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Sandpaper? We had dodgy umpires and cowpat corner

PUBLISHED: 11:39 14 April 2018

No sign of ball-tampering caught on camera at Aldborough Green, near Cromer, in this 1947 cricket encounter.  The green was relevelled after being ploughed up during the war.

No sign of ball-tampering caught on camera at Aldborough Green, near Cromer, in this 1947 cricket encounter. The green was relevelled after being ploughed up during the war.

Archant

Recent cricket-related shenanigans have reminded Keith Skipper of his early sporting days.

Ball-tampering is nothing new. It’s been going on ever since Cinderella turned up late for a big social whirl and tried to wangle a bar extension until 5.30am.

It reached a peak on mid-Norfolk cricket grounds in the 1950s when I acted as scorer and emergency fielder for our village team. My usual position was Cowpat Corner, way out in deep territory littered with strange bumps, rabbit holes and cattle calling-cards.

It was a means of hiding me as far away as possible from serious action. Hard-hitting batsmen with a nasty sense of humour regularly put that theory to the test with big heaves seeking out crusty delights dotted around me.

Several embarrassing episodes stick in the memory. Pick of the plop crop must be the occasion when I ruined a white plimsoll in nudging out the imprisoned sphere and kicking it over the boundary. I signalled four runs and then waited for a search party to retrieve the battered ball from a riot of nettles and brambles.

There was no ready supply of new “red cherries” in those just-get-on-with-it days. That much-vaunted traditional “spirit of the game”, brought blatantly into disrepute recently by Australia’s underhand tactics, largely survived despite countless tests of faith in officialdom.

I saw too many batsmen given out lbw to deliveries more likely to hit the square-leg umpire than the wicket. Caught behind off a billowing shirt or chunky pullover was a common fate. A tight run-out appeal tended to go in favour of home players. Mercifully, such incidents provoked little beyond a disbelieving look, disparaging mutter and disgruntled trudge.

Perhaps the finest example of Norfolk stoicism in heat of battle emerged from a mid-week friendly between Beeston Boys and their Mileham counterparts. A local character renowned for ignoring social and sporting etiquette stood as impartial umpire. I think he came from Litcham.

An early lbw appeal was greeted with a profound apology and earnest promise: “Sorry, I wunt lookin’. But if he dew it agin, thass out!” He was as good as his word three overs later when the ball thudded into pads and he raised a triumphant finger.

While general behaviour in many sports continues to slide towards anarchy, with much more sledging in cricket than the Winter Olympics and better diving in football than in any top-class pool, I cast an accusing eye towards Disneytime, pantomime and nursery rhyme.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin my exclusive treatise on why so many early “role models” pull up short of setting good examples to budding sports enthusiasts. Humpty Dumpty must be worst of the lot. Did he fall deliberately or was he pushed? How many times a soccer season does a referee face that penalty-area poser!

Aladdin was too often rubbing up referees the wrong way. Bambi tended to exaggerate difficulties of keeping your feet in slippery conditions. Snow White drifted offside persistently and then blamed Dopey or Sleepy for timing their runs from midfield incorrectly.

Jack and Jill were over the hill too early as twin strikers. Jack of beanstalk fame spent most of his time climbing on defenders’ shoulders when he took over up front. Pinocchio developed a keen nose for the half-chance but invariably turned wooden in front of goal.

Little Boy Blue mooched around waiting to become an Ipswich Town mascot. Little Miss Muffet couldn’t get used to standing in the Barclay End. Robin Hood never found the target against Nottingham Forest. Peter Pan relished a promotion push – but failed to make a mark in the top flight.

Cricket has been no less badly served by other nursery favourites. How on earth can a cast of 101 Dalmatians be assembled without encouraging thoughts of spot-fixing? The rhyme One Two, Buckle My Shoe is clearly an inducement towards time-wasting out in the middle. There Was A Crooked Man leads so uncomfortably towards Sandpapergate.

Dick Whittington, keen to follow calls of “turn again”, has been trying to doctor pitches in favour of spinners. Buttons continues to fail miserably to put zip into his medium-pacers. Captain Hook still falls consistently to a daisy-cutter.

While we wait for the umpire to strike back at all kinds of doubtful tactics from Camberwick Green to Lord’s, Norfolk’s Babes In The Wood can be fully exonerated. He is back in Norfolk and living in Sheringham.

After all, that pitches perfectly into a worthwhile innings of “bawl-tempering”.

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