The bank clerk who went to war

The bank clerk who went to war

Cricket is endlessly rewarding in its capacity to give a range of personas the chance to reveal themselves at unlikely and improbable times, writes Peter Newlinds

At some point down the track the Australian players involved in the second Headingley cricket miracle – the first was inspired by an all-rounder called Ian Botham in 1981 – might be able to see the funny side of this game. Funny in the sense that things can happen in cricket that are so improbable, even ludicrous, they simply make you smile. The game, and whatever greater force controls it, simply hands out moments of high drama and human fallibility in regular if not equal measure. It can seem unfair. That might be the best, and indeed the only, way to look at the tortuous drama that unfolded on that sweltering Sunday afternoon in Leeds.

The fallibility of individuals?

 A lot is being made of the fallibility of individuals. The wasted Australian referral, Lyon’s muffed run out, the almost inevitable scenario of a poor umpiring decision costing one team or another the game. That’s the perspective of the losing team that came second by a factor of millimetres.
 
 The other side of the story involves the superhero-like performance of Ben Stokes (more than one image on social media this morning transposed a superman cape over his cricketing persona). His batting was almost supernatural in terms of patience, courage, temperament, ferocity and audacity of stroke-making. An outrageous masterpiece of an innings.

Cricket is endlessly rewarding in its capacity to give a range of personas the chance to reveal themselves at unlikely and improbable times. Surely the essence of any great drama.

The superheroes alter ego

As always in cricket there are the absurdities. Stoke’s partner in the final act of the high drama at Headingley was a player who, in the great traditions of super heroes, could have been his alter ego. The bespectacled Jack Leach is the left-handed embodiment of understatement. When he strode to the middle with England at 9/286 and still 73 short of the victory target Leach reminded me of one of cricket’s most evocative characterisations. In the 1975 Wisden cricketer’s almanac David Steele, the grey-haired (and also bespectacled) batsman recruited by England to combat Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson was described as ‘the bank clerk who went to war’. I love that line. Cricket is endlessly rewarding in its capacity to give a range of personas the chance to reveal themselves at unlikely and improbable times. Surely the essence of any great drama.

Greats of the game searched for the right superlatives about the day in Leeds. The ‘best innings I’ve ever seen,’ said Ricky Ponting, and there seemed nowhere else to go on the hyperbole register. Others were simply lost for words altogether. The febrile atmosphere inside Headingley, which had seethed and surged from the moment the players walked onto field at 11.00, perhaps spoke louder than anything. Beer cans rained in the air during the explosion of emotion that followed Ben Stokes’ backfoot-shot through the offside which produced the winning runs. Just like the sound of Leeds United scoring the winner in the last minute of the Wembley final.

Civilised madness

A day of cricket like this one is something way beyond the dry figures of computer analysis and statistics. It’s a form of civilised madness in which there has to be a winner and a loser. But that’s not entirely true. As the game got closer to its conclusion there was the very real prospect of a tie. It would have been only the third in the history of Test Cricket. Maybe that would have been more fitting and given the players something to really smile about down the years. But the greater cricket forces had something different in mind.

The series is level at 1-1 with two tests to play. There’s a break this weekend and a tour match in Derbyshire for Australia to sort through its selection dilemmas. Then it’s off to the other side of the Pennines and the fourth test at Old Trafford. If you don’t understand and appreciate cricket you have my sympathy. Manchester United eat your heart out…

Peter Newlinds – author of Around the Grounds

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