Sometimes You Nod in Appreciation and Just Walk Off

A cricket player in whites holding a new cricket ball in his hand at his right hip

I played cricket for Civil Service NI Cricket Club for a few decades. I wasn’t working in the civil service, but the club was open and the closest to my house in Dundonald, so I joined. I had tried another club slightly further away in East Belfast, but I didn’t like the atmosphere. A story for another time!

I had a great time playing for Service and have fond memories of the time and the people over those decades. Both of my teammates and opponents. Including one memory of being completely stitched up by a fast bowler in a game Service played against Shorts Cricket Club. That’s Shorts sports club associated with the famous aircraft manufacturing firm in East Belfast (not the club I alluded to above).

We were playing Shorts at their Inverary Avenue sports grounds near Belfast City Airport. Like many sports club grounds, this was used for cricket in the summer and football in the winter. The Inverary Avenue cricket wickets at the time had a reputation for being unpredictable when it came to bounce. Balls jumping from a good length or keeping low was common. Generally, they were pitches where it was better to be a bowler than a batsman.

As you probably know, in cricket everyone has to bat. Even the bowlers. I was a bowler who batted well down the order for all of my cricketing career. Not far enough down the order, I’m sure plenty of people I played with thought! If I had to bat, then things were not going well for the team.

On this particular day at Inverary Avenue, I didn’t get to bat for long on the exciting wicket the ground staff had prepared. From memory, I lasted three deliveries from a reasonably quick bowler on the Shorts team.

The first ball I don’t recall. The second I most certainly do. It was a genuine bouncer, not just an erratic bounce from the pitch. This was a time before helmets were compulsory at all levels in the game, and I wasn’t wearing any head protection.

I took guard (middle stump as always) and waited for the delivery. It was pitched short, bounced true, and followed a path towards my head. Rather than duck under it as would be the recommended course of action, I stood up tall and tried to lean backwards to let the ball pass in front of me. But it swung, as cricket balls will, and was still coming towards my head as I swerved backwards and stood on my toes at full height. I still recall the whistle from the spinning ball and the seam as it passed just under my chin. There was a breeze as it passed. Thankfully it didn’t hit me.

There was clapping and encouragement from the Shorts team to the bowler on an excellent bouncer. Fully justified as it was a superb bouncer. One that I would have been proud off If I had delivered it. But at that particular moment, I was technically a batsman, and from that perspective, I wasn’t a fan.

The bowler returned to his mark for the next ball. Given the speed and accuracy of the last delivery, I was expecting something similar again. The bowler ran in, bowled, and I heard the clatter of my stumps as he bowled me with a perfect yorker that I didn’t have time, or the skill, to keep out. It was a ball that was wasted on me. A very skilful bit of fast bowling.

I tucked my bat under my arm (something I had done a lot before) and walked off. I may have nodded at the bowler as I did so in acknowledgement of a job well-done, given the Bowler’s Union and all.