The Bard No. 3

The Kid verses the Cobra.

Galle International Cricket Stadium, February 21st 2006

22 yards.

22 yards and 30 years.

22 yards and 30 years are all that separate the Kid from the Cobra.

In the torrid heat of a Galle furnace the two foes face each other. The Kid smiles and gently sings along to Sinhalese song. The Cobra sways to a different rhythm. The arm goes up; the left leg rears; the hand, the deadly hood rises and flattens. The hiss, the death rattle ebbs and flows round the field.

To describe the Kid as diminutive is doing a disservice to small things. The Kid is tiny. His hat dwarfs him, his bat seems to stand well up to his ribs. He has crooked teeth. He is a child. He is also 97 not out. And it is curious because as he stands up bat cocked, slight grin, facing the Cobra, there is something of the mongoose about him. His feet shuffle lightly, as they have all day, his head rests still. He seems too quick of eye, or thought, or arm to be anything but the famed snake killer.

He has been too good for us all day. No matter what we’ve thrown at him: pace (moderate); power; guile; craft. The Kid has found answers to all the tricks leant on the verdant battle fields of village cricket. All but one...

All tour the Cobra has created a stir. Small groups of children and men have gathered in stands and cheered as the Cobra strikes. And he has struck. Batsman after batsman has been seduced by the awkward hop, the strange hiss that accompanies the swaying hand. They watch unbelieving and they fall gently under the Cobra’s fatal spell. Batsman after batsman’s eyes have narrowed as the high hand has come down and risen again in familiar loop, only for the ball to disappear, almost vertically, upwards. The trap is set. The victim’s bat swings back, his eyes widen and his muscles tense. The ball’s orbit slowly changes, it begins its descent. The bat too changes arc. Muscles and joints whip 3lbs of willow forwards, towards ball. The commitment has been made and now there can be no escape for the victim. Only in the last agonising moments does the batsman realise his mistake. Only once bat has travelled past the place where it once seemed the union between willow and leather would occur and met nothing. Only then is there realisation. Gently, slowly, almost as if travelling on a wire, the ball descends towards its fated meeting with pad or wicket. Around the field arms raise in familiar cheer. And the Cobra smiles.

Here at Galle, though, the Kid has been too quick, too agile to fall for this trap and the Cobra is forced to try a new plan of attack. The Cobra is a wily predator and he has one more trick up his sleeve. In the moments before the fatal ball is bowled he moves round the wicket. He moves the umpire forward towards the stumps. When all the arrangements are complete, he stops and looks at his prey. He waggles his hand, but it is no longer the tempting, trance-inducing sway. It has become an act of self mockery. This is the last trick learnt on village greens, mastered by the VCC. The shear unlikeliness of these sportsmen, these cricketers is manifest in that waggling hand and the gentle eyes of the man beneath. It’s the humour of the men in pink and grey, the pleasure of being there, the joy of the game for it’s own sake, all bound in one cocked wrist. And it works.

Maybe because he has scored 97 chanceless runs. Maybe because he has been so good all day or maybe because he is a child, the Kid’s grin grows to a smile. The field steps back. The Cobra’s left leg lifts, he skips forward and twirls his arms and the laughing Kid smacks it. Hard. Straight to a fielder on the boundary.

OUT and the Cobra has his man (boy?). The field celebrates and at the same time rushes in towards the departing Kid, bat dragging behind him. Clapping him off, shaking his hand: for none of us had seen an innings as calmly destructive, as measured, skilled or agile as that of the mongoose Kid. And the Cobra, with his trademark self-depreciation, accepts his own congratulations.

22 yards and 30 years. It wasn’t the yards that mattered. It was the years.

Rick Barker