Umpire of the sun squints at 20-20 vision

Cricket’s T20 World Cup gets underway this week in Sri Lanka. Twelve teams battering the ball halfway to India, scurrying between the wickets, leaping like salmon to pull off remarkable catches, go-go girls showing a similar elasticity as they put their go-go get-ups through their go-go paces, and fans going apoplectic with joy at every inside edge that flies to the boundary.

You don’t have to be a cricket purist to enjoy the dash and dive of T20 – in fact that can be a hindrance as the delicate, intuitive brush strokes of the longer game give way to the formulaic but brightly coloured chaos of the slap and dash. That is not meant to be a derogatory term by the way, it is just that the batsman does try to slap the ball as hard as he can and then dash for the other end.

It will be a riot of excitement – or so the publicity machine will tell us – although anyone who has watched the 50-over or 40-over or 20-over game over the years knows, you get just as many duds as thrillers. That is the nature of cricket, no matter how you try and dress it up.

Be that as it may, the 20-over game has matured since it first hit the English county circuit in 2003 – Surrey beating Warwickshire at the final at Trent Bridge.

I hesitate to add that although I was there that day, covering the finals for Scotland on Sunday, my most memorable impression was seeing Atomic Kitten doing a live set at the half-time break, the only time I hasten to add that I have seen these handsome songstresses going about their business. Don’t tell ’em I said so but Blondie they ain’t. Or weren’t.

Since then, the 20-over game has gone global which in some ways makes me feel good. I love Test cricket but have never played anything longer than a two-day match so it is difficult to equate to the rigours of five days in the baking sunshine chasing leather.

However, all cricketers can associate with the 20-over game. We used to call it Taverners’ cricket at university. I was very proud to skipper a DU Ramblers side  that went two years unbeaten.

This was partly because we had a couple of decent players – Paul Clinch was a big-hitter who drank gallons of beer and later played a couple of non-cap Tests for the Irish rugby team while the actor Martin Murphy was quite handy off his long run. Quentin Letts, recently described by The Independent as “Fleet Street’s most gleeful troublemaker, a master of the well-aimed custard pie” was a handy opening bat who would wear his Haileybury cricket sweater in all conditions. His sartorial elegance was matched by the eloquence of his barbed comments from the deep.

Partly, though, our success came through what some people might term gamesmanship but which I prefer to describe as using local knowledge.

No play in College Park – the Pav and the Moyne Institute can be seen at the top of the picture in the corner of the ground

Matches, you see, started at 6pm and our pitch ran pretty much east-west … so I made it my skipper’s business to find out what time the evening sun would be dipping over the Berkeley Library thus blinding batsmen for at least two overs. That was the moment when, just as Douglas Jardine would clap his hands to summon the mighty Larwood into the attack, I would whistle up my weakest bowler.

Donald Clarke is now a highly respected film critic for the Irish Times but back in the mid-eighties his aspirations lay in gracing the acres of College Park in his whites and honouring the Instonians cap worn many years before by his late father.

As he was my roommate, I managed to squeeze him into the side a few times but always on the understanding that there was to be no hiding; he would have to play a full-part in proceedings. Our rules meant that every outfielder had to bowl two overs and batsmen retired at 25, although they could come back in again if all the other wickets fell.

Donald worked hard on his bowling and emerged with something akin to what the old-timers of the 19th century might describe as lob bowling – no discernible spin but great height. I will admit that I encouraged him to find as much aerial trajectory as possible in order to confound the batsmen who invariably lost the ball in the dazzling evening sun.

Donald Clarke – former cricketer, now film critic for the Irish Times
(Sketch by Tom Galvin originally for Film Ireland)

Occasionally one would slip and either end up as a wide or landing somewhere safely beyond the boundary. But more often that not, the batsman would be helpless, one hand on the bat and the other trying to shade the glare from the sun.  Dot balls aplenty and a few wickets as well as the unfortunate batters holed out to mid-off or mid-on, sparking much tittering from fielders and spectators alike.

The last game of the season was always a poignant moment though – as Donald collected his beloved Insts cap from the umpire and marched off towards long leg, there would come a loud holler from Letts on the boundary:

“Thank God that’s over for another year.”

I am looking forward to the T20 World Cup, especially as I will have the pleasure of commentating it for Eurosport France, but as another Dublin cricketer Eoin Morgan is blasting his way to a rapidfire 50 from 12 balls, my mind will creep back a few years and wonder if he would have had the same success against D Clarke and the setting sun.

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