Lanky recounts a cricket match played on the African Savannah...
I just wanted to tell you a story about a cricket match I played in back in Africa. I’d gone home to the plains for the winter and of course everyone was keen to play with me as they see me as a bit of an expert. I jumped at the chance as the long winters are the hardest part of being a cricket mascot.
Cricket in the animal kingdom is slightly different to that played with humans. For a start, some players need to wear four pads instead of two! We were using a really long and very sleepy python as a boundary rope, he didn’t seem to mind. Also, we don’t have many bat manufacturers down on the Savannah so our bats were not so much beautiful pieces of willow as hunks of Acacia tree smoothed down on one side. I gave up trying to find the sweet spot after a few overs – I’m not sure my bat had one.
The balls we used were giant hard-boiled ostrich eggs – which didn’t last long when the rhinos were smashing them out of the ground. We had to have quite a few replacements I can tell you!
The match was free to any species which made things a bit confusing at the time. I was on a team with a cheetah, a rhino, four warthogs, a lioness, a baboon, one of my cousins and a hyena (who no one wanted but he was desperate to play and I picked second so I was stuck with him). Still, at least I didn’t end up with the mongoose who struggled to lift his bat at all!
We fielded first under the fierce glare of the midday sun. I was wicket keeper, as I had a height advantage and could see over the batsman’s head. The cheetah was roaming in the deep, as he was so fast he could gather the ball anywhere on the outfield in seconds. His throw let him down a bit though, as the snarling lioness at first slip let him know on regular occasions. These big cats; they can be so…catty.
We reduced our opponents to a meagre total after a devastating display of swing bowling from the rhino. I even managed to stump a water buck that somehow had got all four of his legs out of his ground! Some skiddy dibbly dobblies from one of the more focused warthogs also kept the scoring rate down.
Then it was our turn to bat, and I was due in at number four. It was a nerve-wracking experience, now I really know how the Lancashire players feel in the dressing room! The opening pair of my cousin and the baboon started brightly. While the giraffe played the role of the pinch hitter, smashing one rather vulnerable impala to all parts, the baboon played some of the most beautiful, classic cricket shots you could ever wish to see. He’s one for the future, definitely.
My cousin got out to a rather hopeful slog to cow corner (renamed wildebeest corner for the local crowd) and the hyena followed soon after. I knew he shouldn’t have persuaded me to let him bat at 3, and I was even more annoyed that he appeared to laugh the whole thing off as if it were a joke. By this time we needed just 15 runs to win, and it was my turn to bat.
I’ve had better knocks (most of them with real cricket bats and balls) but this one was one of the most fun. Aided by the glorious baboon, I scored 10 from my 25 balls, including a four which startled the sleeping python/boundary rope and nearly spelled the end of the impala and a mongoose who were fielding in the deep.
We had won and I was very excited – all the animals told me they wouldn’t wait until I was back next winter to play again, and they were going to organise matches themselves. I’ve since heard that they’ve started their own league, and it’s immensely competitive!
So, if you find yourselves on safari and you think you see a baboon practicing the perfect cover drive: eyes focused, big stride forward, high elbow – you might not be hallucinating. You may just be clapping eyes on the next big thing.