‘The Great Quake’ by Chris Stacey
There was an earthquake in Whitehorse today, May 1st 2017. It was 6.5 on the Richter scale – enough to rattle the crockery and shake the bones of the house. As the ground rumbled and the walls creaked and groaned, though only for a minute that seemed to last forever, my mind flashed back to another time I felt the ground shudder and time stood still.
It was over thirty years ago now. Back then, before I moved to Canada, my life was all cricket. From the long hot summer of ’76 when me and my best mates climbed so close to the top of the Yorkshire Under-13s tree, the best season of the year took on a whole new meaning. Life became cricket – and Carlton CC was at the heart of it. I was hooked, so much so that when I noticed the ‘For Sale’ sign up outside 50 Town Street a few years later, I knew my path was set. Of course, Mum and Dad knew a good thing too when they saw it, and wasted no time putting in a successful offer. And how our lives changed from that day on.
For thirty-five glorious years, David and Audrey Stacey lived overlooking the ground, giving as much of themselves to the club as the club gave back to them. My dad was involved in pretty much everything except donning the whites – serving on committees, cutting grass, painting lines, coaching youngsters, helping behind the bar, umpiring – if it needed doing, my dad did it. And Mum was always there too, making cakes and biscuits and sandwiches, and serving those famous Carlton CC teas unequalled across the county. A perfect match – and what a lucky beneficiary I was. Countless matches on endless summer days, countless hours practicing in the nets, countless happy memories.
It was December 13th, 2016 when I last visited the club. Mom had passed away just four days before, and I needed to get back in touch with my youth, to connect to a time when life was perfect.
It was a dark, wet Tuesday afternoon, and not a soul was around when my son, Robin, and I pulled into the club car park. Just as it should be - no-one there to interrupt this precious father-and-son “this is where it all began” moment; no-one to distract me from the flood of memories. “Time for a stroll around the boundary”, I said, knowing the time we had would never be enough. And the visit was all too brief.
But this morning, as the earth’s rumbling settled, my mind took me back to Carlton CC once more - this time, the sun blazed in a brilliant blue sky, fifteen men in white were performing the time-honoured rituals of our ancient game, and the silence was broken by another crack of bat on ball, another ripple of applause.
It was the National Village competition, years ago, and the opponents were East Bierley, our arch-nemesis from the Bradford League. Things weren’t going well for our lads, and we fans around the boundary knew it. The writing was on the wall, though Carlton CC would fight, as always, to the very last man. But was there enough fight for one last heroic effort, one more desperate attempt to turn the game around, one chance for a hero to step forward?
The story of what followed next has become fable, and its hero now a sorely-missed legend, a mentor to me and my mates, who lost his life all too young. As such, the facts may have become somewhat blurred, but facts in a fable are unimportant. But I was there that day, and the pictures remain for me as crystal clear as the sun that blazed in such glory on that day to beat all days.
East Bierley were chasing down our score with ease, and their batter absolutely marmalized the ball, as he so often did that afternoon, mightily high into the bright blue above. And it was heading, once more, towards the infamous Town Street hedge. “Lost ball”, we all thought, comforted only by the fact that the closest fielder to the ball’s destination was undoubtedly the best on the team at finding hedge balls. That was surely why he had been posted there, right? The captain couldn’t have been thinking anything else. "Look out!", we all yelled as the ball bulleted towards deep mid-wicket, not as a cry to catch it but by way of warning to get out of harm’s way.
But our man Mel Tasker had other ideas. I don't think his was a conscious decision; what happened next was not planned or rationalized - it just happened. He began moving – not away from danger, but towards the ball’s flight! And like a jumbo jet roaring down the runway, to everyone’s surprise, he actually left the ground. Then, although just inches above the turf, he began to fly horizontally, defying gravity, reaching out a grasping left hand, fingertips outstretched.
The crowd held its collective breath. The birds stopped singing. Nothing else was moving on Earth, as Taz flew, and the world watched.
He landed with a resounding thump and the ground, for a moment, was in shock. The silence that followed was deafening. For what seemed like hours he lay on the turf but, finally, excruciatingly, he slowly rose, A look, impossible to describe, spread slowly but inexorably across his face. His shaggy hair now shook as the realization of what had come to pass sunk in - and he raised both hands above his head in a champion’s pose.
The crowd gazed at Mel, concerned, looking for the ball which must be lying on the ground behind him or somewhere across the boundary rope, but it was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps it was already lost in the hedge, or maybe he had landed on it and it had sunk out of sight in the grass.
Then someone pointed to Mel’s left hand, now raised high above his head. And there, to everyone's disbelief, including the catcher’s himself, there, without any doubt, was that dull red cherry that had been shot from the very middle of that bat just seconds before. With a joy not equalled before nor since, the crowd erupted and we all knew, though the words never needed to be said, that we had never seen a catch like it. As we cheered, the realization of what he had achieved suddenly hit Mel, and his grin spread now across his whole body. Engulfed by adoring teammates, he was back-slapped and high-fived and hugged like the hero he was.
I suppose the game went on; I suppose we lost, because we always lost to East Brierley back then. But what does that matter? Even if we had won, I wouldn't have remembered. The result was nothing compared to Mel's catch, the aftershocks of which still reverberate around the ground to this day.
There was an earthquake in Carlton that day – must have been 9.9 on the Tasker scale - the likes of which will never be seen again.