As the final round of fixtures concluded in Division 5 of the Cotswold Hills League, Leek Wootton 2nd XI gave a good account of themselves at home in a high-scoring 51-run defeat to undefeated champions Claverdon. Wootton secured full bowling and batting points as they finished on 213-9 in their 46 overs, in pursuit of the visitors’ 264 all out. Claverdon’s total was built around strong lower order contributions from Green (76) and Richardson (39). For Wootton, Dec Cook (3/43) and Dan McKenzie (3/42) were the main men as the visitors were dismissed in 44 overs. Following a sensational (albeit carb-heavy) final cricket tea of the league season featuring special guests in the form of hotdogs and crinkle-cut chips, Wootton’s response was propelled by an 81-run partnership between openers Matt Burge (51) and Scott Jones (30), with the battle of skills and wills between Burge and Claverdon’s seamer Tony Andrews providing genuine drama and spice despite the nature of this dead rubber fixture. Further down the order, Ben Bramley’s scholarly 44 was a reminder of his fluency in what may have been his final game for Wootton before his move to the Gloucestershire area. Matt Holt contributed 26 before the final six batsmen stuttered and stumbled to the end of Wootton’s allotted 46 overs.
On perfect early September evenings such as these, the tips of the trees are turning a reddish hue; perhaps kissed by the embers of a dipping sun, or perchance with leaves turning their thoughts to the onset of Autumn. Shadows stretch across the field, shadows as tall as the tales that will be told all winter; of deeds done, of battles fought and of adventures shared.
By Saturday night, cricket is measured in moments – the glorious perfect off-drive, the smartly taken catch, the despair of a misfield, the laughter at a nonsensical comment made by a mischievous fielder. By the middle of the week, the cricket is seen through the prism of victory or defeat, the memory of a howling wind, a sharp shower, or on those rarest of precious high summer days, a sweltering sun burning the back of the neck and dazzling the eyes. But by the time Autumn is upon us, cricket is measured, weighed and remembered by different scales altogether. Each of us asks those gnarled old questions of ourselves that arise each year; “Did I give all that I could?” “Am I the cricketer I once was?” “Was I ever that cricketer I believed I was?” “Do I remember it as a dream, or a chore, or a trial, or a nightmare?”
Only the distance of time allows us to be truthful with ourselves. Cricket is a game of time: The interminable wait between seasons. The long week between games. The distant journey to far-flung shires to fulfil fixtures. The dread wait of a rain delay. The slow march to the wicket. Time. So much time. The infinity between a bowler looking a batsman in the eye, the run-up, the delivery stride, the ball arcing to its destination. The seeming chasm of years as a batsman decides upon the stroke he will play, and the moment where he learns whether his judgement was true, as the ball either meets or passes the blade. The aeons that a fielder has as he watches the ball sail towards him, either in the air or across the green green grass – decades to think of all that could go wrong between bat and hand.
Time, so much time. And it is in the dark months between seasons that each of us will either renew our vows and fall in love with the greatest of all pastimes once more, returning refreshed and exhilarated come the Spring, or packing up our troubles in our old kit bag, never to return. The folk singer Roy Harper captured the great melancholy of the rhythms of cricket better than any bard or poet in his lament to the passing of time, “When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease”. The passing of a season. The passing of a career. The passing of a life. There is a time in every cricketer’s life that he realises that the song is about him and him alone. And only once that day comes does a man fully understand the true beauty of cricket. Tragically, he realises with a tear and a gasp at the self-same moment, that the revelation has come too late. That the beauty that was once before him lies now only behind him, or in the path of others. The author Marvin Cohen wrote that “Life is an elaborate metaphor for cricket”, and rarely may a truer word have been committed to paper. Astronomer Patrick Moore once replied to an inquisitor, “Yes, I am confident they play cricket in heaven. It wouldn’t be heaven otherwise, would it?”
But whether we return or do not return come the Spring, the game will go on. New faces, young faces, dreamers who are yet to live out their moments in the sun, will stride once more across these very fields next summer. They will be joined by others, old and new, and the game will go on. The seasons will turn, the mowers will turn, the rollers will turn, the ball will turn, the batsman’s wrists will turn. The game, as it ever did, as it ever will, goes on.