You can't be too careful, by H. G. Wells

Chapter 2

The Cricket Match

THE number of boys in Mr Myame’s school varied between nineteen and twenty-four, and yet Edward Albert got into the first eleven before he had been there two years, and played in his last year in the annual match against Bolter’s College. Before that match he had not liked cricket very much, but sifter it he was as thorough a cricket fan as every young Englishman ought to be.

Mr Myame’s school played cricket in Regent’s Park in the summer, but it did not play any game in the winter, because football made the boys muddy and parents objected, But Mr Myame was convinced that good sound open-air exercise was conducive to morality. He hated to ‘think of boys “loafing about” and the menu of his prospectus included “compulsory games.” Boys should go tired to bed. It was possible to obtain caps, flannels, shoes and equipment generally from firms of school outfitters at advantageous wholesale prices, and even the most unworldly parents were gratified by the spectacle of their offspring apparently playing cricket in a socially acceptable manner. The underlying seriousness of the school was apparent in the choice of black and white for the school colours.

Contemplating this enlargement of his enterprise, Mr Myame, being aware of a certain athletic insufficiency in himself, added a “Games Master” to the staff, Mr Plipp, an excellent young married elementary teacher who was free on Wednesday afternoons and who was also prepared to regard scout marches and tracking on Primrose Hill as a compulsory game for the winter months.

Nothing remained to perfect this games side of the school except to arrange a few matches, and here Mr Myame was so fortunate as to fall in with the Principal of Bolter’s College who was watching his boys “practise”, while he wrestled with a similar problem. Bolter’s College was a small genteel private establishment in Highbury which catered mainly for the offspring of remote or hypothetical parents in the tropics; it had a Union Jack on its blazer pockets, its caps were red, white and blue, and its style of play did not seem to be hopelessly above the school standard. So an annual, no, the annual cricket match was arranged, and had been going on for several years before Edward Albert joined the school Generally Bolter’s won by producing lean, lithe and dusky “old boys” or alleged new additions to the staff who never reappeared. Nothing had been said about “old boys.” It seemed unkind to exclude them. Myame’s was a younger and smaller establishment without them.

They wanted Edward Albert to come up nearer and on the off side. Was there to be no longstop? Up there and closer was more dangerous. In the slips a ball can knock you over and stun you before you know where you are. Why not pretend to be sick or go home? And be jawed at after by Mr Myame? Instead of tea?

Edward Albert trotted up to his appointed place. The ritual of the game began. Middle? No — a little to the left. That’s right. Play!

The old boy batting at the wicket snicked the ball neatly for a boundary. It passed within a foot of Edward Albert. Six.

“Look alive there, Tewler,” said Mr Plipp, not too pleasantly.

Edward Albert neglected the game for a moment or so while he exchanged offensive grimaces with Nuts. Then a ball hit him,

It hit him so hard that for a moment he thought he saw two balls, one at his feet and one running away from him. The College batsmen were running. “Can you, Sir?”

cried the daemonic old boy. “Come on, Sir?” They were stealing a second run. “Now then, Tewler!” cried Mr Myame. “Oh! Look alive.”

Edward Albert scrabbled at his feet and secured a ball, and with all his soul and strength threw it at the wicket keeper. It missed him by about a yard and a half, and knocked the bails off the wicket. The bat of the long darkie slid over the creases, five seconds too late. Still Edward Albert did not realise his good fortune.

“Owzatsir?” Mr Myame was saying, and the Umpire answered “Out.”

“Well thrown in, Tewler!” said Mr Plipp. “Perfect! exactly what I wanted.”

Edward Albert grew an inch or so and forgot that he probably had a bump at the back of his head. “I fort it best to throw straight at the wicket, Sir,” he said.

“Exactly. Exactly.”

“You did quite right,” Mr Myame confirmed. “We shall make a cricketer of you yet, Tewler. Smartest thing you’ve done for a long time. . . . ”

The game was held up for a moment by cries of “Thank you, Sir, Thank you.” There was a ball about from an adjacent game, and this was the established way of demanding its return. There it was, quite close to the Umpire’s foot. (Then there had been a second ball! ) The Old Boy picked it up absent-mindedly and sent it soaring home, before retiring to the College outs to brood over his premature dismissal. He had counted on a long and glorious afternoon of free, loose hitting. He was replaced by a small boy who succumbed to the third of what were known as Mr Plipp’s “googlies”, a curious slow overarm delivery with great hypnotic power over the young.

