USA cricket April 8, 2014

A four-hour trip... to bowl one ball

Samarth Shah
April is the start of the cricket season in North America and Canada. And some players travel far and wide to get their fix

April showers bring May flowers, the saying goes. In North America, April showers also bring with them the onset of the cricket season. The Northwest Cricket League (NWCL) based in Seattle in the United States of America and the British Columbia Mainland Cricket League (BCMCL) based in Vancouver, Canada kick off their summer with T20 competitions. Some of us cricket addicts from Seattle play in both leagues, since Vancouver is a mere two- or three-hour drive away. BCMCL is a bigger league than NWCL; their season starts a couple of weeks earlier.

So in April 2011, on a rare dry and unseasonably warm morning, four of us drove across the Canadian border, to play against Richmond Cricket Club at their home field, Minoru Park. We were playing for Centurions, a happy-go-lucky, but inconsistent outfit capable of hitting towering highs and sobering lows multiple times in the same season. It was the opening match and we hadn't had a minute of practice because the weather in the preceding days, weeks and months was simply not conducive to being outdoors.

The rain arrived, as was its wont, in the afternoon, but we defiantly got a full game in. We even managed to beat a strong Richmond side, although with everyone out of nick, it was an ugly affair. The bowlers all got a few overs. I didn't manage a wicket, but was satisfied to have conceded only six each off the 17th and 19th overs. The batsmen all got a hit as well.

Yet there were complaints on the trip back. Were a couple of overs of bowling or batting in the drizzle really worth a four-hour round trip?

It poured continuously for the next six days but miraculously, the following Saturday dawned bright and sunny. The same four cricket addicts, despite all the moaning from the previous weekend, once again packed into a car and travelled across the border, this time to Centurions' home turf at Crescent Park in White Rock to take on Newton-Surrey. The ground was damp early on, but it dried out and once again we got a full game in. Once again we won. I bowled my full quota of 4 overs, and even managed a couple of wickets, including one of the league's finest allrounders, caught-and-bowled.

With back-to-back wins, we were now in joint-first place in our pool of four teams. Our arch-rivals Salim-Akbar had also won both their games. Only one team from the pool would qualify for the knockout phase. It all came down to the last league game: Salim-Akbar v Centurions, the following weekend. The winner would proceed towards T20 glory, the loser would simply look ahead to the 50-over competition, starting in May.

Again, it rained continuously. It was still pouring outside on Saturday morning as I ate my breakfast. The weather forecast said it would rain all day. We'd been informed that a game was unlikely, that the outfield was water-logged, and that we ought to stay in Seattle. No trip across the border, we thought.

At 10am though, the rain suddenly stopped.

I sent a message to the captain, who was on his way to the ground. The game was scheduled at noon though he still expected the game to be called off. But it had to be the umpires who made that call and not him so I was asked to head north. He said he'd call me as soon as the umpires had made their ruling, at which point I could turn around and head back home.

A similar message was sent to the other players, but most of them had already made alternate plans. I was near the town of Bellingham, still on the USA side, at 11am, when the captain called. "Where are you?" he asked.

"An hour away. Should I turn around now?" I replied

"Umm... The game has indeed been called off. The outfield is unplayable."

"OK, I'll head home then."

"No, you see, the pitch and run-ups are okay, and the league would like to not postpone the game. So they've asked us to have a bowl-out."

I'd never participated in a bowl-out before. We had half a dozen guys headed to the ground, all from Vancouver, but everyone apart from me was a batsman. (You know T20 is a batsman's game when all the batsmen are ready to play at the drop of a hat, but the bowlers have all taken a vacation.) The captain politely requested that since I was only an hour away if I could perhaps come by the ground for the bowl-out.

Before I realised it, I was waiting in line at the border, window rolled down, immigration papers held outside. I was at Crescent Park 20 minutes later.

We won the toss, bowled and as the only specialist bowler on our side, I went first. I pitched it on off stump, on a good length, but on the wet pitch, it skidded on with the arm, missing the leg-stump by millimeters. Salim-Akbar's first bowler also missed. Our second guy missed. So did their second guy. In fact, the first nine balls all missed.

Salim-Akbar's fifth candidate charged in from his full 20-yard run, with fire in his eyes. I thought he might deliver a scorching bouncer in a bowl-out, but he went for the yorker instead. It just kissed the outside of leg-stump, and dislodged the bails.

Salim-Akbar were in the knock-outs. My international tour was over, after just one ball.

If you have a submission for Inbox, send it to us here, with "Inbox" in the subject line

Samarth Shah is a software engineer in Seattle. He played 3 matches for the USA national team in 2011.