umpiring on a chair with a beer hat in place. This trophy is awarded to someone who has done something really stupid, on or off the field of play. There are usually many candidates.

This morning our mantelpiece has a few more objects. Matt was rightly awarded the fielding trophy for some outstanding catches and run outs.

Will got the best batting average this year- which amazed us all, but was reflective of consistency with the bat all year. He has now done the double as he won the bowling trophy last year.

The only trophy I have ever won previously was the ‘most improved player’ (won this year by young James.) My name is on this trophy underneath my son Wills, who had won it the year previously. It seems I am forever destined to be out shone by him as this year I won the bowling trophy, and my name is underneath Will’s again. Next year the batting trophy for me I assume!

However,  I did beat him to one other trophy- this year, perhaps by some fluke, and perhaps reflective of the rather low standards we set this year, I was awarded the player of the year cup, for a combination of batting, fielding and bowling. It is all downhill from here folks… for me anyway. Will and Matt, that is another thing all together.

Here is Will when he won his first ever trophy;

William, cricket cup

Fatherhood; compassion and competition…

cricket bat, wallace monument

I played a cricket match yesterday- nothing unusual about that, I play a couple of matches most weeks at the moment. It keeps my aching bones lubricated and more importantly, allows me to spend some time playing sport with my son Will. I am acutely aware that there is a narrow window in which we will be able to do this as he is getting better and better, whereas my already limited abilities are being further eroded.

Until very recently, Will has been the rising star in most of the games he plays. Old men purr at his potential when they see a forward defensive stroke to a fast bowler, or in particular when this diminutive lad runs in and rips a leg spinner past a startled batsman. But despite his potential, until recently I usually did slightly better in the runs and wickets tally. This is changing however.

A case in point was yesterday. I went out to bat at number three and was run out without facing a ball (not my fault this time though- suicidal call from the club president!) I was not asked to bowl either, mostly because Will set about demolishing the opposition, who just scraped over the line to beat us after he had claimed 5 wickets for 49 off 13 overs. Half the balls he bowled beat the batsman who had no clue which way it was spinning.

Whether or not you understand what on earth I am talking about I am sure you get something of the way that this impacts on the relationship between father and son. Sport, as it often does, becomes a litmus paper for real life- it is hyper (un)reality in a world where everything else seems so darned complicated. It is also a way men and boys can express emotion which culture otherwise renders taboo. We are a family who try to transcend this taboo but still we are affected by it.

So, out on the field, between us there has been;

The Father who pushes, cajoles, encourages, who is a safe team member. The father who can hear all the lack of confidence, the upsets, the unjust umpiring stories etc…

The Father who is a role model, and against whom one measures performance. The Father who has to be defeated, overcome, surpassed…

The Father who is an embarrassment because he does awkward things, or because he shouts stuff that should be left unsaid, or because he is just there…

The Father who fades into the past, who watches from the outfield, from the pavilion, from the distance.

It is the natural order of things. It is as it should be. We have a journey yet to make, Will and I- but it will be no longer as immediate, no longer so dependent.

At least not today, tomorrow may well be different. That is the other thing about Fatherhood, it seems to change all the time. At one point we are on the verge of being adult companions, then we are back to adolescent discipline routines. One day I watch a carefully compiled innings, rich in ground strokes, then (as yesterday) I watch him run impetuously past a spinning ball to be stumped.

I think I have now flogged enough from this analogy, for today we play again- me with my sore ankle, dodgy back and strained thigh muscle. I will forget it all though in the curve of the ball and the joy of fatherhood.

Castle Toward community buy out hopes…

I am this years captain of our local cricket team- Innellan Cricket Club. Here we are in front of Toward Castle, which is the rather splendid location of our home ground;

team photo, Innellan Cricket Club, Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh CC

 

There has been a lot of uncertainty about whether we will be able to continue to play at Castle Toward, as it has been up for sale for some time. In one of those typical stories, the Castle was gifted to the local council for use for the recreation of local people. It operated as an outdoor centre for a while, until maintenance costs meant that it was placed on the open market. It was almost bought by a holiday company who planned to turn it into a spa hotel, but this fell apart along with all sorts of allegations of dodgy dealings.

