A Brief Moment As A Hero
Posted on May 10, 2010
What is it that makes ordinary sportsmen make a transition to rise above everyone else under intense pressure to become a hero, a champion, and a winner? Some people have that ability to do it, to sink that 8 foot putt on the 18th at The British open, to calmly place a penalty in the bottom corner in the World Cup Final, or to score 20 not out batting at number 10 to guide Oakley Saturday II’s to victory against Whitchurch in the in drizzle in the men’s Saturday cricket league.
Heroics have never really suited me; I was a decent footballer in a good team, but a poor one in an average team. I didn’t have the mental strength to lift lesser talented team mates, I would just sink to their level, but I always had the ability to make sure I couldn’t be singled out as the worst on the pitch that was about as far as I got. I was the same at school and college; I could push myself above the dross, but couldn’t be bothered challenging the elite. I don’t know what causes this mental weakness, was it too liberal an upbringing perhaps? I don’t know, but if I was brought up in Australia for instance, it is doubtful I would have been allowed to develop as a sportsman the way I did, they would have deported me.
At 42, I thought my chance for sporting heroics had passed me by, but then on Saturday 8th May 2010 fate came my way in extraordinary circumstances. At 12.00pm I got a phone call from the Oakley CC chairman saying that he had rang everyone else he had ever met in his life, but still couldn’t make up 11 players for the Saturday game, so he had no choice but to ring me, the person under L in his phone book, not L for Lethaby, but L Last Resort. I headed under leaded skies for Whitchurch where we were to play, rain was forecast, and so we probably wouldn’t play anyway.
Remarkably the rain stayed away, and with the temperature nudging 9c the game went ahead, though it didn’t start well for me, a high catch cracking in to my wrist bone and leaving me with a nasty purple and red bruise and an imprint of the seam of the ball. Bloody hell cricket balls hurt! George (my eldest son who is a decent young player) bagged a couple of wickets, and I had a brief moment of glory with a direct hit at the stumps for a clean run out leaving us chasing 181 for victory. Little did I know what drama was to follow?
After a shaky start the middle order got us well on target, and it looked, thankfully, like I wouldn’t need to bat. Then with a quick tumble of wickets, I suddenly found myself padding up in fading light. This was it, this was my time, I was batting, 154 on the board and 27 still required for victory. Our Chairman, who was now umpiring, greeted me at the crease by saying “Shit, I thought we had a chance to win this.” Nothing like a vote of confidence from the main man to get me in the spirit for a fight!
Matt, the last senior player, went quickly, and then George came in. The first ball I faced fizzed off my glove in to the air but dropped harmlessly to the floor and two runs, I was off the mark. Then a short one sat up, bang, off middle of the bat, four runs. Fuck me where did that come from? It was as if Freddie Flintoff had taken over my body for a millisecond. After batting conservatively George went, unluckily caught and bowled, so it was up to me and Julian (another Colts player) to somehow get us from 167 to 181. I told Julian to defend, and rely on me to get the runs, a bit like a part time fireman offering to extinguish a Volcano.
The Overs were beginning to run out, so I had to start pushing, I could now hear my pulse in my head louder than the sledging of the opposition. An aggressive guy, a yokel who looked like a redneck lumberjack with fearsome sideburns bowled at me, crack, and another four from nowhere, what was going on, this was like an outer body experience? He walked past me and said “you can’t bat boy” I retorted without fear for my own life with “It doesn’t say much about your bowling does it.”
All of a sudden this was bloody great fun, always one for a smart arse reply I was now in my element, he was fuming however, and as the next ball slammed in to my left testicle, I smiled back at him, desperately holding back the tears, and the vomit which was pushing up my throat urged on by my testicle which had briefly hurtled in to my intestines. Then suddenly, the moment of truth came, three to win with an Over to go facing a fifteen year old swing bowler of some considerable ability. Something deep in my soul was telling me to mess it up, bottle it, fall at the last hurdle, and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, my veins in my temples were now throbbing at an alarming rate, as was my private region.
Ball one, forward and defended, ball two swinging in, defended somehow, a great ball, I was very lucky to dig it out, my heart was now desperate to come crashing through my ribcage. Maybe my moment of glory would be snatched away as I lay on the floor with ambulance staff frantically trying to restart me with a defibrillator just three runs from victory. Ball three short, sitting up, a swing of the bat, crack, four runs, and victory from the jaws of defeat. Bloody hell I had done it, I had stepped over that line which has failure on one side and glory on the other, it was a first in my sporting life, and it felt bloody great. I walked off to cheers, claps and pats on the back, this may have been Whitchurch men’s second 11 but I felt like I had just punched a drive through the covers to win the Ashes at Lords.
On reflection, I wandered how I had overcome my normal ability to fail at that last hurdle, and I just don’t know, but I do think getting hurt and being disrespected by an opposing player made me more resolute to stick it up them rather than just cave in mentally. I don’t think it was luck, because despite all my inner demons trying to take over, from somewhere, I managed to overcome them with positive thoughts and that was a really liberating experience. I don’t know if I will ever do it again, it may have been a one off, but it was a huge and personal insight into mental toughness required in sport. Talent is nothing unless you have the ability to conquer your demons and block out fear of failure. Remember that when you watch a penalty shoot out in The World Cup. Any footballer, even me, can score a penalty, but it is almost in the blood of the English to fall just short, just as it is in the Germans to never fail. Why is that?