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Matt Donlan cricket column: It's a funny old game, whatever the weather
IT’S a damp day at the end of a wet week and suddenly a ball pops and raps a batsman on the knuckles – and some players seem to think the world is going to end.
The confidence rapidly disappears and suddenly a league cricket ground is filled with talk that the pitch is not up to scratch.
Perceived wisdom suggests that football is the funny old game, but cricket can be equally as weird, at least when it comes to messing with a mind.
While a ball rearing off the back of a length is disconcerting, you wonder what some of the old guys must think as they look on from the boundary edge.
They see that sort of ball behaviour as a challenge to rise to rather than one to shy away from – and they would know.
Back in the days of uncovered wickets players had to contend with the likes of Charlie Griffiths and Wes Hall. On uncovered pitches. Often when the weather had been horrid.
“It used to fly over your head, past your shoulder, near your nose – and if the fast bowler took a dislike to you he would bowl it at you,” smiled Ray Kelly, who was a fixture behind the East Lancashire stumps between 1954 and 1976.
Kelly knows cricket is played in a different generation now. It is a different game. Players, generally in body armour and helmets, often want to hit every ball out of the ground. That works in some formats but not in all.
And while everyone likes to see a batsman charging to a rapid hundred and the scoreboard going around like a stopwatch, there are truly few better sights than seeing a batsman dig in with stoic grit and determination for the good of the team.
Kelly won’t admit it but he must have been quietly proud of his son Paul, who grafted for 93 minutes for just 20 on Sunday as East Lancs battled an impressive Haslingden bowling attack on a testing track at Alexandra Meadows.
Kelly junior and Ockert Erasmus were a study in concentration as they gave their side something to bowl at – and Kelly senior will have seen it all before when Haslingden replied on a wicket with no demons whatsoever as the always classy Graham Knowles and pro Harry Boam cantered home.
The two innings were polar opposites – but both magnificent in their context; it was a game that highlighted league cricket at its best.
And it was a game that proved cricket really can be a funny old game.