After several seasons playing "Kwik Cricket" (the softball introductory form of the game), number one son (aka 'Boris') yesterday graduated to playing hardball, at the club's first winter nets. He was naturally a little nervous before going as he's watched the older lads playing such 'proper cricket' across the ground many times. I've seen him watching some pretty quick bowlers getting the lethal leather to climb alarmingly from just short of a length - whizz past batsmen's noses and thud into the nets, with a mixture of admiration and apprehension.
He started off with a bit of bowling, which was great because this is probably his strength. He's bowled at me several times with a hard ball, so the only novel bit was bowling to other lads. Last time he bowled at me he caused a tasty bruise on my shin too. Spotting the ball drifting onto leg stump, I tried to effortlessly flick him through mid-wicket with all the elegance of David Gower - but ended up hopping about clutching my shin with all the panache of Barry Chuckle. I had to admit that he was at least a yard quicker than I'd anticipated; but noticed that he was more interested in whether the ball would have gone on to strike leg-stump, than about whether his poor father would ever walk again. In the nets last night, he got his line right pretty quickly, getting in a good groove in and around off-stump during the time I was there. The adjustment for him was with length - a move up the age-group means a longer wicket, and although not at a full 22-yards yet, he did take a few balls to find a reasonable length.
I wasn't there when he was batting - but the coaches seemed to be happy enough, saying that he was developing a sound defensive technique, which is the essential foundation on which to build an armoury of more attacking shots. The big change here is with equipment. Kwik Cricketers play dressed in shorts and T-shirts, whereas hard-ball cricketers go out to bat these days dressed like medieval knights in armour. I'm old enough to remember a handful of test cricketers who didn't use batting helmets, but now even kids routinely hide under their plastic lid. This might seem a little over the top to some - but it's probably a good thing. If the bounce was very low in the indoor net last night and the helmet superfluous, a time will come when they will face some aspiring Michael Holding and being used to wearing the helmet when the time comes will be an advantage. Viv Richards, famously never used one - claiming that "if you need one, you shouldn't be out there". In retirement however he admitted that this was all bluster and that the real reason was that having learnt to bat without one, he was never comfortable with it on.
The step-up to 'real cricket' was a challenge, but Boris absolutely relished it. It's "SO" much better than kwik cricket, he says!