Speaking as someone blessed with all the athletic prowess of a Galapagos tortoise, it has been fascinating to watch my son Alex’s progress as a cricketer. From that first occasion 3 years ago, Alex (now 12) plays regularly for the club’s junior teams. When he isn’t playing, he is in the nets. Even in winter.
Cricket doesn’t stop in winter. No sirree! As I now know, there are indoor nets throughout the off-season and skills workshops and so on. My wife Claire works in London so most of the taxi duties inevitably fall to me as a homeworker.
After a while you get to know the other mums and dads (actually it’s usually dads) and the coaches. Usually I sit in the gym’s café with a coffee and a paper, half-aware of the whack of bat on ball or the shrieks of “owzat” from the boys in general or “OOOOOWWWWWZZZZZAAAAAATTTTTT” from Alex. He’s always been a vocal cricketer!
So, last November, at the end of nets, Chris the head coach stopped me. “The club’s putting together a dads and lads team next summer – would you be interested?” he asked.
I was caught off guard. “Er yes” I said “except for two little snags. Firstly, I haven’t played any cricket in 36 years….”
Chris interrupted. “Don’t worry. It’ll all come back to you. It’s like riding a bike”
“And secondly” I continued “I have Parkinson’s”.
There was a pause. Chris looked me in the eye. “We guessed” he said quietly.
So we talked for a while. He made no promises, raised no false hopes. He was direct and honest. But if I was interested, I could give it a go at the ‘Dads nets’ in April.
Somehow, in my excitement, I had forgotten to mention the third snag – that I was rubbish at cricket anyway! Even before the PD………Oops!
April came much too quickly. At the nets were a dads’ army of cricketers in every shape and size. Despite this spectacular physiological variety, they all had one thing in common – they were much better at cricket than me! While they played cover drives of balletic beauty, I swiped and slashed at every ball like a hippo on roller skates. Over several weeks, my technical deficiencies as a batsman were ruthlessly exposed. I faced inswingers, outswingers, cutters, bouncers, yorkers and googlies, mostly accompanied by the sound of my stumps being clattered.
‘Dads nets’ finished in May. I was bruised and battered but at least I still had the same number of teeth and testicles as in April. More than anything, I was happy I had ‘given it a go’. At the end of the last session Chris gathered us together and thanked us all for our efforts. I zipped up my kit bag and headed to the showers. It had been fun.
Alex was waiting outside leaning against a soft drinks machine.
“Where’s Heathfield?” he asked.
“In Sussex” I replied “Why?”
“Because we are playing them on Saturday” he said “and Dad, you’re batting at 7”.
I had to sit down.
And so the season began. For the first time in 36 years, I stood at the crease asking for “middle and leg” before clipping a tidy single to fine leg. Off the mark. Off the bl**dy mark!
With my shakes, I cut a strange figure in the field, as I stand trembling, shuffling from one foot to the other. But that’s the thing with PD. The tremors vanish when you move. A quivering jelly can sometimes execute a spectacular diving catch – as I did in one game to the amazement of my team mates. And myself.
PD affects cricket in some strange ways. Some things are easy, others impossible. I cannot easily grip or release a cricket ball. So bowling is out of the question and my throwing is feeble. I tire easily so I need to field in close rather than chase the ball to the boundary.
The skipper understands – so I field at slip, gully or point. Sometimes the ball flies fast to me. But that’s fine – reactions are often the last thing to go in PD, so my close catching is OK.
Batting is better against fast bowlers where it is mainly a case of quick reactions. I hate spinners – too long to think and make the wrong decision!
The team plays in the East Sussex Village League Division 12 (there are only 12 divisions before you ask). There are 10 teams in our division and, we finished tenth, having won a scant 3 of 18 games. My own haul for the season has been a mere 47 runs at an average of 4.7 and one catch. Not exactly Kevin Pietersen! When you count the cost of equipment and match fees, I calculate that each of my runs has cost about a fiver! But I have loved every minute of it.
Best moment of the season? Shuffling past Alex’s bedroom as my wife was saying goodnight to him after the Heathfield game “I’m so proud of Dad” he whispered.
Put a price on that!