Boy to Man. By Paul Tasker

It was 1987 and I had just started playing First Team cricket at Carlton Cricket Club, who was the current League Champions and holders of the Hepworth Cup. So, no pressure there then. Other teams envied us and everyone wanted to beat us and none coveted what we had more than Nostell.

It was a beautiful sunny day in May and Carlton was playing Nostell CC at home. Their captain Freddy Gunthorpe loved Carlton and would have bitten his own hand off to be club Captain, but as hell hadn’t frozen over yet, Freddy being part of Carlton would have to remain a dream.

Despite Nostell improving year on year and performing strongly against everyone else in the Leeds League, they had yet to beat Carlton and were hoping this weekend would be the game they finally realised their dreams.

Nostell batted first and although I can’t remember the actual scores, I do remember the total they posted was very achievable and one we should be able to knock off with time and wickets in hand. But as we all know, sport is a funny thing and doesn’t always go the way we think it should.

After a full day of competitive cricket with just a little bit of sledging on both sides (you know how it is) it came down to the last few overs of the match and we still needed about 6 runs to win with 4 wickets in hand – piece of cake.

Not quite. Another wicket fell and my Dad was next in to bat. He may have scored several fifties before and won matches against greater odds than this in the past, so six runs shouldn’t be a problem…should it? The only problem was, he thought he could finish it with one hit, but unfortunately for him and us, it only took one ball to lose his wicket. But it was still OK because we had the experienced Dave Warren next in to bat and Dave Cooper was already at the crease and had his eye in. The Leeds League’s most fearsome opening fast bowling partnership needed just 6 runs with seven balls remaining.

Unlike his brother, Glen, Dave Cooper wasn’t known for smashing boundaries, but he could accumulate runs if he needed to and that’s exactly what he did – he chipped the ball in to the gap and ran. Two more runs to the total. Four to win with six balls remaining and Dave Warren on strike.

Now if you don’t know Dave Warren, he wasn’t exactly built for quick singles so the last four runs were only going to be scored one way – a boundary and a six if possible.

However, Dave Vodden was bowling the final over and he was one of the Leagues most experienced and accurate bowlers. This was going to be tight.

First ball of the over, swing and a miss. Five balls left and four runs to win or three for a tie, but Dave Warren wasn’t thinking of this.

Vodden runs in again. Swing and another miss, but this time the wickets are broken and Nostell have their ninth wicket.

Four balls left with four runs still to win and only me left to bat. Nervous? Me? Who are you kidding. I have no idea why cricketers wear ‘whites’ when what I really needed was some brown trousers.

Walking out to bat I pass Dave Warren and he wishes me luck. I’m physically shaking, but hope no-one has noticed. Dave Cooper walks from the crease to meet me and offers a few words of encouragement. He tells me Dave Vodden is a good bowler (like I needed him to tell me this) and he bowled little in-duckers, but wasn’t fast. He said he would back up as far as he could, so all I had to do was get something on it and run, so he could take the strike and try to finish the game. Seemed like a plan.

As I took guard, under the captaincy of Freddy Gunthorpe, all the Nostell fielders started walking in to take up catching positions, with no-one more than ten yards from the bat. They had this in the bag and the win was just a formality, wasn’t it? How was this tiny young boy going to survive the bowling of the experienced Dave Vodden? Not possible. And there was zero chance of me even getting the ball off the square, so there was no need to have anyone saving the single.

Preferring the offside and not being very good on my legs, I took a leg stump guard and having checked the mark on the ground, looked up to check the field. It’s a good job I’m not claustrophobic as I had ten Nostell players literally breathing on me and staring right at me. Not intimidating at all – not!

I’m finally ready and take my position at the crease and look up to find Dave Vodden already in his run up. As I wasn’t quite that ready, I stood back and held up my hand asking him to stop, to which I received a few groans and complaints from the Nostell players. Despite my age, I had enough experience to make sure I was 100% ready and they weren’t going to take advantage. Dave Vodden went back to his mark and started his run up again and although I still wasn’t quite ready, didn’t want to step away again and give him the psychological advantage.

He released the ball and just as Dave Cooper had said, the ball began to drift in towards me, so I watched it carefully, planted my front foot and steered the ball to square leg. Dave Cooper called for a single, so I ran as fast as I could and just as I was taught, I put my bat in the crease and turned for a possible second run. With all the fielders, so close to the bat, the ball went near the umpire and with no Nostell player in sight, I called for a second run. Dave Cooper was a little surprised, but wasn’t going to say no.

Three balls remaining and two runs to win.

Once the ball was dead, Dave Cooper and I met half way down the wicket for a quick chat as most cricketers do. Dave said good shot, but regretted not staying at one run to give him the strike. I said I would try to give him the strike on the next ball so he could finish things off.

Meanwhile Freddy Gunthorpe and the entire Nostell team hadn’t moved an inch and insisted upon the same fielding positions as the previous ball. Surely lightening couldn’t strike twice – could it? By this time my adrenaline was through the roof and I was using every ounce of concentration to focus on the next delivery.

Once again Dave Vodden ran in and all I could think about was ‘just get something on it’. But it was like dejá vu. The ball began to drift in again, so I watched the ball carefully, planted my front foot and played it to the leg side again. Dave Cooper called for a single, but once again I turned and called for a second run which I made with ease.

The game was ours with two balls and one wicket remaining.

I’m not sure who was more stunned, me or the Nostell players.

All the players who had been watching from the balcony were cheering and as I was walked off the pitch it began to dawn on me what I had just achieved. Roy Sampson came on to the pitch to shake Freddy Gunthorpe’s hand for a well fought match, but not before giving me a hug and seeing the biggest smile I’d ever seen on Roy’s face in all the time I’d known him.

This was the moment I became a true member of the team who could contribute at all levels and wasn’t just some young lad who could bowl a bit.

This must go down as one of the highlights of my cricketing career, but not because I hit the winning runs, but because at 15 years of age I was accepted as an equal and was thankful for the opportunity to repay the people who had given me this amazing opportunity.

Carlton Cricket Club will always be part of my life and I would be a lesser man without it.