A great advantage of cricketing life in Ireland is that during the summer months here, it remains light until about 10:30pm in the evening. It may not remain warm however, or even dry for that matter, but lack of daylight is thankfully never an issue. Perhaps this is one of the main reasons the 20 Over Competition or "slog-fest” began and now prospers quite well in Ireland.
The "20 Over Comp” is almost exclusively a mid-week phenomenon, games usually take place on a Wednesday or Thursday evening. The first delivery is usually sent down at about 5 or 6 p.m, ironically, when the "normal” variety of the game is usually sending down its final delivery. Here in Ireland though, that’s when the fun is only just beginning.
The rules of the 20 over comp are basically akin to that of your ordinary 50 over, one day match. Bowlers however, are only permitted five overs apiece and batsmen are sometimes obliged to retire after scoring 50. The latter isn’t always adhered to - if a player feels another quick 50 within his grasp, he more often than not recklessly goes after it.
Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, the 20 over game is confined to 2nd, 3rd, 4th and so on divisions. It is not played at a first grade or senior level, however a good number of top-grade players will participate for a bit of practice and fun during the week, so the level of competition can sometimes be fairly decent. Though, if these better players start taking too many wickets or begin scoring a bit too freely, this is generally frowned upon and viewed as not in the true spirit of this particular, unique competition.
My personal introduction to the 20 over comp, happened four years ago. I was living in a fairly rural part of Southern Ireland at the time, approximately 8 miles from the nearest township called Kinsale. Little did I know, Kinsale actually had a team competing in the South West 20 over league, until one evening the phone rang and an English voice enquired as to my availability for a game the following evening. Apparently this person had heard from someone, who knew someone, who knew a neighbour of mine, that an Australian was in the district and therefore must be up for a game of cricket. I duly accepted and was officially crowned the newest member of the Kinsale Eleven. (or perhaps eight- sometimes even seven!)
My newfound friend on the phone was also my new captain, his name, Frank Keane; a second generation English come Irishman. Perhaps I shouldn’t say captain because as he so politely pointed out to me during that phone call and many times afterwards, he was only standing in for an Australian, a seemingly non- existent one at that. The plan was that the team were to meet the following evening at the front of Frank’s Ceramics shop in Kinsale, aptly titled "Keane On Ceramics” at 5pm. We were then to travel in convoy with the rest of the team to the playing field approximately 40 minutes from Kinsale, with the game scheduled for 6pm start.
Next day, I was punctually waiting at the front of Keane On Ceramics, bat in hand, the time was, 4.55pm. I waited for a good twenty minutes before starting to wonder whether I had the right Keane On Ceramics. As if there could be two I thought to myself. As there was no sign of Frank or anyone vaguely resembling a cricketer to be seen, I stood there just a little puzzled, I decided to give it another ten minutes before worrying too much. At least I had kept my part of the bargain!
Ten minutes is a long time when you’re waiting for a whole cricket team that you’ve never met. All sorts of doubts run through your mind - wrong day? Wrong shop? Wrong town? Wrong time? Wrong sport perhaps? Eventually, 15 minutes later at 5.30p.m a red-cheeked Englishman bounded up to me and informed me the rest of the team were in the pub. Something, by the tone of his voice I should have taken as a given.
I followed Mr Keane to the establishment where my new team mates were waiting only to find upon entry, three very un-cricket looking gentlemen holding up the bar in an otherwise deserted pub. Things were starting to get fairly interesting, I decided to enquire of Frank the designated commencement time of our match and in turn alluded to our decided lack of bodies. His calm reply was 6pm and nodding his head in agreement to our lack of numbers. As I introduced myself to the bodies at the bar, Frank made haste with his phone and tried to rally the troops so to speak. My fears were found to be warranted as I learned the three at the bar were actually my team-mates and all on the steeper side of five pints.
The next ten minutes saw another player or two enter the pub rather nonchalantly and make his way straight to the bar. Frank, after many a phone call decided it was time to head for the ground, as my thoughts kept turning to the 6pm start time and the forty minute drive in front of us. The maths wasn’t quite adding up as it was a quarter to six by now. Such and such and such and such were of course going to meet us at the ground, everyone downed their pints and off we went.
My travelling companions to the game were Frank as driver and an ex-pat Aussie who shall remain nameless. Let’s just say he had to be physically pried from the bar and was travelling with refreshment. It didn’t seem conceivable that he would be in any condition to take to the playing field at that point. Little did I know, my perception of conceivable or not, was soon to be seriously revised and renewed.
