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Bob’s Blog: The Reluctant Batsman

Bob Mathieson writes our Cricket First Team Match Reports, and often shares memories of cricket from days gone by. He’s kindly agreed to share some more of those memories with us.

Number 2020/1 by Bob Mathieson

At the end of last season, I promised Sarah [Admin] a few notes on some of my cricket experiences. As the new season approaches and I will be facing that lady in the flesh I have been prompted to honour that undertaking.

As the Oldest Member and I left the Halesowen ground he passed me a book and said “Read this. It is the best book on cricket I have read. It might make the winter pass more quickly.” The book was “Life Beyond the Airing Cupboard” by John Barclay, the old Sussex player and subsequently cricket administrator. Surprisingly, Barclay and I have at least one experience in common.

As a 15 year old schoolboy Barclay played his first Sussex Second team game against Hampshire. He described this experience as follows:- “My first adversary on the field was Butch White, at the tail end of his career but still very hostile. A large man, a regular for Hampshire for many years, with a long run up; I remember a lot of snorting and noise as he approached the crease to bowl. Not instinctively well-disposed towards a young public schoolboy he bowled with increased venom. At least I was well equipped with bat, gloves, box and pads though the absence of a thigh pad bothered me. My contribution was stout- hearted, determined but meagre…”

As a 10 year old school boy I played my first representative match in 1946 for Class 1 at Boldmere Junior School against Classes 2 and 3. Boys in Class 1 were those expected to pass the 11plus examination. Those in Classes 2 and 3 were not. This distinction resulted in a certain lack of friendliness.

My first adversary on the field was David (later Butch) White in training for a career with Aston Unity, Warwickshire, Hampshire and England. He was a powerful boy who had a reputation in the playground for being unstoppable in games of British Bulldog. (Do children play that game these days?) I suspect even aged 10 he had a hairy chest. Not instinctively well disposed to a Class 1 swot he bowled with undisguised venom. I was equipped with a bat and one pad with broken straps, the other school pad being worn by the other batsman. None of us would have recognised batting gloves, box, thigh pad or helmet as anything to do with cricket. I took guard and, as White ran up to bowl, I stepped back three paces and hoped White would not stray down the leg side. My contribution was timid, very meagre and short.

If this seems unnecessarily dangerous to the modern 10 year old or parent, it is only part of the story. There was no prepared wicket. Stumps were stuck in the school playing field somewhere where the grass was fairly short and sparse. Stones poking through the soil added to excitement. In fact, there was a batting end and a bowling end. Why? Someone with a concern for safety had decided that as there were no wicketkeeping gloves or pads, there would not be a wicketkeeper and the batting stumps would be pitched close to the fence. This meant there was a local rule that runs could only be scored in front of the wicket. There were no marked creases since the only umpire was at the bowling end and her duty (we only had lady teachers) was to console the damaged and encourage the frightened. There were no singles run when White was bowling because the non-striker was determined not to leave the imaginary crease. The ball was unrelated to the Duke or Kookaburra. It was moulded in what I think was cork and resin material painted red. It was indestructible and very hard. When the paint wore off it was treated with Mansion Polish, a preparation which, in those days, proud housewives used to smarten up front doorsteps.

To us boys, cricket was an adventure. Our fathers had recently been playing a similarly dangerous game against the Germans and Japanese. We were in training for the next show. You will understand that I tend to be volubly impatient when those I have come to watch prefer not to play when the grass is damp.

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