A Feature Cricket Article by Stuart Larner 26/10/03
Jim Morrow sank onto the bench in the dressing room in despair amidst his sweaty and defeated team, East Moxham.
“You know what he said, don’t you? That I should go for catching lessons! Fancy an opposing captain saying that. I know Rod Stirling can be self-opinionated at times. But there’s no need to rub it in. It was a fair catch.”
“Yes, it was a fair catch, Jim,” commiserated Amahl, the slim young left-armer. “I’m sure you’re right. Your heel did not touch the boundary rope. West Moxham have got promoted illegally.”
The raucous din of celebration coming through the thin walls from the other dressing room annoyed Jim even more.
“Huh! I’d like to teach him a lesson in manners, the pompous self-opinionated git!” fumed Jim.
“Well perhaps there may be a way,” said Amahl, his eyes lighting up with a wry smile. He lowered his voice conspiratorially and winked and nodded at Jim. “I know a man back home in India. He loves cricket, is a very good practical joker and a magician. He is called Fardeep Singh and this is right up his street. Let me send him an e-mail. He will know what to do.”
He tapped the side of his nose with his finger in a knowing way. A smile of anticipated revenge spread slowly over Jim’s face.
Three months later the annual general league meeting took place in the Village Hall, Moxham. The chairman, Bob Hardcastle, was a rotund man in his sixties, with a heavy chest, his laboured voice rising in pitch animated by the excitement of the correspondence before him. His eyebrows were combed up at the outer edges so that he looked like a tufted owl.
“Now gentlemen, we have received a letter detailing a wonderful opportunity that is being offered to celebrate the centenary of the Mohal and Mumbai Plantation President’s XI Cricket Club. In order to further the understanding of cricket between the two great nations of England and India the great Fardeep Singh is willing to come and give his services to coach an aspiring cricket team for a three-week period. The only expenses he would claim would be his flight, since he has relatives that he can stay with here. In fact, our patron was so impressed that the league will put half towards it if the successfully selected club puts up the other half from their tea profits. Applications should be made to me and I will then forward them on to Mr Singh in India, who will then select the winning team based on the strength of the application. I must admit it seems a very good idea.”
He paused and looked skywards thoughtfully before continuing. “The name of Fardeep Singh is vaguely familiar from some time ago, but I can’t quite bring him exactly to mind.”
Jim, from his vantage point a few rows back could see Rod Stirling in the front row. He thought that it was unlikely that, being competitive, Rod wouldn’t go for the scheme, but just to make sure he decided to wriggle the bait a bit. So he said loudly “Oh yes, Fardeep Singh, a wonderful player.”
Whereupon Rod, seizing the limelight in an attempt to demonstrate his superior knowledge said “Oh yes, he’s a good batsman all right.”
Jim smiled and wanted to point out that he was actually a bowler but stopped himself from making a fool of Rod in public in case it might turn him off the idea of applying.
About a month afterwards Jim and a couple of other players from East Moxham, Simon and Bob, went excitedly round to Amahl’s house to view the clutch of applications that Fardeep had e-mailed secretly to Amahl for checking that he would be targeting the right club. Amahl had printed them out and they were spread across the table.
Most of the applications were short and boring, but Jim’s eyes instantly settled on the longest one. “Ah, what have we here, now?” he asked ironically. “I wonder if this is a winner or not?” He picked it up between thumb and forefinger.
“Read it out” invited Amahl.
Jim adopted a gruff voice, imitating Rod Stirling.
“Description of assets. West Moxham is a picturesque club nestling in the vale of Larkton…”
“Ha, what about the view of the council rubbish dump behind?” interrupted Simon, mocking.
“Yes, and the smell of it too whilst they are trying to eat their tea!” laughed Amahl, wrinkling up his nose.
“We are well supported by an army of enthusiastic supporters and a strong and organised committee…” Jim continued.
“Ha, that’s his poor wife and sister he’s press-ganged into buttering the bread every week!” Simon chortled.
“Yes, and blind spectators!” added Bob.
Jim could hardly keep a straight face. “The players show an array of talent with all facets of the game, including bowling, batting, and wicket-keeping…”
“All facets? Who do they think they are? The bloody Crown Jewels?” asked Simon.
“Particularly strong is our batting led by the resourceful captain, Rod Stirling, whose enormous talent…”
“Enormous? Oh, yeh, it’s enormous all right!” agreed Simon.
“…Whose enormous talent secured our promotion to the premier division last season.”
“Ha, least said,” murmured Amahl.
“Then it describes the history of the club,” said Jim in his normal voice, “and goes onto another page after the spare continuation page, talking about how good they are and how they want to ‘develop the art and science of playing spin bowling to the highest degree of excellence in the Larkshire League.’ Ha! What rubbish. He’ll develop it all right!”
“Oh yes,” said Amahl. “It’ll certainly be the highest degree of something. Just you wait and see.”
Following this, Fardeep e-mailed the chairman, Mr Hardcastle, that West Moxham had won and gave him the time and date of his flight so that he could be met at the airport by the ever-victorious Rod Stirling just before the start of the season.
Fardeep was instantly recognisable. A slightly rotund character with a beard and turban, a suitcase and a large kitbag bulging with cricket gear. Rod had to push his way through a mob of autograph-hunting club juniors that Jim had unbeknown to them arranged to add authenticity to the arrival. Rod led Fardeep to his car and the two drove off to an Indian Restaurant.