“Owe-ver.”

And then came a terrific event. Mr Plipp told Edward Albert to bowl. He told him to bowl. He held the ball in his hand, looked at it, started, seemed to be struck by some strange idea, and then ordered Edward Albert to bowl.

Mr Plipp was a cricket strategist of the most elaborate type, but for him to tell Edward Albert to take the next over strained the faith of his following to near the breaking point. He instructed his pupil carefully in undertones. “This big chap,” he said, “is a slogger and used to good ordinary bowling. Well, give him some of those incalculable grounders of yours. See? Lob a bit if you like. Don’t mind if he swipes you out of bounds once or twice. I know what I’m doing.”

And, after looking at it again for another reflective moment, he handed the ball to Edward Albert. “Bowl to his leg side,” said Mr Plipp, “and vary the pace. I want him to hit.”

Fear and pride mingled in Edward Albert’s heart as he handled the ball. As he felt for its creases, he had a curious feeling of unfamiliarity. This ball was showing signs of wear, he thought. . . . But now to bowl, If he aimed about a yard or so to the right he might get the wicket. It often happened like that. He would do that. To begin with he would try one of his short sneakers. It pitched short and rolled slowly towards the wicket The giant, who seemed now ten feet high and broad in proportion, awaited its Doming with some hesitation. It was not the sort of ball he was accustomed to deal with. He wasn’t prepared for anything so feeble. He simply blocked the ball.

“Well bowled, Tewler,” cried Nuts derisively. Jealous? Yes, but next time . . .

Our hero resolved to vary his attack. He would send in a few very simple grounders to the giant’s leg. One fast and then a slow twister? Down there. Out of his reach, perhaps. The fast one first. Edward Albert put all his strength into it and alas! up went the ball in the air. Up, up, it went — a perfect Yorker. He’d slog it to — heaven! But the giant, expecting another lob, had been advancing to smite. This strange ball, high in the air, made him hesitate, and, hesitating, he was lost. He remembered what he had to do just half a second too late. He stepped across the pitch and hit hard to leg. Swish! Click! The leg bail dropped. Flop, went the ball into Mr Myame’s gloves. To Goliath’s astonishment, to Edward Albert’s astonishment, to everyone’s astonishment, the ball had got the leg stump. “Howzat, Umpire?” came Mr Myame’s astonished voice as he held up the ball.

“Out!” came the verdict.

“Oh, GorORMIGHTY!” cried Nuts out loud and unreproved. Butter-fingers had clean bowled Goliath. Clean bowled him, Sir!

The rest of the innings was inglorious. Two of the College kids made two runs, and there was a wide, and, strangely enough, Edward Albert was not asked to bowl again. The back of the defence was broken. Mr Plipp resumed his celebrated googlies and Mr Myame bowled three overs, and the last man was out.

The College had been disposed of for twenty-four, eighteen actual runs, a wide, three byes and two no-balls by Mr Myame overrunning the crease. The black and whites went in at last to a possible victory. This time they just might do it. Mr. Plipp displayed an unwonted disposition to slog, scored sixteen, and was caught out by Goliath at long on.

Mr Myame compiled a cautious five and was clean bowled by the lean and long Old Boy, who also gave four byes from his bowling. Edward Albert did not actually score a run, but the end of the innings left him in so that he “carried his bat “triumphantly” not out.” Nothing remained but the cheering. The school had won by six wickets, and Edward Albert was the hero of the day.

“A fine match,” said the Principal, shaking hands with Mr Myame.

Bert wanted to throw catches to some of the other chaps, but he found Mr Plipp had pocketed the ball. “No, you don’t want them to see you miss your catches,” said Mr Plipp, with unusual snappiness.

The College retired in good order, discussing the glorious uncertainties of the game, and the victorious school fell into column with the annual match tea (currant bread and jam, day-boys invited), enlivening its outlook.

As they left the park a young man in flannels came hurrying after Mr Myame. “Excuse me,” he said. “I’m afraid you’ve been playing most of the time with the wrong ball. He produced a nice new red match ball as he spoke, and handed it to the Headmaster.

