As mentioned several times on here, sport was an important part of school life and it took a lot to get games lessons cancelled. During the winter you could expect to be forced to play football or rugby on pitches that were either as hard as concrete or so wet that entire teams went missing, sucked down into the depths only to emerge years later like bog bodies clad in ‘House’ colours. Summer was however, different.
Summer sports involved cricket and athletics and our cricket field was also used by the county side as a training ground so the groundsman was less than happy to have sixty lads tearing up his beautiful turf should the weather be a bit on the damp side. Thus on those days when it was chucking it down we would find ourselves confined to the school gyms and the game of potential violent death that was indoor cricket.
Indoor cricket was simple…and deadly. You had two chairs acting as wickets, a full size cricket bat and a tennis ball. In order to score runs you had to hit the ball somewhere in the hall. So far, so simple…but what about the deadly part? Somewhere over the years the rules had been amended a little. Rumour had it this had occurred in 1975 and coincided with the release of the film ‘Rollerball’. Not only did you score points by running back and forth between the wickets but points were also awarded for how many of the opposing team were put out of action. This could be achieved by scything their legs from under them in a sliding attempt to reach the wicket before the ball or by giving the ball a hard enough thwack to turn it into a deadly missile that ricocheted off walls and into the backs of the fielding teams heads. A massive ten points was awarded for hitting the right hand top panel of the gymnasium doors which meant that the ball had to be hit with some force at roughly head height causing bowlers and fielders to hit the floor rather than risk decapitation by a manky old tennis ball.
It was always possible to tell which year had been on ‘wet games’ as at 3.30pm they would stagger from the gym holding handkerchiefs to bleeding noses or wads of wet paper towels to already swollen eyes. A few would even emerge disconsolately holding a dislodged tooth in the hope that their parents knew a really good dentist.
Thus it was that one particularly soggy summer day in 1980 we found ourselves in the school gym and forced to take part in the orgy of violence and bloodshed that was indoor cricket. The games teacher had left us to it and had returned to the comfort of the P.E masters room no doubt to catch up with the papers and have a crafty slug of the Scotch we knew was kept in the filing cabinet.
We had been playing for about an hour. The bodies were already piling up on the mats at the back of the gym. There were at least two minor concussions, a split lip, a black eye and Toby was curled into a ball clutching his groin. However, we had just bowled the other team out to three falls and a submission and we were in to bat. Being half decent players and not having suffered any debilitating wounds during our fielding my kindly team mates volunteered Andy and I to go in to bat first.
Andy got the first ball. BLAT! Beautiful two wall ricochet that ended up in the middle of Micks back winding him for the few vital seconds to allow a run to be scored. Next ball. THWAP! Near miss that caused Trev’ to duck but was insanely fielded by Clive. Andy was out, next man in was Toby, still walking a bit funny from his earlier encounter with the ball. WHUMP! Deflection from the bars that left Clive with a bleeding nose and in the scramble to reach the wicket Toby took down Simon the opposition bowler with what looked like a sliding tackle culminating with a poke to the stomach with the bat.
…and so it continued. I had managed to reach 35 runs, we had whittled the other team down to seven fielders but Pete and I were the last remaining batsmen in and we were 12 points down. Pete was not a great player so it looked to be down to me. Gavin was bowling and launched a vicious bouncer in my direction. THUMP! By some miracle bat and ball connected and the ball zinged to the corner of the gym and we scored two runs. Ten points down. The next ball, an equally fast and vicious bouncer was hit and bounced off a couple of walls. Another two points were made and by this time the rest of the team were yelling encouragement. In fact they were yelling quite loudly. Loudly enough to rouse the games master from his paper in the P.E masters room.
Back in the hall I was ready for Gavins next bouncer, he launched the ball and I saw a chance. THWACK! Straight as a die the ball rocketed towards the gym doors. Ten points! Oh yes! Errr! No! With impeccable timing, the games master opened the door and my ten point ball smacked into his chin with an audible CRUNCH! He stood for a couple of seconds and then went down as if pole-axed and my cricket whites nearly went brown. Luckily Gavin who was a scout and had done his first aid badge ascertained that the games master was still alive and breathing.
It was just as Gavin had announced his diagnosis that the headmaster arrived, having also been disturbed by the noise from the gym, to discover a crowd of boys, one of whom was holding a cricket bat standing over an unconscious teacher. If that wasn’t bad enough another group of boys was huddled on the gym mats trying to staunch bleeding noses, lips and other extremities with their cricket whites. ‘Lord of the Flies’ had nothing on that scene and it was almost possible to read his thoughts from the haunted look on his face. Should he go on or should he swiftly retreat, lock the doors and call the police, the army and possibly the local asylum as well?
Fortunately sanity prevailed and everything was soon sorted out. The school matron was called and arrived swiftly only smelling ever so slightly of medicinal brandy and between the headmaster and the hastily summoned head of maths the games master was carted off to the school medical room. Strangely we never got to play indoor cricket ever again. Wet games days were spent improving ourselves in the school library where the likelihood of sudden and violent death was a lot less… unless of course the librarian went a bit mental with the date stamp.