July 3, 2013

How to set the field in village cricket

The art of captaincy must take into account smokers, sleepers, and atrocious bowlers

Wicketkeeper: There are a few rules of thumb for the village "wickie": (1) he always stands too close, seeing his position as a mark of courage rather than logically connected to the pace of the pitch and/or bowler; (2) he always wears cumbersome, oversized, '80s-era buckle-fastened batting pads that trip him up when scrambling for skiers; (3) he will have long since forsaken his "abandoned graveyard" teeth to the vagaries of the pitch and bucolic swipers in front of him; (4) he must jabber incoherently all day; and (5) whenever a young bowler - under 30, say - is brought into the attack, he must stand up to the wicket as a matter of principle, to show the whippersnapper he hasn't "lost it", regardless of whether he'll be knocked unconscious or concede 40-odd byes (runs unlikely to be recuperated with the willow).

Leg slip: Stationed here because the skipper is inevitably a septuagenarian stickler who vividly recalls - via Pathé News rather than an enfeebled memory - the era when leg slips used to take the odd catch. In this side, however, the leg slip's primary purpose is to act as another line of defence for wayward bowling.

Long stop: See 1 and 2, above. It should be borne in mind that this fielder is often a chuckling simpleton with next to no concentration span, hence the high bye count. On the plus side, he has the stamina and arm of Forrest Gump.

Deep straight midwicket ("Cow corner"): This position will be occupied by one of the few fielders actually able to see the batsman from a distance of over 50 yards, and thus possessing a better than one in ten chance of catching the ball, should it be hit in this direction. If "cow" happens to be in front of a pavilion with a bar, it is undoubtedly where the captain will be found, despite the inherent difficulty of skippering from the boundary.

Square leg: If the bar is nowhere near cow, then square leg is the safest bet to find the skipper. It guarantees him a regular - albeit dentally daunting - intake of confectionery, which officials in the lower echelons of the recreational game are obliged to carry.

Short midwicket ("The Graham Gooch position"): Ostensibly an attempt to appear innovative on the captain's part, this position is actually more about getting the team's principal practitioner of sledging both within earshot of the batsman and out of earshot of the umpires (which, to be fair, could actually be inside the umpire's own skull, if the latter has turned up without hearing aid). If the incoming batsman looks young, this position also serves as a kind of mandatory not-quite-short-leg, as close as any sane fielder dare get, stationed regardless of whether said batter is coming off the back of a double-century for the regional U-19s side.

Neither long-on or long-off, but sort of floating between the two (And not quite deep enough): In most forms of cricket, an extremely unusual position; in the village game, however, an almost compulsory one, designed not so much to cover two distinct positions as to distract the batsman by having someone legitimately stand in front of the sightscreens - that is, where the sightscreens would usually be found in higher levels of the game. For this reason, if this fielder is sufficiently portly, his lilywhite-clad girth may well serve to assist the batsman, in which case he should be moved.

Cover: Patrolled by one of the team's few non-smokers, usually a young guy with genuine talent, "persuaded" to remain loyal to the club by a demented, self-serving father. Having the entire off side to himself (in front of the wicket, that is), this young buck is invariably too frazzled to bat after a session in the field, making it crucial to win the toss (which also gives six or seven of the side that bit longer to shake off the fug of four lunchtime jars).

First slip: The oldest member of the side (other than the captain) will field here. Capable of snaffling anything - well, anything above the height to which gravity has lowered his "plums", and below the height of his feral, sky-obscuring eyebrows - he should also be immune to the manic stream-of-consciousness emanating from the wicketkeeper.

Second slip: The fattest member of the side will field here (that is, if said player is neither already captain nor first slip, which he often is). Occasionally, he'll be shuffled out to mid-off, where he'll inevitably field far, far too close (not walking back after walking in), meaning he's always further away from the off-driven ball than the bowler - whose perfunctory follow-through will be little more than one or two steps, of course - and thus able to shirk/delegate having to chase.

Bowler: The village opening bowler is morally obliged to run in from a preposterous angle, round the back of where mid-off ought to be, all the while fiddling with the unruly rolled-up sleeve on the abrasive polyester shirt he sports in homage to DK Lillee. He will invariably be so slow that the batsman has time to adjust his thigh-pad - i.e. the beach towel doubling for a thigh-pad - before grossly mistiming the pathetic "effort ball" in a gentle parabola to… yes, the Graham-effing-Gooch position, thus ensuring the captain's re-election for the next five seasons.

Scott Oliver tweets here