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Bowled over and caught out

It was not by chance that I was the only boy in Biology class. I was deeply in love for the first time. Although I recall an occasion at primary school when I shyly slid a sheet of paper featuring a red-crayoned heart, pierced by an arrow, across the desktop to Angela Harris, my romantic gesture produced no noticeable reaction and playtime saw us go our separate ways.

But this time it was different, this was the real thing. The object of my schoolboy crush was the biology teacher, Miss Gadstone: young, pretty and a wearer of skirts that, while not quite mini, certainly hovered excitingly just above the knee. To top it all, she drove a powder-blue Triumph Herald convertible.

Having ingloriously failed the 11-plus due to my total inadequacy to comprehend anything remotely mathematical, I attended what was then quaintly termed a “county secondary school.” When we reached the third year of our stretch a decision had to be made regarding the science subjects, as at that time we could only do one. Mathematically competent boys opted for physics, the girls unanimously plumped for biology (yes, that’s the way it was back then) and the remaining boys endured “general science”. This was not, however, obligatory. Teachers “strongly advised” us and then a personal choice was made. So I chose biology, just to be near the divine Miss G. I can’t say I shone in lessons. I can tell you that an amoeba is a single-celled animal, that I once dissected a frog (the most pointless venture I had ever embarked upon) and blushed furiously whenever reproductive organs, or the reproductive process, was mentioned.

The object of my schoolboy crush was the biology teacher, Miss Gadstone

But I remained desperate to impress and my opportunity came with the hotly contested staff vs boys annual cricket match. Miss G was herself sporty, coaching one of the netball teams, so I felt sure she’d be present to cheer on the staff. Or maybe me. I was a reasonable schoolboy cricketer, a bit impulsive with the bat, but I opened the bowling for the school team. And while I saw myself as seriously fast, a budding Freddie Trueman, I was probably more what we’d now describe as fast-medium, or medium-fast; I still don’t really know the difference.

Though principally a bowler, I had had a moment of glory with the bat at a practice session earlier in the term. Our humble “county secondary” actually boasted one of the finest school pitches in the county. Overlooking the square and flat outfield was the original 1930s redbrick building, with the windows of the headmaster’s study temptingly in range of a lusty strike and a following wind. Down the years it had been the aim of many young cricketers to smash one of those windows and legend said a few had succeeded. As we practised one afternoon the conditions were perfect, my mates bowled me balls that sat up and begged to be belted and a friendly breeze prevailed. Eventually, I did it: the crash and tinkle of shattered glass followed by the enraged yell of the shocked headmaster making us all quake. I received six of the best for my six, but it was worth it.

The day of the big match dawned and a large crowd of pupils and staff turned up to witness the battle. I spotted Miss Gadstone, a little apart from the main group, chatting to the muscular PE teacher who had arrived at the beginning of the school year. I never liked him. The teachers won the toss and decided to bat, so I took the new ball for the first over. Facing me was the head of science, a club cricket regular and extremely capable batsman. I took a deep breath and raced in. The ball pitched on a perfect length and, playing forward, the opener was beaten through the gate and the bails went flying. I’d bowled him, first ball, middle and leg. Cheers rang across the field, but the batsman stood his ground. “I hadn’t taken my guard,” he said to the umpire, a junior member of his department, “I didn’t hear you say ‘play’.” The umpire turned to me and mumbled apologetically: “Not out.” Fuming, I returned to my mark, glancing over towards Miss Gadstone, who appeared deep in conversation with Mister Muscles.

The now wary head of science wasn’t going to be done a second time. He thrashed my next delivery to the boundary and, by the time I was removed from the firing line, was on his way to a half century. Thoroughly dejected, I took my place in the outfield, close to Miss G and her preening friend. But then, in the very next over, came a second opportunity. Showboating, the overconfident opener mis-hit a short delivery which came hurtling in my direction. I ran and launched myself salmon-like into the air, with right arm outstretched. The ball thudded into my palm and I clung on, hit the ground, rolled over and stood, raising the red globe in triumph. The cheers were thunderous and teachers were applauding as I looked back to Miss Gadstone. She was walking away alongside Mister Muscles and hadn’t even witnessed my miracle catch. I realised that afternoon that love, like sport, can be a heartbreaker.

Robert Rigby is a journalist, author, scriptwriter and musician

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Life, May 2023, This Sporting Life

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