“Hm,” said Mr Myame gravely. “That certainly has a resemblance to our ball, but —”

He looked across at the departing College. It was far away and out of earshot. He turned a perplexed and heavy face to Mr Plipp. “Odd,” he said. Mr Plipp took the ball and immediately put it into his pocket, producing another with the greatest promptitude. “That is yours,” he said.

“That is ours,” said the young man. “It’s a Lillywhite, Yours is a Duke. I hope this won’t upset your game in any way. We didn’t notice at first.”

“I hit two boundaries,” said Mr Plipp. “The change may have occurred then. Just at the end of the game.”

“I think it occurred rather earlier,” said the young man,

“I really don’t know of any rule of the M.C.C. on the matter.”

“Nor do I,” said Mr Plipp.

Mr Myame reflected. There was a pause of several seconds and then he coughed and his hirsute adornments sprang to attention. “Let us assume,” he said, “that there has been at some time in this game a temporary and beneficial substitution of one ball for another, then, the question arises, was this a deliberate and dishonest substitution of one ball for another, or was it due to some entirely innocent misapprehension? In the former case we have no right to our victory. No, Sir. None whatever. We have to call this match off as —” he sought for an appropriate phrase —“a non sequitur. But if, on the other hand, the substitution by the player was pure and honest — and I happen to know this young Tewler as one of the most earnest young Christians in my charge, a veritable Child of God, let alone that he was suffering from considerable pain at the time from die concussion of the ball, then I have no hesitation whatever in saying that not only are we entitled to this match, but that it was meant and intended that we should win this match. The stars in their courses, if one may put it humbly and reverently, were fighting for us, and it would be sheer ingratitude — ingratitude — to quibble over this victory.”

The young man regarded Mr Myame with a qualified admiration, “That doesn’t leave anything more to be said about it, Sir, does it?” he said, pitching up his recovered ball and catching it again.

“I’m all for that,” said Mr Plipp.

Mr Myame and Mr Plipp hurried to overtake their exultant crocodile in a thoughtful silence. There was no reason why they should not talk together, but strangely enough neither of them could think of anything suitable to say. Finally, at the house door Plipp said one word, “Tewler.”

“No question about it,” snapped Mr. Myame, closing the discussion.

Boys who had never had a civil word for Edward Albert Tewler before, could be heard in the dingy passage and schoolroom glorifying and elaborating his achievements — melting up to him! . . .

And that is how he became a cricket fan and began to follow the Tests and collect pictures of eminent cricketers and watch matches on every possible occasion. There was hardly any grade of match that he could not watch now with helpful comments. “Well run, Sir!” “Keep ’em down, Sir!”

He did not play very much himself because you cannot be too careful about corrupting your style by inferior practice. But in his reveries, whistling after his fashion, he grew an immense beard — or wore a false beard perhaps — and made W.G. Grace seem a mere precursor to his own brighter and better batting. Or he returned triumphantly to the pavilion (all the other side out for nine), the super-Spofforth of his day, and there among the applauding throng were Bert and Nuts, realising with amazement that this demon bowler was merely another of the endless impersonations of silent Teddy Tewler, their intimate and yet mysterious pal.

And henceforth “playing cricket” became a stock phrase with him, that phrase which still means so much to every Englishman, and which no Englishman can ever quite explain. We have submitted a sample, plucked straight from Regent’s Park. “Do I play cricket with you or don’t I?” he would demand of the Hidden Hand.

A new confidence appeared in his bearing. Hitherto Bert had unquestionably been the leader, but not now. And one day young Horry Budd, who had butted our hero playfully in the back after ‘his custom, received the surprise of his life. Hitherto Edward Albert had been indisposed to resent these little attentions. Now suddenly he turned. “Vad-a-nuff-o-vis,” said Edward Albert thickly.

He smacked Horry’s face with extreme viciousness, and smacked again with all his strength. He overwhelmed Horry with surprise and dismay. Horry was a puncher, and face-smacking was outside his imagination. He had never smacked a face in his life. He howled aloud. The red marks remained for days.

“Nuffin to what I’ll do to you, if I have any more of your cheek,” said Edward Albert.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30