On the trip down to the ground, which was becoming more lively by the minute as Frank noticed our scheduled starting time coming and going, we held a brief team meeting. Frank, was dictating the batting order to my fellow countryman who was scribbling it down and in turn debating every decision. I was being asked of my ability to which I mumbled, I was an all-rounder and didn’t really elaborate. This was taken as a good omen and I was duly promoted to opening batsman. I don’t think we got past number five; it was basically, wait and see who turns up.
Upon our arrival at the ground, we were greeted by a well groomed, immaculately uniformed outfit from a nearby Cork Tertiary Institution, eleven in number. They didn’t seem at all surprised by our disjointed, badly attired, small in number and late arrival. I would go as far as to say, they got exactly what they were expecting.
A brief debate between captains ensued and it was unanimously decided that Kinsale were to bat first. No toss of a coin, just an exercise in reason. They had eleven and we at this stage, had about two and a half. Frank and I proceeded to pad-up as a car or two of our own reinforcements thankfully pulled up in the car park.
Not only was I, a usual number 4 or 5 batsman, thrown in the deep end as an opener, but a facing opener as well. The old double-whammy I thought and this mob looked as though they knew their way around the park! Well, if I actually learnt anything that day, it was that looks can certainly be very deceptive and a very loose base to judge anything on. These Tertiary lads had the T-Shirts alright, but as the opening bowler came in off his forty step run-up, I was to discover that it was a case of all show - no punch!
We’ve all seen the guy that sprints in like Carl Lewis then just as he gets to the crease he transforms into slow motion. Well, this particular guy had it down to an art form. After my first ball faced, which I actually played at a whole second before it sauntered past me, I knew I just may be in business here and able to get some runs on the board.
The "slog-fest” lived up to its name. Frank and I put on 100 in as many balls. Ironically, in our innings we only called upon three of our bats. Frank carried his bat, I made a speedy fifty and graciously threw my wicket away and our number three (who I introduced myself to as I passed walking off) took up where I left off. As I arrived back at our base camp I was relieved to find another six players had appeared from the wilderness. We had nine players now and the fellas were very content with, as they put it, “nearly a full team”! We ended our 20 overs with a fairly impressive 143 for one and prepared to take the field.
First though, we had a little fielding session, we stood in a semi-circle around Frank who was feeding us some pretty soft catches. There was a reason for the lack of sting though. As I wondered why my Australian counterpart sat this session out, sipping on a gin and tonic of all things, a reliable source fielding next to me filled me in. In a similar exercise the previous season, before a 20 over cup final, my antipodean friend had been a bit slow in responding to a sharp head high chance, his hands went up only after the ball had struck him squarely on the nose and in turn breaking it. Before a ball had been bowled he had managed to maim himself. He did however, manage to make the field with a little pain relief from his preferred beverage and was even able to find a positive in the unfortunate scenario, assuring all present that it had been broken "back into place!” - Impressive!
On this particular day however, once we had taken the field he went on to have one of his (fairly frequent) off days and spent the majority of his time as spectator to a ladies soccer match on a corresponding field. Only involving himself when a catch was there to be dropped or a boundary to be let through his defences. Effectively, we were down to eight men and the game ended up a lot closer than it really should have been. The fact that our wicket-keeper was also one of our better bowlers also contributed to proceedings.
The Umpiring was also very interesting and quite creative it must be said. A former 20 over participant held the position and also dabbled in the art of commentary. He was very insightful if not just a little off-putting. My personal memory of his skill was when I was preparing my run up to bowl. Once marked, I informed him that I was right arm over, he then addressed the batsman by saying "right arm over” and as an afterthought “Fairly handy” I was impressed; this guy was a prophet as well! In any case with those words he managed to put the fear of God into the batsman for me and I proceeded to clean up the tail. Kinsale went home as fairly comfortable victors.
With plenty of daylight still remaining we parted company with our well-laundered opponents and disbanded as unceremoniously as we had arrived. It was all over before 9p.m. The Kinsale 20 Over cricket team then proceeded to prove just how messy they could really get back in the pub from which we had begrudgingly left, just three hours previous. Having not played any 20 over cricket for the last couple of seasons due to senior commitments, I do believe, I just may make it a priority to participate next season - late arrivals, lack of planning, G & T’s, messiness and all!