Cricket in Heaven: by Louis Pack
“Roger loved cricket. He was a regular visitor to our Test Match Special commentary box at Lord’s or the Oval. He was fascinated by the weird and wonderful statistics that cricket throws up and told me once that he wished he was Denis Compton…well we can all dream, I suppose. He would then disappear into one of the stands and between balls, learn his lines, so this whimsical piece written specially by Louis is very fitting…it’s called Cricket in Heaven.”
188 for 9 with one delivery remaining. Pack sauntered towards the wicket, twirling the cherry between his stubby little fingers and reflected on an extraordinary turn of events. How different things might have been.
It was the annual Poets versus Thespians celestial test match and as the teams strode out onto the field for the final day’s play, a sense of grim inevitability clung to proceedings. The Thesps, captained by an increasingly irascible Harold Pinter, were flailing hopelessly in the field and hurtling towards another bruising defeat at the hands of the remorseless bards. Byron and Newbolt, the poet openers, were in splendid nick and dispatching the hams’ bowling attack with consummate ease.
Indeed by lunch, with the score at 105 for no wicket and needing just 87 more to win, thoughts began to drift from the game at hand and towards the evening’s festivities with whisperings of a wine and cheese soiree to be hosted by Nicholas Clay. Back inside the Pavilion, Pinter looked upon his charges as they tore into the tuck tray and regretted, not for the first time, having chosen to play for the Thespians over the Poets. Having demolished a blue cheese tartlet and plum fool combo, Pack seized his chance for a quick lie down, hoping to catch 40 winks before the next session started.
“Pack!” growled Pinter. “Can you bowl?”
“Er-a little.” replied Pack with a start.
“Well, what do you bowl?” snapped Pinter.
“C-c-casual l-leg spin.” stammered Pack.
“Perfect” replied Pinter. “It’s what they’ll least expect. You’ll bowl the first over of the session. Clay will back you up at the Clock End.”
Pack gulped and nodded gravely. “Yes, of course Skip.” Well this was a rum thing indeed. He had only been drafted in at the 12th hour to replace an injured Boris Karloff and here he was, thrown into the lion’s den against a band of formidable lyricists.
Back on the field, Pack soaked up his new surroundings. The wicketkeeper, Corin Redgrave, gently hummed the opening number of Guys And Dolls. To Corin’s right, a slip cordon of Larry Olivier, David Niven and Aubrey Smith were discussing the best seafood restaurants in South California. It took all Pack’s best efforts to ignore the cruel sledges from Byron and Newbolt, who weren’t slow to note the resemblance of his legs to those of a chicken.
Pack hop-skipped towards the crease and curled his left arm over his languid frame, closed his eyes and hoped for the best. CLUMP. The unmistakable sound of ball hitting wood.
“Oh no” thought Pack, “He’s hit me for six.” He opened his eyes to see the most wondrous of sights: the middle stump dislodged and a despondent Byron halfway back towards the pavilion.
“Harold! You’re a genius!” roared Pinter. “I mean, well done Rog. That spun a country mile.”
A wind of change was blowing in the air. The wickets began to tumble, Pack’s psychedelic leg spin in tandem with Clay’s unrelenting accuracy causing havoc amongst the Poet middle order. Sassoon, Chesterton and Blake were amongst the many to depart for dismal scores.
And so. 188-9 with one ball remaining. Only the tail-ender Ted Hughes stood in the way of a miraculous victory. A boundary needed for the Poets and a solitary wicket for the Thespian select. As the dodger prepared for the final act of a quite remarkable game, many things crossed his mind at once: the smell of Stiffkey Marshes on a hot summer’s evening, the tinkling keys of Bob Dylan on his piano, an unopened bottle of vino veritas…
Pack arrived at the crease and released the ball, spinning it blissfully towards its final destination…