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Glossed red leather clatters into a hallowed wicket of willow, cracking the silence within storied stands of the ‘Home of cricket.’

M.C.C., Lord’s cricket ground, two hundred years of history. Centuries old celebration of appeal, and congratulation, echo among modern, newly minted, engineering-marvel grandstands flanking a pavilion of rich beauty, original classic romanticism bound together as a history of the ‘Gentlemen’s Game.’

Waiting two levels of grandeur above the playing field, at the boundary of the venerated Long Room, secured by The Grace Gates, hidden in the away team dressing rooms, beneath honor boards celebrating the centurions and wicket takers of days gone by, a youthful gladiator exhales, one final breath, as his heart misses beats. Sweat soaks the palms of his once safe hands and a nervous convulsion engulfs athletic body. Lack of self-belief becomes a major ability inhibitor.

Nightmare scenarios haunt the fitful sleep of all batsmen, however confident in their ability to perform at this highest of levels, horror descends on the consciousness of a 21-year-old, once upon a time, child prodigy. The armor of his batting pads has disappeared from a teenage dream fantasy. Protection adorned as a second skin these past ten years, how were they not secured hours ago? Strapping pad to leg by the unlucky middle strap he realizes he has erred, attaching right pad attached to left leg. Sleep’s dark torture finds those pads sitting upside down on the backs of his legs. Cricket’s nightmare scenario. 

Insignificant batsman that he has become, the boy is meant to be crossing the boundary within two minutes of his captain’s dismissal. Otherwise, he will give out, ending before he begins, the horror show dismissal. Timed out. Paralyzed. 

Dare to dream? Not if this is the recurrent nightmare of the unworthy.

Descent within a maze of staircases awaits. Dizzying drop onto acres of playing surface, if he can just secure these six leg straps, find gloves, carry some sponsor’s bat hidden somewhere deep in this whirlpool.

Imposter syndrome has lurked within him, all his fledgling career, a sense that he does not belong. Not good enough, not worthy, not committed, not talented. The weak mind has conquered the strong body and every sportsman’s worst fear of failure descends upon the pretender. Reality dawns with a silent scream.

There is only one longer walk in the life of a failing cricketer as he drags himself to the wicket. The longest, loneliest walk, is that of the batting failure, dismissed for nothing and sent to the showers.

Guard scratched into the sunbaked crease; stance assumed in the center the hallowed square. Young Lamb raises his eyes to sight the dominator at the Pavilion End. Older than all on show. Experienced beyond belief. This wily old fox owns his stature in the English Test team. He eats debutantes for breakfast.

The magical spinner of mystery has taken a gigantic, great shovel and dropped pressure all around the lost child star. The chirping wicket keeper crouched one meter to the rear awaits clatter of ball on bails. Mouthy, the most-improved upstart crouches at short leg breathing on coldly sweating, awaiting a gloved catch off a spitting googly. Old pro,’ once a national hero, squats beneath sweat stung debutant eyes in readiness for a bat-pad catching chance. Salivating at slip is the captain, cool in career-long confidence. Waiting in the gully position blinding the corner of the virgin’s vision is a mountain of a man, the all-rounder bully boy, dominator, and hangman. 

Shrunken, fetal, the little boy waits.

Young and hopeful yet hopelessly outmatched, the youngster files dry tongue around chapping lips. Which way will the ball spin out of the rough? Slower delivery or arm ball? Will he really hear the fizz of the seam as five- and three-quarter ounces of red leather on cork curves twenty-two yards in under a second set to spit sideways off the surface? Star of the long past schoolboy competitions, lost at the altar of first-class fiefdom. He is the legendary Wally Hammond who becomes wasted Walley Gherkin. 

Sunscreen sweat leaks protective helmet, streams into blue eyes, chewing gum produces no saliva from a flight-not fight dry mouth. Sour sweat of fear pours from every outlet of the sacrificial body. The wily fox tosses cherry-red orb lazily from right hand to left, this Sultan of Spin begins his loquacious approach. Convicted, the victim awaits execution.

Delivered up and over the eyeline, the ball drops short of a good length and ten thousand hours of practice rocks back with open shoulders, throws his hands through the line of flight and cracks the middle of the bat so sweetly through the ball. 

Boundary four to the young King David and defeat to the old worn Goliath of ‘straight breaks.’

Hope dawns eternal for the young up-and-comer. Hope is a good thing, overconfidence is another. Cricket is the great leveler, the young man must never believe that he has arrived for good, never forget that the journey is everything, do not doubt cricket as the great leveler.

The pain that can come after stroking a ball magnificently to the boundary on debut can and will be brought crashing down should overconfidence bring a loose cover drive to the left arm swing bowler operating from the Nursery End. Pampered, shining Duke ball swings, straightens, and dislodges the off bail.

Wide world of sport, 40,000km around the equator becomes a dark curtain wrapped around the personal space of a 178cm sportsman. Locked in a cubicle of despair, crushed by an avalanche of failed dreams, there is no lonelier place than the seat on an ancient dressing room bench looking down into an empty kit bag and vacant future and that must be filled with discarded equipment and lost hope of a sporting dream becoming a nightmare. No compensation can be offered to an aspiration of success severed by the death-rattle of leather upon wicket. 

Tears well up in tight closed eyes. Ears close themselves to the world around them. No future exists, no bright blue skies, no soothing comment can pierce the cloak of darkness. Neither historic nor future success will function as balm for the depth of pain bound within the mind of the failed batsman here and now. 

What could have been? Hope’s eternal spring, now boiled to dust, dispersed by the winds of change. Lost and alone in this population of one, any Tom, Dick or Wally will die a little more as the nightmare returns upon every dawning for the rest of his days. At day’s end, end of days, there will be no respite, no erasure to may found in the fact that failure found the young man at center stage on his most important of days.


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