by Stefan Brenner
A notable aspect of Andy’s innings was that Andy was unable to remember its start. Instead, his first memory was of a scrambled single that nearly ran out the preceding batsman. With the ball bobbling out in front of the wicket, it had been Andy’s call. In a moment of sheer panic, he had set off for a suicidal run.
Having to dive full length into his ground had not amused Big Jimmy Mac, the senior batsman. ‘Do that again, Drew, and I’ll smash you,’ he had growled in a thick Glaswegian accent. Although Jimmy Mac’s anger at the near run-out was understandable, he had, quite apart from this incident, been most unhappy to find himself batting with Andy as his surrogate opening partner.
Andy’s early appearance in the middle signalled a failure of the pre-match plan. Jim and his fellow opener Danny were in total command of the bowling. Until, that is, disaster struck and Danny got himself out to a skidding delivery on the dewy green-top. Such misfortunes were part of an opener’s lot.
The new ball kept low, striking Danny on the pads, and catching him plumb in front of the stumps. ‘Howzhat?’ the shouted appeal went up. Without pausing for reflection, the umpire judged the batsman out “leg-before-wicket.” For a few brief moments, Danny held his ground, hoping for a reprieve; but it was not to be. The umpire’s raised index finger sent him back to the pavilion and Andy entered the fray.
Jimmy Mac was unable to contain his frustration at Danny’s departure and he played a fine cut straight into the keeper’s gloves. Jim’s demise brought “fast” Eddie out into the middle, his appearance provoking a barrage of applause.
At Number Four, Eddie was undoubtedly the most talented batsman in the team. Unfortunately, he was also unpredictable. At times, he would stand subdued, seemingly caught in a no-man’s land between excessive caution and risk. Aware of his responsibilities to the team, he would rein in his normal game. Playing safe, but lacking his natural fluency, he would allow the flow of runs to dry up. Deprived of confidence, his usual mastery of the crease would desert him. Eventually, exasperated by his lack of form, he would play a loose shot and disaster would ensue.
The day was still in its infancy when he wafted his bat at a short delivery outside off-stump: the ball caught the edge and the catch was taken cleanly in the gulley. ‘Hard luck, mate,’ Andy offered, as Eddie passed him on his way back to the pavilion. The commiseration was insincere: Eddie had been the architect of his own downfall.
Andy’s innings had just begun to blossom when Eddie departed the scene. If it was to reach fruition, Andy required a reliable partner, someone content to play second fiddle. His new partner could be relied on to play a dead bat. Pat never seemed to tire or lose patience, eventually wearing down even the most aggressive seamer. After a particularly nasty delivery, he would march stolidly down the wicket, beaming all the while.
Pat’s stolid approach wore the bowlers down and Andy’s innings prospered as a result. A flurry of drives flowed from Andy’s bat, piercing the field on both sides of the wicket. The innings built and built. Blunted by the partnership’s combination of attack and defence, a pair of unremarkable medium pacers replaced the quicks.
For over after over they toiled away, trying to tempt one or other of the batsmen into an error of judgement or timing, but without success. The scoreboard beat out an uneven rhythm as the metal plates documented an ever-increasing total.
With no sign of a halt to the scoring, the opposition took off the seam bowlers and introduced spin into the attack. The spinners posed new problems. Andy could no longer rely on taking a regular recovery break between deliveries. The spinners required no more than a few seconds to return to their marks. To Andy, it seemed as if he neutralised one wickedly turning ball, only to find another homing in on his stumps. Emulating Pat, he decided to concentrate on defence.
A long hour slid by and the scoring rate slowed to a trickle. Andy’s judgement lost its former infallibility. He was tempted into a false stroke; the turning ball caught the edge of the bat and skewed out toward the fielder placed close in at silly mid-off. ‘Catch it!’ The fielder leant in towards the batsman with outstretched fingers groping for ball, but clutched only empty air.
The errant prize hit the man’s wrist a glancing blow and wriggled agonisingly away from his second attempt to take the catch. Between edge and drop, Andy’s heart missed a beat. His innings lay in the balance. The impact between ball and turf restarted his heart, but it had been a close shave.
