New spin on 'non-contact'

Blame the Cricket World Cup, but the conversation among the bunch of old blokes I drink with has turned to memories of feats performed with willow and leather.

I contributed nothing until goaded by, ''Come on, tell us about your cricket career, Jim. Or have you never played any cricket?''

''Of course I have. I can tell you a tale you will hardly believe, but if you were a Cricket Eccentric you may have heard it already.''

The Cricket Eccentrics, organised by Warwick Larkins and under the paternal gaze of Iain Gallaway, once met at the Albion Cricket Club.

A famous cricketer would often be the guest speaker, while an ''Eccentric'' would be rostered to say a few words beforehand as a warm-up.

My turn came the night Glenn Turner was the guest and this is the story I told.

''Before we have the pleasure of hearing from our guest speaker, gentleman, let me tell you of my own cricket career, which included a record not even Glenn Turner can match. I speak of the summer of '62, when I became the only cricketer to play for a season without touching the ball!''

Our school was a small one and rarely able to field a second XI but that year we had a group of boys, not good enough for the first XI, but keen to turn out in the lower grades and I was one of them.

''Until then, my cricket had been backyard bashabouts so I scurried to the school library to read up about the finer points of the game.

''With horror, I examined the diagram of field placings. More than 30 fielding positions were listed!''I rushed to the skipper (I knew the jargon) and told him we were in big trouble and needed at least 20 more players. He looked at me strangely, sighed and told me just make sure I turned up on Saturday, when I would be 12th man.

''The season was interrupted by school holidays, so there were only 10 games scheduled.

''For the first three Saturdays I carried out my drinks duties with skill. The fourth game was rained out, but for the fifth one of our regulars was ''absent, sick'' so I was in the eleven.

''My performance at the nets had not gone unnoticed, so I was given no bowling and found myself batting at eleven.

''We won the toss and batted. I came in last to find myself at the non-striker's end.

''The next ball skittled the leg stump of my fellow batsman and so we trudged off.

''As a fielder, I posed a problem for our harassed skipper. At nets, it became obvious that I couldn't catch and that I had no throwing arm. If I fielded close in, a string of missed chances was inevitable and if I fielded deep a relay of other fielders would be needed to get my wimpy return to the keeper. In the meantime, a dodgy single would become an easy three.

''The captain suggested I trundle out to third man and stay there but just remember to change ends each over. And there I stayed for the afternoon. Not one ball came my way and after about 20 overs we had dismissed the opposition and won handsomely.

''Back to drinks duties for the sixth and seventh games and then I was off sick myself for the eighth game.

''By the ninth game, the team had established a commanding lead in the competition and the skipper sidled up to me the day before and asked if I'd heard that Simpson had been expelled. Something to do with bike sheds and the nearby girls' school. I was shocked as Simpson could turn the ball beautifully at will. The captain hinted that Simpson's loss meant that he may have to give me an over or two next Saturday as long as the wicket was suitable.

''It was a glorious week of summer weather and on Saturday the hard, dry pitch was obviously not going to suit my style. The fast bowlers demolished the opposition and I stayed at third man, where once again no ball came. We won without losing a wicket.

''The last game of the season saw me back as twelfth man, Simpson having been reinstated as rugby training was now starting and he was by far the best first five the school had ever had.

''Thus the season ended and I had not touched the ball on the field of play, but there I am in the faded team photo and my grandchildren will fondly imagine that the old bloke must have been quite a cricketer in his time.''

Now, when I think of the time I first told this story, I can at least claim to have opened with Glenn Turner!

Jim Sullivan is a Dunedin writer and broadcaster.

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