At 49, I am at peace with the fact that I have seen better days. And actually, even in my better, younger days, I am not sure that I would have been playing very often at Division 7 level. But I found myself doing that on Sunday, as the usual end of season scramble kicks in and the pressure to get eleven players out across several teams gives rise to a few unusual selections.
It happened at the start of the season, too, and I think I have turned out for out first team four times this year.
And on every single occasion, I have been a scarecrow. I know that I have stood in a field and been of some discernible use, but my input to the result has always been negligible. I’ve stopped a few runs here and there, but just about anyone fielding at square leg would have done exactly the same. Take me out of the equation and replace me with AN Other, and the result will be unaffected. There isn’t always an AN Other, though, and that’s my point.
Please don’t misunderstand me ; I know before the game starts that I’ll be fielding in an unglamorous position, will be batting at eleven (with everyone in the team, including me, hoping that I won’t have to pad up), and that the idea of giving me the ball won’t even enter the captain’s head. These are the terms of engagement for the scarecrows of this world, and we can choose to accept them or not make ourselves available for selection. Complaining about our minor role is not an option.
We’re a part of this daft game though. Every week, scarecrows will give up their days to make up the numbers and help their clubs out. There are loads of us who gladly don the whites and enjoy the vicarious thrills of watching more talented players excel. It’s not for everyone, I realise. There are many out there who would rather retire than make up the numbers, and I can understand that.
If/when it gets to the point where I am the scarecrow for the third team, well that might be the time for me to finally hang up my boots. It’s a pleasure to help out the firsts this season – there is a real, tangible team spirit there and they have always made me feel welcome and a part of the team – but I am not sure I could do that every week.
There are many of us though who do play these minor roles every week, and I’m not sure that we really value them properly. Cricket is a peculiar sport. It’s a team sport played by individuals, such is the demarcation of the match roles. And if one doesn’t bowl and bats down low, there are many weeks when some of us get very little return on our ten (or so) hour investment of time. Yet we do it anyway, and in doing so, we help ensure that fixtures are fulfilled and that eleven players are standing on the pitch, and that’s important. I hate playing without a full team; it feels like the game is lost before a ball is bowled.
I’m not saying this for me – I still have a more active role to play in the cheap seats (for now) – but I am saying it for all the scarecrows who play cricket every week. They are the cement that helps keep our cricketing walls standing. They don’t get the chance to shine often, but when they do, the unfettered joy is a sight to behold, and cricket being cricket means that everyone gets an opportunity to be in the spotlight every now and again, even if it is a fleeting appearance. It might be a fairly bog-standard catch or a 5no at the end of the innings, but it can mean everything to the fella who knows his is a supporting role.
So, value the scarecrows. They are a vital part of this game.