Step forward some brave locals who have worked incredibly hard to put together a bid for a community buy out of the estate, under Scottish ‘right to buy’ legislation- the same law that has enabled island communities like those on Coll and Gigha to bring their islands in to collective ownership.

There is a website telling the story of the bid here.

It is fair to say that local opinion is divided as to the viability of this bid- at least in part because of the huge sums of money needed to run the estate at stand still. Figures of £100K per annum have been mentioned just to maintain the security of the site.

There are always skeptics when plans like this are drawn up. For my part, I am a believer. Stately homes like this one are symbols of power, elitism and inequality. If they can be brought back to use and ownership be locals then this seems to me to be something rather wonderful.

And if we get to continue playing cricket there, all the better!

There was some coverage on BBC Alba recently. Non Gaelic speakers will just have to look at the pretty pictures;

Brett Lee V. Piers Morgan…

A wee late Christmas present to myself this…

There is a cricket series going on down in Australia at the moment between England and Australia. These two sides have history, and encounters between them are always to be savoured. In my case this means ridiculously late nights, although at present England are being hammered into the ground.

William and I (who both play as much cricket as weather and family allow) often discuss what it must be like to face up to one of the fast bowlers, tearing in and trying (literally) to knock your head off. Anyone who thinks of cricket as a sedate gentlemanly sport should think again- even at club cricket level there are many bowlers far too fast for me and I have the bruises to prove it.

Fast bowling is about intimidation. Facing up to someone who has the ability to put the ball either at your feet or bouncing into your ribs at real pace is a test for anyone. Good batsmen always seem to have much more time- no idea where they get it from of course, as the ball will take about half a second to get to you from leaving the bowlers hand.

Abrasive motor-gob Piers Morgan, fresh from his spell as a news anchor on CNN (taking on the American gun lobby) fancies himself as something of a batsman. In fact, he has been slanging off the ‘pathetic’ England team for their apparent cowardice in the face of the Aussie quicks, suggesting that they should just ‘grow a pair’. He reckoned that he could manage just fine, so challenged the very quick former Australian fast bowler Brett Lee to send down a few at him.

Here he was on twitter beforehand;

I’ve only got a few teeth to lose, you’ve got a whole reputation that’s going to be shattered.

It did not go well;

He tweeted: “Full injury list post @BrettLee_58 showdown – cracked wrist, bruised rib, and massive egg on back of head from…the throw-down guy.”

He added: “For the record, I didn’t actually see a single one of @BrettLee_58 ‘s deliveries. But I felt 4 of them crashing into my flesh.”

Lee replied: “@piersmorgan that’s what happens when you talk it up.”

On reflection, perhaps I will leave facing fast bowling to my son.

The season draws to an end…

william, cricket

William is back at school today- the summer holidays are over up here in Scotland.

A bit of a shock really- but it has been such an amazing summer here, full of hot long sunny days. We have not had a family holiday this year as everyone has been so busy with other things, and money is rather tight, but what I will remember this year as ‘the year of cricket’. All this sunshine has given opportunities to be out playing the beautiful game like never before up here in Scotland- in fact (much to Emily’s disgust) it has almost taken over our lives for the past couple of months…

Last week was a case in point. William played games of cricket on Friday, Sunday, Monday (one in Ayr, one in Stirling,) Tuesday (Ayr again) and has another match this evening in Galsgow. The Ayr matches were for the under 15’s regional side, in which he got wickets against very high quality opposition.

The years, they all too soon turn sepia…

Innellan CC v. Carradale CC, a few pics

A fantastic day playing away in Carradale. The sun shone, even if the cricketting skills did not. We were undone by a poor pitch and some poor shot selection…

William finished 20 not out, and outscored his father yet again!

A weekend of Cricket…

Skippers Robin and Mark exchange the Ashes

Apologies- I know that many of you have no interest in cricket, but this is my blog after all, so here we go again! 

I am rather stiff and sore after playing two games of cricket this weekend- a great rarity in our climate. Yesterdays game in particular was played in glorious sunshine and we are all a little sunburnt.

