28 July 2007

Zimmer Men - Marcus Berkmann

As a club cricketer that has spent years trying to organise teams, Marcus Berkmann's book Zimmer Men struck a chord with me and had me smiling with every chapter. Here's a little preview below - to find out how his team fair against Charlton-on-Otmoor, buy Zimmer Menby Marcus Berkmann.

It rained yeterday, rather heavily I'm told, which is good news. What you need at Charlton-on-Otmoor is what we don't usually have: lots of good bowlers. This week we thought we had them. We had two excellent openers: one steady and accurate, the other one slightly quicker than he looks, and he looks quite quick. At first change we had one of our most reliable bowlers, in that he loves bowling long spells in which he gives nothing away. Usually we would have to open the bowling with him; this week we would be able to save him up, stick him on at one end and unleash our spinners at the other end. Unleash? Am I really using that word? Our two best spinners, who both give the ball the most fearful tweak, are as mercurial and unpredictable as many of their species: one day lethal, the next day rubbish. But both have been taking hatfuls of wickets. Their confidence is high, and that's what matters in this game. This absurd, enthralling, unforgiving game.

Yesterday came the phone call. It was the quick bowler. He had just wrenched his back carrying the shopping. He was lying down on the floor and he couldn't move. He was terribly sorry but...I got him off the phone as quickly as I could. There was a possible replacement, a batsman not a bowler, who was desperate to play. I rang him. Astoundingly, he was still free and happy to play. This was a good omen. We may not have our strike bowler, but we still have eleven men and we are not bad.

All that stands between us and possible victory today is Phil, the Charlton captain. Phil is a big bloke. He has a robust sense of humour. He bowls quickly and hits the ball with Flintoff-like power. He has been playing for the village for three years now, and we have yet to get him out. Last year he scored a century and hit successive overs for 21 and 22 runs. It was the single at the end of the first over to farm the strike that I admired the most. He is the backbone of Charlton's team and quite a lot of other bones as well. If he is unwell today, or injured, or has been arrested on trumped-up murder charges in a shocking miscarriage of justice, we could yet prevail.

At 11:23 a.m. Terence drops by to give me a lift to the game. We blither and drivel all the way up the M40. I am happy because I am looking forward to the game. Terence is happy because he is driving his new convertible. Press one button and the roof retracts automatically in a series of ergonomically complicated manoeuvres that are explicitly designed to impress men like me and Terence. We arrive at the pub in high spirits, and following ancient tradition Terence buys me a drink to avoid having to buy a larger round when other people turn up.

We order lunch, and our team-mates filter in. As my roast beef arrives, Sam, one of our newest players, bursts through the door. Our other opening bowler, Andrew-with-the-poneytail, has texted him to say that he has been "working" all night and is therefore too tired to play. This text was sent at 11:54 a.m.

Everyone is distraught. Several yourkshire puddings spontaneously collapse on their plates. Andrew's name and poneytail are now mud. He has shown signs of flakiness in the past, but nothing like this. Sam, who knows him well, assures us that he has been working, as opposed to "working". But what difference does it make? An hour before the game starts we have ten men and no opening bowlers.

As John Cleese says in the film Clockwise, "It's not the despair. I can stand the despair. It's the hope."

If I was editor, I would have changed "blither and drivel" to "burble", but that's a tiny quibble! If you would like to read on, buy Zimmer Men.

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