Fear realised at T20
MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Martin van Beynen
OPINION: I had only one niggling worry - nothing to do with the outcome of the match and admittedly self centred - as my 84-year-old father-in-law and I arranged our picnic chairs at the Hagley Oval, last Sunday.
We were there to watch a Twenty20 match between the Canterbury Wizards and the Northern Knights who were battling for a semifinal berth in the national competition.
I'd not been to a T20 match, a relatively recent addition to the cricketing calendar, but knew they were a slogfest designed to give the punters lots of thrills and spills.
I knew spectators could count on a fair number of fours and sixes as the batsmen tried to make the most of the limited balls.
And lastly I knew a six tended to land among the spectators. I had seen this on TV.
At the Hagley Oval the whole show is a bit more intimate than what you see on TV, although as my father-in-law, a former representative cricketer pointed out, you actually get a better view on the telly.
The Oval - this will soon change - is currently not much more than a nice bit of grass with a cricket pitch in the middle.
Spectators sit around this closely mowed field, a little back from a thick white rope which is laid on the ground to mark the boundary.
The marked boundaries don't seem that far from the pitch (at each end of which you see the wickets) but you need to remember the bowlers are trying to make it hard as possible for the batsmen to hit the ball a long way.
(I wouldn't normally go to so much explanatory trouble but cricket is now something of an arcane sport and is probably heading towards further trouble with so many different formats and a national team which consistently disappoints.)
Anyway, there was father-in-law and me sitting in the front row in our picnic chairs with the north-south pitch before us in the middle of all this green.
To get into this first row took a bit of doing. We were early and I spotted a gap between two groups just big enough for one-and-a-half chairs but easily commodious enough for two trim guys like us, if one of the groups just closed up a little.
An older woman was very obliging but her paunchy husband, who later made snide, unfunny remarks about the players, would not move. There was nearly an incident but fortunately, with the woman moving, we were able to squeeze in, which is just as well for neither father-in-law nor I have particularly good eyesight.
But back to my little worry, which, actually, was more like a sickening, background dread. It would be just my luck, I thought, if a huge turbo-charged six was hit to me and I would be tested in a number of disturbing ways.
My inclination, never having played cricket and being of a cowardly disposition, would be to get the hell out of the way and let it hit someone else. However, that is not something you want to do in front of your father-in-law and an audience of several thousand.
The other option would be to try to catch the ball. I am not an entire nincompoop when it comes to sport, and I know the technique by which you slow the ball down and still keep it your hands. But the technique takes practice and I knew that if I was going to catch the ball it was going to hurt.
The prize of a Harcourts-provided picnic hamper to the value of $50 seemed meagre compensation considering what was at stake, which included the risk of fumbling the ball or missing it altogether.
I consoled myself with the thought that the chances of a ball being hit directly to me were remote.
The first 20 overs contained lots of sixes but mercifully none came near us and I was feeling confident the match would pass without incident.
The Wizards went into bat and, yes, you guessed it, it wasn't long before an ominous, white, meteoric projectile was arcing its way towards me.
I knew immediately it had the distance and, without thinking, I was out of my chair, hat still on, moving towards the curving trajectory of the ball.
Time did not unfortunately stand still and before I had taken a step, a catch needed to be attempted. There is a long moment of suspense between the approach of a ball and the result, which you hope will be a ball securely in hand and a feeling of joy and satisfaction. The more difficult the catch, the better the feeling.
I was already thinking of all this when the ball went through my outstretched hands and hit me on my upper thigh. I think I did just enough to divert the ball from its sensitive anatomical target.
So a very fortunate but inglorious result all round.
Although the incident clearly has moral depth of biblical proportions, I was struck by more than the ball. I was left thinking how wonderful it was that in this risk averse age we can still attend a day of entertainment and risk getting badly hurt, killed or humiliated by a hard flying object.
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