I’ve been dreaming of David Gower. David Gower on the 1986 tour of the West Indies: being beaten, being outplayed, being intimidated, being hurt, being overwhelmed by the fact that no matter what he does or how hard he tries he’s going down and the team is going down hard with him. In my dream I might be David Gower. Standing at the crease in my floppy white hat, bat resting like lance upon my hip in preparation for the joust and my hand shading my brow as the sun mirrors off the white, hard pitch. Pale green grass swirls around me like a monochrome kaleidoscope. Spinning and scanning for play, spinning and scanning for hope.
I feel my face burning with the light and the sweat running out from under my hat down my brow. I feel the awkwardness of the duck feet pads and the tightness of their straps around my calves. I sense the jocular anticipation of the fieldsmen (seen better bats in a cave, they giggle), their keenness to swoop upon my broken spirit and whoop while high-fiving the breakers. The crowd I don’t hear, multi-coloured white noise is all, distant wobblings of flags and banners in line with the footfall rhythms of giants in creams coming toward me, almost a chant etherealised into space and air.
The ball flies past my nose, or my ears, or brushes my hat, or hits me. Mostly I don’t see the ball, however hard I stare at the sightscreen. I don’t see the bowlers either, I can’t look at them, their competence and their comfort in my hesitant anxiety. There is no prospect of being the batsman I imagine myself to be, all I can do is face up and swing at the one or two hittable deliveries each over. I might manage a small flurry of singles, a few snicks through the slips, maybe even managing to turn a failed yorker behind square every hour or so.
I swing and miss, over and over again. A flashy cut, missed. A hopeless hook, missed. A nudge to mid-wicket, played into my pad. A lolly played innocuously to cover. A pull scooped to a vacant mid-on. (He’ll hit one soon, says the keeper, law of averages.)I try to use my feet, I try to watch the ball. I walk toward square leg and practice my stroke, but I’m not even able to hit an imaginary delivery. I’m not making a go of it; I’m not even attempting to contest their superiority. The best I can hope for is not to be dismissed foolishly.
I rub the bruises of bouncers past, I feel the thinness of my skin and the tenuous co-ordination of my hands on the bat. I feel the fear in my core: my triceps oscillating with the tightness of grip, my deltoids rounded by horror, my obliques cartwheeling and my gut wrenched into narrow tubing. My feet are leaden and my bladder taut. I twist my neck around, closing my eyes and attempting to simulate calm. But it’s not convincing. I’m not convinced. I expect that every ball I face is a death ball.
Every ball can get me out, see me shamed and humiliated, see my professionalism rendered an amateurish pastiche. Every ball is something I cannot handle. Something so fearsome I cannot consider myself worthy to face. Every ball reminds me I shouldn’t even try because I’m so far out of my league I almost demean the poised athleticism of my opponents. I’m not in the game; really I’m just a function of their brilliance and my ineptitude.
In my dream the ball never comes. I’m never dismissed. I stand forever at the crease waiting for my doom, considering the manner of my demise, planning for failure.