The batsman’s lot can be a lonely one. Especially on Valentine’s day, with a hangover, in the scorching sun, in a faraway country where you are the only white man engaged in a Saturday afternoon game of cricket. But this being Rarotonga I wasn’t lonely for long.
After a pleasant word or two with some of the fielders, who inquired as to my health and prospects of surviving at the crease for any period of time – I was given a lovely Valentine’s kiss.
From a speeding cricket ball.
Variable bounce is something of a problem in the Cook Islands cricket league. Mainly because the cricket pitches are strips of short grass in the middle of a rugby pitch. They used to have concrete wickets, but the rugby players objected, and by and large Polynesian rugby players are bigger than Polynesian cricketers.
So forward I stepped, all correct like, to a length ball only to see the bugger rear up spectacularly off a length, zip over my gloves and fizz towards my face...
It’s an odd feeling being hit in the teeth by a kicking delivery, especially when you hear everyone go “ooph” just as you drop the bat and start stumbling off towards square leg with your face in your hands. Claret everywhere.
What drama by the lagoon at Muri! There are usually about 30 odd fans and village elders littered around the ground, quietly smoking or drinking from coconuts, supine on their scooters. A bit of action as just what they were after.
This being the Cook Islands, when my vision cleared and I looked up, there before me was a palm fringed beach, white sand, a glistening blue lagoon and beyond that a pristine motu, or islet. The pain was dulled, plus by some miracle I still had all my teeth, albeit wobbling slightly in their sockets.
I was helped off back to the bushes under which my team were relaxing, and we all marvelled as my split lip swelled up to the size of a mango.
The pitch at Muri, aside from offering random bounce, must be one of the most picturesque in the world, backing as it does, onto the famous beach and lagoon. Spectators can relax on the sand or in the sea, although they need to duck if someone hits a six over the palms (the leg side if they are facing the Pacific Resort end).
Later in the innings I resumed, this time in a helmet, and made a ‘gutsy’ 11 before being bowled by a ball from the same bowler, which pitched in the same place as the one that kissed me, but rolled.
We lost the game by two wickets incidentally.
Oh, how we laughed over the post match barbecue, or kaikai, and beers, and for which the whole match is really just an excuse - and as the sun set lazily over the rugged peaks of Raro, my deformed face, already resplendent with the scars of two face-first motorbike crashes, continued to swell up to an improbable size.
Beats a pint in the Coach and Horses in the drizzle, and a ride home on the bus.