Fardeep was very guarded at first. However, during the meal he felt that he had to confide something in Rod to get him to accept him as credible so he told him about his family. He had two brothers, Samiravaran and Sanjid. Sanjid was a very good bowler who played for High Fenborough, but Samiravaran was not very good. Their father ran a greengrocer’s and Samiravaran had just started to play for the Trader’s XI.
“I am telling you this in confidence,” he said quietly with bowed head, his white turban concentrating the sincerity of his eyes. “Our father is proud of us because we are good cricketers and businessmen, but my little brother, Samiravaran, he makes him do his studies, and so he doesn’t like him playing too much cricket. So when my father sees S. Singh in the team selections he cannot always tell which one it is. We cover up for him. I am telling you this in confidence. I don’t want you telling anyone else.”
Rod nodded in agreement.
There was a silence and Fardeep picked up an onion bhaji and a knife.
“I will tell you how to play Sanjid’s off-breaks. There are three types he has.” Fardeep twisted his fingers around the bhaji in an elaborate grip and held it up to Rod.
“First there is the scorpion. It will roll over when it pitches and shoot forwards to sting you with its tail.”
With a complex twist of his wrist he tossed the bhaji onto a plate and it accelerated after the bounce so quickly that he hardly had time to parry it with his knife.
“So you must be on your guard. See. It will shoot like a spear along the ground. So you must play back and use your bat like a shield.
“Second, there is the crab. It will slowly roll sideways. So you must watch it with your bat and you must handle it carefully when it is near.”
He gripped the bhaji in a slightly different manner and tossed it onto the plate, but this time the bhaji spun on its own axis. As he prodded at it with his knife it began to move and Rod was amazed that it circled around the edge of the plate in an alarming manner.
“If you do not watch it carefully it will dodge under your bat. Your bat must be like a net when you guide the crab away.
“Third, and most dangerous of all, there is the cobra. It will bounce and then spit at you. You must be like a mongoose if you want to play the cobra. You must be ready and when it strikes you must have your bat up high to strike back.”
With a deft flick of his fingers he tossed the bhaji onto the plate and as it bounced up high into the air, he struck it with perfect timing across the room with his knife.
“Good shot!” was all that the thunderstruck Rod Stirling could say.
Fardeep nodded and said “Now I will tell you how I want you to concentrate on the ball for when we meet on Wednesday in the nets.”
Later that week Jim heard back from the juniors what had happened at the airport and in the nets.
“And then” said a blond-haired boy, his eyes wide in amazement as he recounted the scene, “and then he made them concentrate on a cricket ball by hypnosis. He made them swing balls on pieces of string at home and count the number of stitches in the seam. The answer was 336 because…”
“Because,” his friend, a lanky black-haired boy continued, “because it is the number of laws in cricket, 42, times 8, the number of balls in an old-fashioned over.”
“Yeh, and another thing they had to do,” said the first boy, eyes even wider in amazement “was to look for a face on a cricket ball – like the man in the moon. To see your cricket spirit.”
“Yes,” the lanky lad narrowed his eyes to emphasise, “and Rod Stirling said he did it every night for an hour and could see Douglas Jardine.”
“Yeh, and then he told them to play back to full-length balls,” continued the first boy. “And these balls were jumping everywhere off the bat and going to catches all around the wicket.” He danced about to imitate the batsmen.
“And, and,” the second boy concluded, “but they all believed that they were not out because Fardeep had told them they were invincible and that the fielders would drop them. Yeh. ”
“Ha! Lovely!” said Jim gleefully. “He’s teaching them to play back to spinners. And the fools are believing it. Ha! Lovely. On these wickets they’ll get shooting balls, be lbw and that’s it. Excellent. He’s teaching them stuff that will get them out.”
A couple of days before he left Fardeep arranged a practice match where half of West Moxham played the other half. He elicited the assistance of his brother Sanjid to play on the other team and both were careful to bowl easy half-volleys with very little turn but with great theatrical delivery action so it looked as though they were imparting great spin.
Rod Stirling told Jim afterwards when he met him by chance in the village pub that he was convinced he could annihilate next week’s opposition, High Fenborough, even if Sanjid is playing for them as an overseas guest. He told Jim how Fardeep had used an onion bhaji to explain the mysteries of Sanjid’s spin, and was so confident that he bet a fiver. Yet, he was careful not to reveal information about Fardeep’s family.
However, when Jim rang him next week after the match, Rod had to admit he had lost.
“But I’ll offer you double or quits this week when we play the Traders XI,” Rod said.
“What?” queried Jim. “You’ll be annihilated again. Have you seen the team sheet? It says S. Singh is a guest for them this week. I should have thought you would have learnt your lesson by now.”
“Oh, I feel lucky,” said Rod self-assuredly. “I think we’ve worked him out now.”
Jim was amazed at Rod’s pig-headedness. But on reflection, the extent of Rod’s blinkered arrogance did fit in with his character.
“Done,” he said, and added emphatically, “And that’ll be ten pounds you owe me.”
The following Sunday Jim heard from a spectator with a mobile phone that West Moxham were doing badly at the start, even before S. Singh was due to come on to bowl against them.
“Ha! Rod’ll never live this down,” he thought, and was thinking of sending a text message saying “U R CRAP. U O Ł10”.
After the game Jim’s mobile went. It was Rod. “Ten pounds you owe me, Jim.”
“What? How did you do it?” asked Jim. “What about Sanjid?”
“Oh, we knocked them off easily. Didn’t you know?” asked Rod. “It was his brother, the one who owns the off-licence. Samiravaran. He’s no good. He’s a greengrocer. The only thing he can bowl is an orange. I believe that you’re going to play the other semi-professional Sanjid at High Fenborough next week in the cup knockout.
Want to bet on that?”