It was the first game for the season in some halcyon year of my cricketing past. We’d scraped together a team, but the other mob was rumoured to be a couple short. Their first three batsmen were competent enough and made a few. Then a collapse brought number eight to the wicket. Impeccably clad, he was one of those blokes who puts his gloves on after taking guard and then spends minutes surveying the field, pointing to each position with his bat, as if burning them into his tactical memory. At last he faced his first ball, which went straight through him and took the middle and off stumps out of the ground. ‘Bad luck, mate,’ said one of our blokes, with a kindness the ensuing months would erode. ‘First knock for the season, eh?’ The beautifully attired number eight looked at him in astonishment. ‘First knock ever,’ he said.
It was another world that you entered around eleven o’clock on Saturday morning and farewelled when you left the pub a couple of hours after stumps. It is a world whose atmosphere and details William McInnes has caught unerringly: the amiably hopeless players; the heat, the amateur sledging; the makeshift conditions; the obsessive enthusiast who holds them together and who drags them out each Saturday – and who is therefore and properly the captain.