The silent thwack of imaginary leather on non-existent willow; the ripple of notional one-handed applause; the hypothetical murmur of appreciation at a fine piece of fictional fielding or a dazzling Schrodinger’s catch.
Yes, the Metacricket season is here again.
In recent weeks it has become clear that I don’t belong to a cricket club any more. I belong to a Metacricket club.
For those unfamiliar with the game, here is a brief explanation.
Metacricket is a game whose existence depends on the organisation, anticipation and cancellation of cricket matches.
To qualify as Metacricket, the game must fulfil all of the following criteria:
1. The match must have been scheduled to take place;
2. The match must have to some extent been discussed by some of the participants;
3. The match must then have been cancelled.
In its simplest form, Metacricket consists of a discussion on the following lines:
Club Member: Have we got a game this Sunday?
Team Secretary: Ground’s too wet, so we cancelled.
Metacricket is a rich and immensely varied game, and its possible forms are too numerous to list here. I will merely give a description of some of the commonest examples encountered by the club Metacricketer:
1. The Team Secretary flags up a game four weeks in advance, receives an expression of interest and availability from fifteen or so players, no more than three of whom turn out to be available when the Team Secretary calls to confirm at the beginning of the week of the game in question. The more strenuous the efforts of the Team Secretary to get a team together, and the later in the week the cancellation, the more successful the game of Metacricket.
2. The Team Secretary ensures that eleven players are available, the Fixtures Secretary books the ground, and someone even remembers to buy a match ball. At 11.37 the night before the game the Club Secretary receives a text from his counterpart apologising for the fact that his team can only provide six players, three of whom are Colts.
3. Two full teams are available and ready to play.
It rains all day.
The most successful games of Rain Metacricket are the ones in which everyone feels duty bound to turn up because it’s sunny in the morning, but they all know that the rain is coming in from the west at lunchtime. The immersion of the pitch, at 1.43 pm, under enough water to fill Staines Reservoir fifteen times over, surprises nobody, and the seasoned Metacricketer will not even have bothered to bring their kit, but merely turns up for the inevitable leisurely two pints and four packets of cheesy moments that will only partly make up for the loss of the afternoon’s action. In a variant of this, the rain surprisingly fails to appear, but most of the players have looked at the forecast and made other plans, resulting in the cancellation of the game).
4. Eleven players are selected for a game and turn up expecting a keen renewal of a longstanding and eagerly anticipated fixture, but it turns out that the opposition folded the previous winter and failed to tell anyone. The Club Secretary is elusive when asked if he had confirmed the fixture according to normal practice. The more grounds that are visited in the fruitless pursuit of the fixture, the more successful the game of Metacricket. Bonus points are scored for failed attempts to reach the opposition’s Club Secretary on the day of the match.
5. Both teams turn out in full for the game but are eaten by a dinosaur at 1.57 pm on the day of the game (rare).
It will be clear from the above that it is not enough, if wanting to call oneself a Metacricket team, simply not to play cricket. One must make serious efforts to play cricket but be foiled (often at the last possible minute) by outside agencies over which the organisers have, or at least claim to have, no control. These outside agencies will include such things as: weather, Acts of God, stupidity (of self or of opposition), all-round general fecklessness and many more besides.
By extension, and in the context of Actual Cricket, a Metacricketer is one who appears eager to play cricket but never actually plays. The commonest kind of Metacricketer is the one who, at the pre-season dinner (the good Metacricketer always turns up to the social events), declares themselves “available if selected” for the whole season. When asked by the Team Secretary to play Actual Cricket, however, they turn out to be unavailable. As the season progresses, the reasons for their non-participation become increasingly outlandish, starting with the mundane (“it’s my son’s birthday” or the time-honoured “knee’s playing up”), progressing to the mildly convoluted (“I’d really like to, but my godfather’s invited me to Glyndebourne and I don’t really feel I can turn the old bugger down”) via the implausible (“would you believe it? My old history teacher’s having his retirement party in Prague that weekend”) and culminating with the brazenly and gloriously invented (“we’ve got the Pope coming to stay”).
Perhaps the greatest Metacricketer of all time was Ranulph Purslane-Ampersand, who, in a fifty-eight year career as captain of the Old Dirigibles Cricket Club, never played a single game. His name is so worshipped at the club that it is still, thirty-five years after his death, the first one on the team sheet — although it is always, of course, immediately crossed out.
Metacricket is, in my opinion, the greatest of all games. For those willing to devote the time to it, it can become an all-consuming passion, yielding many years of pleasurable disappointment, disillusion and regret.
It could be seen, in fact, as a metaphor for life itself.