George held the red leather cricket ball in his right hand, with his thumb placed on the lower stitching and his two centre fingers on the top, precisely one centimetre either side of the raised seam. Looking down, he smiled and gave the ball a quick polish on the already red stained thigh of his immaculately white trousers. Then checking that the other side of the ball was still suitably rough, he walked the short distance to the rear of his wicket and turned to face the batsman. The opposition needed a six to win and he had no intention of allowing this to happen. He started his run and wound his right arm up ready to release the ball, as his leading foot reached the left-hand side of his crease.
Up in the pavilion Dorothy was struggling with the tea urn. While it had been temperamental, it had so far survived the whole of the season, but today she cursed it as the heater switch failed, for the hundredth time, to trigger the red light. “For God’s sake, work.” She hissed and gave the side of the tall aluminium urn a hefty thump with her rather soft hand, and then regretted it, as the pain worked its way up her wrist. Looking out of the neat Georgian style windows, she could see her husband delivering the last bowl of the match. This meant that she had just fifteen minutes to get the water up to boiling point, before the hordes arrived. She flicked the switch again in anticipation that this time it would complete the circuit, but then remembered her husband’s cynical definition of madness “doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result”. She cursed again and lent back against the trestle table that held the plates of neatly cut sandwiches, and ran her fingers through her tousled brown hair.
The ball left George’s hand at just over 90 mph, and at the moment of release he allowed his index finger to linger on the edge of the seam, so that, as it started its inevitable journey towards the other end of the wicket, it also started to spin.
Dorothy stood up and straightened the front of her skirt with a deliberate brush of her outstretched hands, and stepped forward to attack the urn again. Unfortunately, the deep pleat at the rear of her new skirt chose that moment to become trapped in the middle gap of the folding trestle table. The result was predictable. There was a crash as the table lurched sideways and six silver platters slid gracefully over the edge, onto the heavily varnished parquet flooring. Brown and white, alternate buttered sandwich sides, split open, depositing carefully sliced circles of cucumber, triangles of smoked ham and pink piles of salmon mayonnaise in an alarmingly large scatter pattern on the ground. This was then overlaid with a second wave of escaping crockery and assorted silver-plated cutlery. The only thing to escape the carnage, as the table slowly rectified its self, was the plate of brightly coloured iced cupcakes, which were now balanced on a knife edge, deciding whether or not to join the rest of the afternoon tea.
The rotation of the ball was accentuated by its strategically manipulated surface, so that the smooth polished side slid with ease through the air, while its rough counterpart gave sufficient resistance to make it curve inwards on its altered axis. George’s ultimate googly.
The sound of Dorothy’s skirt tearing as well as her stifled cries of alarm were drowned out by the cacophony of noise made by the metal trays as they bounced across the pavilion floor. Looking with total disbelief at the war zone in front of her, she made an ill-advised advance towards the conglomerate of slowly congealing food. With her head still dazed and her eyes fixed in a catatonic stare, she did not see the little pile of slippery cucumber slices until her left, pump style shoe tried to squash them further into the polished floor. Her left leg shot forward and the knee of her right gave way with the sudden added pressure and, within a blink of an eye, her rather solid backside was making an intermate connection with the residual pile of crumpled bread slices. Fortunately, their softness cushioned her fall and apart from her dignity little else was damaged.
The inward curve of the ball was accentuated as it sped through the air, but the batsman had seen this in the previous five attempts, and began to position his trusted willow bat to meet it with a forceful upward cut. “Six or bust”, he muttered
From her new vantage point on the floor, Dorothy looked slowly around and in the mist of her despair, she noted the small dust bunnies that had escaped the cleaner’s attention, and made a mental note to have a “word”. Checking that her mock pearl neckless was intact she reached up to the edge of the table to lift herself up, while muttering, “This cannot get any worse can it? As if to answer her, the cupcakes made a final decision, and slid gracefully over the side to join the rest of their friends, while, at the same time, depositing shards of blue and red icing amongst the crumbs of disintegrating sponge.
The ball reached the height of its ark and descended with unerring accuracy towards the centre stump of its intended target, but still at a speed that eluded even the keenest eye.
An urge to flee was quickly overcome with the sense of traditional stiff upper lip and an echo of “keep calm and carry on”, as Dorothy assessed the damage. “Nothing is impossible” she said to herself, followed by a self-boosting “I can do this”. Bending down she quickly started to reassemble the sandwiches, removing any stray bits of fluff and discretely popping any totally destroyed elements into a convenient brown paper bag for later disposal, while at the same time covertly looking around to make sure that nobody was watching. The cupcakes were a bit more of a challenge and she decided in the end that icing was not essential to the overall presentation. Apart from the odd chip, the crockery had survived intact and the silver -plated cutlery still sparkled as if nothing had happened. Completing her restoration of the afternoon tea, Dorothy smiled to herself, while quickly pulling the edge of her soft brown cashmere jumper down to cover the tear at the top of her skirt. She then turned and looked with added determination at the infamous tea urn.
In fact, the batsman’s eyes were closed as the upward swing of his finely shaped and oiled bat met the string covered cork and leather-bound ball. The sound was solid and the ball’s downward trajectory was instantly reversed, so that it rose skyward, in an uncatchable ark, high over the pavilion boundary.
Dorothy’s look of defiance at the unfriendly tea urn was only matched by her determination that such a small thing, as a reluctant switch, should not spoil the last club tea of the season. She walked purposely towards the urn and was stopped in her tracks as something small and fast came hurtling through the upper pavilion window. Before she could duck or respond in anyway the red cricket ball sailed across the room and hit the tea urn, just next to the switch, leaving a small dent in its polished surface. However, and more importantly, the little red light that had so stubbornly refused to respond, blinked and then glowed steadily.
“Perfect”, sighed Dorothy.