The bowler tiptoes up to the crease. The arched trajectory of the ball upon release is tracked carefully by 11 pairs of eyes. As it slopes down, so too do the batter’s eyebrows, showing deep concentration.
The batter strides towards the tiny white orb which seems to defy the laws of gravity by hanging vulnerably in the air. She swings erratically, the contact makes a dull thud. The ball loops up, glistening in the evening sun.
The theme tune to Chariots of Fire is faintly audible. I take two paces forward, set myself, step back once, set myself again, check my watch, brew a cup of tea, complete today’s cryptic crossword, when finally I see the ball emerge from the clouds, having caused much confusion for air-traffic control. For a split second I panic, deciding whether to attempt the catch with one hand or two. I cup both palms like I’m grovelling, my legs go weak. The ball takes pity on me, as I draw it in towards my chest with relief.
My first ever catch in stoolball in my fourth game. I wanted to celebrate like the cricketers do and throw the ball really high in the air, but I wouldn’t be confident of catching it again if I did that! Besides, celebration wouldn’t be in keeping with the friendly nature of the sport – friendly until we are losing that is.
Until very recently, I hadn’t played stoolball since secondary school. It’s a traditional Sussex game, a mix between cricket and rounders. I remember having the odd game when I was 11 or 12, but it was more popular at the girls’ school next door. When I mention the game to people nowadays, they either don’t know what it is or suggest it’s only played by women, so there certainly seems to be a stigma attached to it.
Last month, during a stroll around Lewes, I came across a unisex stoolball game. I showed an interest and was invited to play in the next match. I instantly warmed to the group of players, and the sport. The rules were pretty easy to pick up, you hit a ball and run between wickets as in cricket. Scoring is the same, but the bat looks like a giant lollipop and the ball is quite small. My season’s best so far is 27 runs, plus I’ve taken two wickets, had a go at bowling (badly) and grazed my knee.