I'm not sure how many county cricketers have come across T. S. Eliot.
I'll take a guess that they prefer to go on the social network which Mark Lawrenson memorably referred to as Twitterface. If players did read The Four Quartets, however, batsmen, in particular, might derive some comfort from these lines in Part V of East Coker : "every attempt / is a wholly new start."
At 11 o'clock on Monday morning Paul Horton settled into his stance and prepared to face the first over of the match against Durham. It was bowled by Graham Onions from the River End at Liverpool. The seamer's third delivery was accurate, on a good length and probably came back a bit from the off. It therefore possessed what the old pros called a lethal quality: Horton had to hit it or he would be out. The opener didn't hit it, though: he played around the ball and Mark Benson raised his finger very promptly. Horton trudged off.
Like most political careers, the vast majority of batsmen's innings end in a measure of failure. Occasionally, that failure is more than acceptable: a man's dismissal when he has made a match-winning century barely impairs his success. That sort of thing doesn't happen often, though; far more frequently, a player who is in the side to make runs has to return to the pavilion having made hardly any. At times like that, there's nothing to do but get off the field. Not for nothing did a friend of mine who played a great deal of recreational cricket refer to each of his dismissals as a sort of death. When a batsman is dropped, he is "given a life"; the sound of the ball hitting the stumps is commonly known as the "death rattle".
And then you get another go. The next innings, the next match, it makes no difference; until a batsman retires, he always knows that he will get a chance to atone for his last failure.
So, roughly seven hours after he had been lbw to Onions for nought, Horton strode out to play his second innings of the day. Another attempt and yes, in a way, a wholly new start. There was nothing he could do about his last innings and everything he could do about this one. The conditions for batting were easier, of course: less muggy, less steamy, less conducive to swing bowling. But then it hadn't really been the conditions that had got him out in the first dig.
Horton lasted three balls yesterday evening too, but this time it was bad light which ended his innings and he had already avoided the humiliation of a pair by cutting Onions to the boundary. This morning he could walk to the middle at Aigburth knowing both that he had four runs to his name and that the atmosphere was nothing like as favourable to swing bowling as it had been on Monday.
Merely on the evidence of the first dozen deliveries he faced, it was possible to see that Horton was in decent nick this morning. His shot selection was sound and there were precious few of the false strokes which are so often a portent of dismissal. At 12.39 he reached a polished half-century which had contained eight boundaries. The crowd's applause was warm, for Horton is one of their own. He had already made three nineties this season, one of them at Aigburth. Maybe this time, they wondered.
Death, though, always lies in wait for the unwary. Three overs after lunch Horton played forward to Callum Thorp. There were two noises, pad then bat, I think. The Durham team went up in a full-throated appeal. Mark Benson put his finger up again. This time, Horton hadn't failed; he had made 64 important runs. Yet when he was out, Lancashire's lead was only ten and he looked predictably glum as he walked back to the pavilion.
Already the Lancashire opener is probably looking forward to his next attempt to make runs. It may end with him raising his bat in acknowledgment of the crowd's acclamation. Or in a silent, lonely walk back to an equally silent dressing room. The cruelty of cricket is not the least of its beauties.
Photo (c) Simon Pendrigh
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