Nick Ahad: Playing mind games as fantasy cricket collides with reality...

Mike Brearley at Lord's Gilette Cup with Surrey wicket keeper Jack Richards. September 7th 1980
Mike Brearley at Lord's Gilette Cup with Surrey wicket keeper Jack Richards. September 7th 1980
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AS a wordsmith (I like to have ideas above my station) I do enjoy learning new phrases.

One phrase I learned last year was “L’esprit d’escalier”. Literally “staircase wit”.

As readers of Sports Monday, intelligent, informed, and not a little good looking I’m sure, I know you already understand the phrase but in case this finds its way into the hands of, say, a football fan, I’ll explain.

It’s a French phrase adopted by English speakers to describe the moment you think of the perfect riposte to a situation, several moments too late.

“I should’ve said this when so-and-so said that.” Yeah, that feeling.

The physical manifestation of l’esprit d’escalier is something with which cricketers are all too familiar.

I should’ve left that ball alone, I should’ve played it with a straight bat, I should’ve remembered not to play a back foot shot before August in Yorkshire. Should’ve, should’ve, should’ve. The game is full of them.

If things went to plan, this column, my first of the cricketing summer, should’ve been a story of triumph.

A story of how the captain’s speech I made at the beginning of our first game last weekend, reminding everyone that we were promoted from Division Five last year and how we can conquer Division Four, inspired the boys to victory.

I should’ve kept my mouth shut.

Like a lot of amateur cricketers, I play the game in two worlds.

There’s the world that exists in my mind, the one where the cut shot I play is Lara-esque, the front foot drive like watching Vaughan in his prime and the pull shot, well, not since Viv Richards...

Then there’s the real world.

The one where, when batting, I look like Bambi taking his first steps. While wearing cricket pads. Playing down the wrong line to a ball on middle.

As elegant as John Prescott.

When those two worlds – the cricket in my mind and the actual cricket on the pitch – collide, it is a joyous, wonderful and unfortunately very rare thing.

Those worlds did not collide in the first game of the season.

Now, so far in this occasional column, I’ve refrained from full match reports (don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you into submission now).

However. What happened last weekend was not a story that is entirely unknown at Airedale. Nor do I imagine, is it something that has never happened at other weekend cricket grounds around the land.

I think you will relate.

Despite the best efforts of our tireless groundsman Trevor, the pitch on which we played was, and there really is no other word for it, a pudding.

Before the toss, I walked around the ground with Glusburn’s captain Neil and pointed out to him the boggiest parts of the ground.

Whoever was at cover would probably want to field in wellingtons, I helpfully suggested.

Neil was up for playing despite the state of the outfield – as their slightly terrifying opening batsman, Alan said: “We’re here for a game of cricket, let’s gerron wi’ it (expletives deleted).”

So, we tossed up, Neil called correctly, which meant I have now, since becoming captain last season, won two out of 23 coin tosses, and Glusburn decided to have a bat.

My brother Jason (remember that name) opened the bowling and we then had 20-odd overs of ugly, attritional cricket.

After 15 overs Glusburn were 19-4.

Everything was going to plan for us. Jason took another wicket and I spotted that the new man’s bat had that horrible sheen to the back of it – it was yet to be knocked in.

Even if he got bat on ball, the ball wasn’t going very far. I moved Scottie in from mid-off to close cover – and the batsman spooned a catch right to him, first ball.

It was joyful, I felt like Brearley in his tactically-brilliant prime.

And then, suddenly, Glusburn were all out. They’d scored just 36.

It was in the bag, we were going to start the season the way we ended last, with a resounding, confident win.

I opened the batting with Trev. In the second over, Rummy Smith, who had reluctantly docked his pipe to take to the field and was 80-odd if he was a day, was bowling his mesmerising slow, slow, slooowww right-arm over dibbly dobblers.

I saw the ball that did for me so clearly. It was right in the slot, I read from his hand that it was going to cut back in and in my mind I played a solid forward defensive. In reality, my bat sort of got caught on my pads, stuck out ungainly somewhere between cover and mid-off and the ball trickled into my middle stump.

Then, in modern parlance, it went a big Pete Tong. Batsmen came, batsmen went.

My brother Jason (typical bowler, thinks he can bat) smashed a six to take us within 15 runs of winning.

The problem?

Jason bats at No 10 and when he hit that six, he was batting with our No 9.

We had five ducks in our innings (I contributed a single run).

And we were all out for 29.

Jason stormed off, shouting: “Us bowlers have done our job, why can’t you do yours?”

As I say, typical bowler.

If only I’d said to him: “You took all those wickets and we bowled them out for 36 because it’s a pudding of a track, you Muppet. Which is why we were all out for 29.”

By the time I’d thought of saying that, the moment was gone.

By the time I realised I should have dead-batted Rummy’s ball, I was on my way back to the pavilion.

L’esprit d’escalier.

And another thing...

The week before the season started, Ann Coe, the league secretary (and therefore a woman with more power than Mussolini in his prime) sent out an email.

The email was ‘gently’ reminding all clubs in the Craven League that, if their captains, vice-captains and umpires hadn’t had their CRB forms checked and sent off, then they couldn’t stand as club officials.

Which is why, the day before what should have been the start of the season (rained off, obviously) I was at the lovely home of Ann and Trevor Coe, like a naughty schoolboy, having my CRB forms finally checked and sent off. (I wasn’t going to let someone else captain my team for the sake of filling out a form).

I wanted to use this bit of the column to complain about red tape, about the fact that we have to fill out a CRB form at all – and I was probably going to be fairly facetious.

Instead, I’m going to use it to say a public, endless, and incredibly well deserved thanks to Trevor and Ann.

They organise our fixtures, sort out rules, make the league function – the dedication they have is genuinely extraordinary.

That sort of thing, which normally goes unnoticed, shouldn’t. They are heroes to all of us.