Hope springs eternal in the cricketing nets
Six long months have passed since the end of the previous season and the period of hibernation reaches its conclusion. At a non-descript venue half a dozen or so cricketers emerge from a winter in front of the television or enjoyment of pursuits played in less favourable weather to begin down the road leading to the next campaign. Nets are a staple of the village cricketer, a chance to send down a series of half-trackers or play a succession of yahoo shots without recrimination before the real stuff begins. Players greet each other warmly with the almost obligatory uttering of “Have you wintered well?” proffered liberally amongst the banter and badinage that floats around the indoor ether as a prologue to the business at hand.
Nets are a time for socialising followed by frivolous adventure. Batsmen / women play lavish cover drives and extravagant pull shots that, in their mind’s eye, scuttle away across the sward to the boundary as opposed to looping in the air to a sentinel fielder. Bowlers proffer deliveries on what is ordinarily a good length only to witness them summarily dispatched by a batsman / woman uninhibited by the threat of losing one’s wicket.
For those stood with ball in hand the indoor nets provide something of an ersatz atmosphere. The average village team will not play on anything approaching a surface this firm or true during the whole summer. For the bowler it is merely an exercise of loosening and stretching the muscles, re-awakening the memories of turning one’s arm over and keeping something in the memory bank for when the real matches take place on soft pitches with uneven bounce. Occasionally the rattle of ball into metallic stumps resonates and prompts much guffawing from a gaggle of bowlers delighted that a rare castling has taken place, albeit not on their batting watch.
In contrast, batsmen / women end their stint bathed in sweat after what is the most concentrated spell of batting they are likely to undertake all summer, their muscles in their hands aching from shot after shot clasped around the bat handle. For them it is an immediate payback, for the bowlers the stiff muscles and joints will not reveal themselves until a day or two down the line.
Many a player indulges in a peek across to the neighbouring nets to see who that batsman / woman is flaying every delivery into the netting, forcing the divider to balloon dramatically into the adjacent runway. It is highly unlikely that the two teams will meet across the course of a summer but, still, a quick recce on potential opponents needs to be undertaken.
As the session wears on the bowlers become tired and the rotating batsmen / women become rather cavalier. The occasional shot is lofted back down the length of the net to the clarion call of “Heads!” whilst all manner of sweeps, laps and scoops are unfurled with half a thought on whether they might be employed during the forthcoming summer. Nets are a time when new styles and methods are trialled and vowed upon to be used as part of one’s attacking repertoire.
Hope springs eternal in the cricketing nets after all