Thewisdencricketer.com reader Graham D. Brice is the latest winner of our My Favourite Cricketer competition.
Summer 1968, perhaps ’69. Me a 15-year-old, gangly, six foot-plus youth, with limited cricketing ability, severe hayfever and a neighbour on my paper round who suggests I could be playing cricket at the weekends for one of the sides in my hometown of Yeovil.
A try out with the second XI sees me immediately relegated to what is called the ‘Yeovil A side’. A collection of 20-somethings, of varying abilities and transport, and an unquenchable thirst that is displayed in numerous rural pubs around Somerset in our weekly quest to avoid defeat.
At the end of each game, we are reminded by the captain to check next week’s paper, The Royal Gazette, where the teams are printed for the following weekend, to verify our selection. A. N. Other is a regular in the squad list, and it is only when he fails to show that I am promoted to No.10 in the batting order.
I bowl occasionally, right-arm spin, sort of, but it is obvious that I am there more to make up numbers than bother the scorers.
However, I can catch a cricket ball, particularly in the slip cordon. On one, only one, memorable occasion I take seven catches in the slips, and although it does not affect the result I do receive an honorable mention in the following week’s sports pages.
In addition to all of the above I am also the youngest player.
We play our home matches at Johnson Park, although as the home turf is jealously guarded by the first and second XIs we play mainly away matches.
On one of our rare home appearances a new player is introduced, a stocky, unremarkable youth, whose sole redeeming feature from my perspective is that he is younger than me.
He constantly pesters the captain to bowl or bat higher in the order. Over the next few weeks he annoys his team-mates by displaying ability and a certain arrogance.
First match, opening overs, I am at first slip, the new kid at second. The ball is rifled towards the slips but low to my right and it is obvious that it is going to bounce before it will reach us. My only instinct is to stick out my right boot in the hope of preventing the ball going between the two of us. Just as the ball is about to land in front of my outstretched boot, a hand – connected to a diving arm and horizontal body – flashes across the grass and cleanly takes the catch.
The batsmen, bowler, wicketkeeper and first slip stand frozen in stunned amazement. The umpire, one of their players, is equally dazzled but eventually he raises a finger and the batsman, muttering under his breath, retreats.
A few weeks later our new player is missing, the captain informs us that he is away playing for the second XI. “Not the Yeovil second XI,” he said “Somerset seconds.”
My career as a weekend cricketer died shortly thereafter, I really did have very little ability, but the fortunes of one I. T. Botham continued to rise. Over the length of his impressive career I, along with millions of others, was privileged to watch sumptuous innings and all-round deeds that sometimes defied rational explanation.
But for all his feats and miraculous efforts, it is one catch, that catch, that is forever etched in my mind. The young school kid playing a man’s game and displaying a precocious ability and talent that not one of us fully appreciated or understood at the time.
Graham wins a year’s free subscription to The Wisden Cricketer
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