One of the great pleasures of my middle age is to play cricket in the same team as my son William, who (aged 12) is already better than me as a bowler– we both bowl wrist spin but his has far more fizz and venom, and he can turn the ball both ways with no appreciable change of action. I have the edge in the batting, but not for much longer I am sure- this is mostly about power, not technique.

Only a father who loves cricket will know how much pleasure this gives- I am sure this is true in any sport, but cricket has a kind of sepia timelessness that makes the embrace of the new generation all the more beautiful. Promising kids are cherished by everyone on all sides and old men playing into their twilight years seem to lose twenty years as they smile at a youthful shot well played through the covers – even against their own bowling.

This weekend contained two very different kind of games (both of which we lost!) The first one, played in Greenock on Saturday, was a 2nd XI league match against Prestwick. They rattled up a formidable total after a series of nearly-outs gave them a head start. William and I bowled late- he got a good wicket, but I at least kept things tidy and slowed down their scoring. I batted down at number 8, and when I came in victory was already a forlorn hope. However, I whacked a few and finished with 37 not out, a score well bettered  by young Harry Briggs (aged 14) who made a lovely 57 (there is a match report and scorecard here.) There was an intensity to this cricket- there were few jokes, lots of shouts and loud groans, and damage was done in the dressing room when wickets fell cheaply.

The other game was rather different. We traveled to Edinburgh to play a Royal Botanical Gardens CC, a long time fixture,with Innellan Cricket Club, played for our own cup. Botanics often contain some tasty players as they gather strong fit blokes from Australia as well as home grown talent. However, the emphasis on the game is far more relaxed – the aim is to play friendly cricket in the best kind of way. Winning is important, but not the most important thing- this is that thing called ‘the spirit of the game’; playing well, giving everyone a chance, being honest and fair, having a laugh with friend and foe alike. In fact, the cruelest humour is always reserved for members of our own teams.

Will bowled beautifully again and got a wicket with a perfect curling arc of a ball that defeated a decent batsman in flight and turn. He had every batsman groping and hopping about- much to the delight of their colleagues. I managed a wicket too- a nice one that pinned the batsman plumb in front for an LBW (which I appealed for rather too forcibly, against the gentle friendly tone of the game.) RBG made a healthy 169 at the close, aided by a blistering knock from their tame Aussie.

In a really nice touch our captain let Will and I open the batting- and we spent a few overs teasing each other for each bad shot and enjoying the good ones, until William got a bit too ambitious and hit a shot over the bowlers head to be caught in the deep.  All the clean hitting freedom I had found the day before seemed to have deserted me, but I scratched and edged my way to 25, the point at which we had agreed to retire so everyone had a chance to bat.  I also took one for the team right in the box which brought tears to my eyes from the pain of it and to my team mates eyes for its comedic effect.

Our wickets fell regularly so I came back at the end to accompany our skipper. By then I had a migraine, with all the usual vision problems   (perhaps related to the blow in the testes) so it was a miracle that I hit anything at all, managing only a few runs before timing a drive straight at a fielder and setting off on a suicidal run as I could not see where it had gone. This left the skipper high and dry, but in a typical piece of good sportsmanship the RGB captain invited him to bat on with a runner, as we had only 8 players and this seemed to him to be fair.

Then began one of those pieces of sport that always live in your mind- Robin, our captain, started to open his shoulders, hitting sixes and fours to every side of the ground. Because I was still padded up I acted as runner and almost contrived another run out, having to dive in to make my ground. It was one of the those elbow-skinning, should-know-better, middle-aged dives which has limited forward motion and is more like a rotten tree falling in a wet forest. I was in by about an inch.

We fell just short after 40 overs- 6 runs short in fact – after RGB realised their peril and upped their bowling game in the last over. The game was lost, and no worse for that.

Men in a field, a bat, a ball and lots of laughter. You may laugh at my foolishness, you might justifiably scoff at such a waste of our precious time on earth. What captives were liberated? How many souls saved? How was the cause of humanity served?

All I can say is that you were not there.

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