After this incident, Andy went further and further into his shell. The ones and twos to mid-off or mid-wicket became further and further apart. The scoreboard slowed to a crawl. Finally, with a disillusioned crowd losing patience and wandering away, Pat decided to take the initiative. A fresh over saw Pat advance uncharacteristically down the wicket and attempt to hit the bowler straight back over his head.
The bowler, however, was equal to this tactic: he cleverly held the ball back, causing it to arrive a fraction later than expected. Pat’s stroke made clean contact with the ball and it sped away, far up into the blue. However, the angle of ascent was considerably steeper than Pat had intended. The long-on fielder ran around the boundary and pouched the ball without undue ceremony: Pat was well and truly out.
Although Andy’s subsequent partners did their best to assist him, pushing the single whenever possible, rotating the strike, they departed one by one. Now, only Number Eleven remained. The spotty kid was barely out of his teens, a precocious wrist-spinner of limited experience.
‘Listen up, don’t try anything clever,’ Andy told him. ‘If it ain’t on the stumps, let it go. If it is, block it. Leave the rest to me.’
Where were the fans? The no-good bunch had been happy to applaud when the runs were flowing freely. Mighty cheers had accompanied each big drive: the ball speeding toward the boundary rope, fielders standing transfixed. One big six over square leg had almost brought the roof off, so enthusiastic were the supporters. Admittedly, the expansive strokes that had brought this acclaim had dried up some time ago, but they could have shown a bit more loyalty when the going got tough.
Andy realised that he no longer cared about the score. Instead, the simple will to survive until “stumps” pervaded his entire being. There was a chance: the light was beginning to fade and soon, in the name of safety, the umpires would have to halt play for the day.
He looked up to see one of them conferring with the opposition skipper, and noticed the fast bowlers warming up for a final spell. The new ball was due and the captain would bring them back in an effort to break the last-wicket stand. Taking a new guard on leg and middle, Andy prepared to receive a short-pitched delivery aimed squarely at his body. They would try to soften him up with a bouncer or two, he figured.
The bowler began the long trudge back to his mark, a shiny new cherry in his left hand. He kept on retreating until it seemed that he must reach the boundary’s edge. Then, just before the rope, he turned and began his run-up. With ever-increasing momentum, he thundered in towards the stumps, his rasping breath filling the air as he came.
Andy peered out from under his helmet, trying to locate the ball, but the sky had become suddenly dark. Nothing was visible save a single point of light, somewhere high above the scoreboard. Fixing his eyes on this bright presence, Andy swayed back on to his trailing foot and brought a defensive bat firmly down in front of his chest. The events that followed would remain forever unclear.
When pressed, almost all of the protagonists reported that the speeding ball had simply beaten Andy’s defensive stroke and hit him under the ribs. Undoubtedly, Andy suffered a terrible blow at the point where his padding offered the least protection, and collapsed to lie motionless at the wicket.
There were, however, those who did not concur with the majority account. The man fielding at forward short-leg had the best view, and he swore that ball passed through bat as if they occupied different planes of existence. It was impossible to separate fact from fiction. Andy’s bat appeared to be unmarked by any but the most normal of blemishes.
The other object at the centre of the controversy seems to have been lost. Perhaps someone appropriated the offending ball, or it may have disappeared down one of the narrow drainage channels that lay under the pitch: in the confusion following Andy’s accident, the priority had been to clear a path for the attending ambulance.
Efforts to save Andy proved vain: despite receiving prompt medical attention, doctors declared him dead on arrival at the local hospital. His family subsequently fell out with the club, claiming negligence. Lawyers were involved, and the coroner requested an autopsy to settle the cause of death.
When the police surgeon opened Andy’s chest, the heart appeared to be badly diseased. A single blow would most certainly have been quite enough to stop it forever. Moreover, according to the experts, an inherited condition rendering the organ almost useless should have prevented Andy from playing at all.
Copyright © 2009 by Stefan Brenner