All in the mind
Too much cricket these days, they say, and I suspect anybody who listens to me attempting a 15-hour stint on Test Match Sofa on March 25, covering first New Zealand v England then India v Australia, may agree. But imagine the dangers of not enough cricket: you would end up having imaginary games, just as Godfrey Evans does in the final chapter of his splendidly eccentric 1984 book Wicketkeepers of the World.
You wonder exactly what Gordon's Gin were expecting when they decided to pay Evans, who won 91 caps for England, to knock out a book but it surely wasn't a detailed account of a game that didn't happen anywhere other than behind the glasses and between the legendary sideburns. "The ground was bathed in sunshine, with a slight breeze blowing from the Pavilion End, and the Lord's pitch looked a good one - it needed to be to last six days," he begins. There's no stinting here; this is a game fully realised in every detail. And you wonder exactly how much Gordon's Gin had been consumed before he reached a state of such pure hallucination (although given some of the things I've written in the past, it would be hypocritical to be too dismissive of somebody reporting on made-up sport).
Evans's team: Len Hutton, Barry Richards, Don Bradman, Wally Hammond, Denis Compton, Neil Harvey, Gary Sobers, Godfrey Evans, Ray Lindwall, Jim Laker, Fred Trueman
The opposition: Gordon Greenidge, Arthur Morris, Viv Richards, Graeme Pollock, Clyde Walcott, Keith Miller, Ian Botham, Don Tallon, Frank Tyson, Dennis Lillee, Sonny Ramadhin
Bradman, captaining Evans' side, won the toss and opted to bat. Hutton and Barry Richards saw off Tyson and Lillee, but Miller, coming on first change, nipped one back and Hutton, getting an inside edge, "fell to a magnificent tumbling catch" from Tallon for 36. Richards, batting fluently, had made 75 when he misjudged a legbreak from Ramadhin and was caught at slip by Botham. Bradman brought up his century before tea before missing a straight one from Tyson, who then beat Hammond for pace, although not before he'd scored 72 "including an enormous six into the Grandstand off Ramadhin".
The platform was there, but Compton "struggled" and had already been dropped when he was caught by Miller at slip off Lillee. A Botham in-ducker did for Harvey, bringing Evans to the crease. The reader cringes, instinctively dreading the self-aggrandising half-century. But Evans was too good for that: "I walked fearlessly to the wicket to replace Harvey and walked straight back again, bowled by Miller first ball. I hardly even saw it."
Sobers scored freely but then Miller, "with a gambling piece of captaincy", turned to Viv Richards who "was likely either to be punished or take a wicket as the batsmen sought to attack his gentle seamers". Sure enough, he induced the "indiscretion" and Sobers was bowled for 60. The tail folded and Evans's team was all out for 465, Tyson having taken 3 for 78. "We were left with a feeling of what might have been … most of the … batsmen did the hard bit by becoming established then getting out."
Greenidge, opening just after lunch on the second day, twice hooked Trueman for four, but after nibbling at a couple of away swingers, was lbw to one that came back. Morris and Viv Richards, making the most of ideal batting conditions, added 124 for the second wicket before Morris nicked the first delivery that Laker had turned and was caught behind. "I was particularly pleased," Evans noted, "because no catch is easy standing up." Although presumably the ones happening in your own head are easier than the real ones.
Viv Richards and Pollock added 68 in 43 minutes before Viv Richards, "driving lazily", dragged on Lindwall to be bowled for 112. Trueman bowled Miller, Pollock skied Laker to Harvey at cover and then Botham, having hit Laker for two straight sixes, was stumped off Sobers. Tallon was run out as he tried to give the strike to Walcott, who just had time to complete his ton before Lindwall and Trueman ran through the tail. The opposition were all out for 454 half an hour before the close on the third day; Evans's team led by 11.
In the second innings, Hutton and Barry Richards survived an awkward 20 minutes from Tyson and Lillee and then, of course, this being 1984, there came a rest day. "The atmosphere in the dressing-room, of course, was marvellous… The anecdotes were certainly flowing." Thank goodness: telling some of them might help us up to the word count.
Barry Richards was bowled early on the fourth morning and then Bradman was caught at short leg fending at one from Lillee (the unfortunate fact he was facing an Aussie denying him the diplomatic incident defence that would presumably have been invoked had it been a nasty foreigner bowling short). Hammond scored fluently before being bowled by Miller and then Hutton and Compton took root, adding 103 for the fourth wicket. Both ended up with centuries as Evans' side made 434 - Evans himself contributing 20 not out this time.
The opposition were set 446 to win on a pitch that was still playing well. "Few people in the crowd truly believed the opposition could reach their target," but the runs kept coming. Greenidge got a half-century and Pollock 119, including a six over extra-cover off Trueman - "somehow I don't think Fred enjoyed that!" It was 312 for 5 when Miller and Botham came together and they took the score beyond 400. "Then Botham, having hooked a Lindwall bouncer for six two balls earlier, did not quite get to the pitch of a mighty drive and Bradman took a stinging catch in the covers."
Talon was lbw to Trueman to make it 428-7 and Lindwall picked up Tyson and Lillee in the space of three balls. "The score was 437-9 and the tension was almost unbearable as Trueman began the next over." Miller hit the second ball for four over mid-off, ran two from the next and then dropped the ball at his feet from the fifth delivery of the over to move to 83 and leave Ramadhin facing just the final ball of the Trueman over.
"Trueman, sensing it could be his last ball of this historic match, summoned one last effort. The ball pitched on off stump and moved sufficiently to coax an edge. I saw it clearly as I moved to my right but, inexplicably, the ball struck my great glove flush on the palm and bounced out…" No! "…but upwards rather than downwards. Time stood still. A split second seemed like an eternity. I caught it. My fumble, my juggle, my catch gave my team victory by one run in a remarkable game of cricket."
Well done, Godfrey!
Jonathan Wilson writes for the Guardian, the National, Sports Illustrated, World Soccer and Fox. He tweets here