So. Last Tuesday I got a WhatsApp message from the captain of my cricket team. I had been selected as 13th Man for this weekend’s game. Quick cricket heads up: there are 11 players in a cricket team. I’d missed the pick for the Second team. I was the 24th best player at the club I’d played for for 20 years. I would not be playing this weekend unless two other players made themselves unavailable. It was a landmark. I suspect there are other men my age who have seen this day.

Bit of history: I played cricket in South Wales as a teen. I probably debuted for Whitchurch Heath CC in about 1982 as a 13 year-old. I was an ok bowler and a poor batsman. I even had a “trial” for Glamorgan – by which I mean I showed up at a chaotic session for about 300 teens in 1985 and bowled as badly as I had in my life. Whenever I hear people tell me they “had trials for the county”, I am unmoved.

I loved cricket but when I came to Loughborough I was shocked to find that my ability was a *long* way from the standard that the University attracted. I played a couple of games in my late teens and twenties and that was it.

In 2001, as a combination of being a bit settled and serendipity, I found Long Whatton CC. I was 32 and discovered that I could bat OK and that the club matched my general sense of fun and low stress.

It’s 20 years later. It’s my 20th year. I’ve been in and out of love with the club and with the sport but mostly in love. I generally haven’t loved the trend towards football-levels of discipline but the rule changes have been sympathetic to the sport.

I had a purple patch ten years ago when I thought I could bat. I got some hundreds and I was a proper cricketer.

I probably spent more energy on being a “club man”. As a non-parent I was never going to help with the junior set-up, but I was second-team captain, sometimes formally and sometimes as a way to keep us from falling out of the league. My cricket suffered. I became a fixture in the first XI for a bunch of wrong reasons: I was cheerful. I would always play. I could drive. I didn’t care if I didn’t bat of bowl, so long as I got to be on a cricket pitch of a Sunday. Also, I genuinely love cricket, so the offer to a captain that I would do 45 overs in the unlovely position of Square Leg Umpire was clearly enough to secure my place.

There were a couple of seasons where we nearly lost our second team because we cancelled fixtures due to having insufficient players. I’m proud of the games we played with makeshift sides and one day we will make a Film about the Chennai Supper Kings.

Last year I played more second team cricket and I didn’t shine. The writing was on the wall.

This year a couple of things have changed. For a start, I’ve lost a lot of weight. About 6 stone since last year. I’m feeling good and moving better. Still fat, but on the way down.

Second thing is, I’ve fallen back in love with cricket. I don’t know: I just bloody love it.

And so, getting picked as 24th best available cricketer stung like anything.

I get it. Being captain of the last team in your club’s roster is no-win squared. In most of my time I was begging to make an 11 person team. Then the first time we were supernumerary, I had to drop the club’s “GOAT” on account of him being pissed and lame. He wasn’t pleased when I told him he was being “rested” and I was horrified when It turned out that he then played for our first team because they were short.

It is, as Elton would say, “The Circle of Life”. At 52 I’ve lost my place in the teams.

I get it. I think I’ve got something to give. I’ve been busier with the Club during off-season than ever before (trimming hedges and the like).

When I started at Long Whatton, I missed a game in my first season because someone else had “helped out more”. I do not want to be the man who gets a game because he’s a good hedge trimmer and always gets the tea money collected. (I mean, both are true of me and they’re important)

It stung though. It stung more than I’d expected. I wasn’t good enough at my hobby to make it into a team that plays in Division 9 West of the Leicestershire and Rutland Cricket League. It doesn’t matter whether you have a rateable hobby or not: we are in Division 9 West of our count’s cricket league. Without much maths, we are at best the 2000th best players at our chosen sport in our county. Thank god they split it into east and west. And I wasn’t in that elite group.

I’m in a couple of bands. Thank Christ that we’re not in some meritocracy: even if we could show that we were lovely and fun (the metrics I’d use for “are this band any good”) we’d lose to countless other people who had more kit and could play more notes and didn’t much mind whether their audience was having a nice night.

Back to cricket. The captain was great. “We have lots of players”, “We’ll rotate the squad”. Of course. I mean, next week he’ll be begging for players and I’ll be in the team. But the scene has been set. I’m not in the best available team. *pffffft* (that’s the noise that a Disney character makes when they’re at the nadir of the film, I think.

But you’ll remember that I’m a pretty sunny character, right? I’m gonna be alright. And more importantly, rather like how my weight loss has been easier because I’ve been casually fat, I think my cricket might improve if I put literally *any* effort into it at all.

Long story short: this weekend’s League games were abandoned due to the weather. Late last night I got a call to ask whether I could play on a hastily arranged Sunday fixture.

I opened the batting and did ok. I remembered all the things you did to be ok (like keeping your eyes open when they’re bowling at you and not trying to hit *every ball* out of the ground). I concentrated and I had fun doing it.

I got runs and was part of a 50 partnership for the opening wicket. I wasn’t out of breath (shout out to Smyth Fitness who have saved me from sloth) and I even took the first catch that came to me.

We lost, if you’re interested.

But I cannot remember a time that I was more in love with cricket as a hobby. I didn’t take a photo of this game, but here’s me at the first match this year.

I’ve got a feeling that “other things” will denude our squad as they do every year (bloody football and Grand Prix and all that) so I’ll probably play most weeks, after all this. And I’m sure I’ll play most away games just because these kids might be good at cricket, but they can’t drive.

I’ve had a strong sense this week that this might have played out in 1985 in Cardiff with someone who had played for WHCC for years and wondered why kids were taking their place in the team. Sorry, man. I hope you found peace.

Whatever your hobby, I hope you can do it to the best of your ability. I can’t tell you how much happiness this daft sport has brought to me as a child and as an adult. But I’m not ready for it to stop, just yet.

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