A Week in the Life

The fact that in certain contexts - in politics, in sport, in life itself - a week is a long time, is an old and enduring aphorism.

And, especially in the modern age, it is true, so true. Everything happens fast these days, even in cricket. Twenty20 innings are over in the blink of an eye, teams that for years have been the last word in constipated conservatism can change their very character in a few matches.

Andy Mathieson knows all about this.

On Saturday 20th June, Mathieson, a seam bowler from the North Island of New Zealand, is called into the New Zealand team for his One-Day International debut. As England chase an amended target, things go well at first - he takes the wicket of Jason Roy with his first ball in international cricket - but later they take a sharp turn for the worse. His fourth over, which turns out to be the final over of the match, is hit for 17 runs by a combination of two young Yorkshiremen, Jonny Bairstow and Adil Rashid, who are surfing the glorious wave of England's new era of limited-overs freedom. The match ends in defeat for New Zealand, and Mathieson's figures, which weren't great before he embarked on his final over, are left looking ugly. There is a wicket to cling on to, but he is left with a return of 4 overs for 40 to look back on, possibly for ever. An economy rate of 10. Not good. He is the latest person to be entrusted with the difficult job of bowling at the death as the opposition close on a total. In these situations things can go one of two ways. You can end up as a hero, or you can end up, at best, as a forgotten man.

Durham's Riverside Ground ends the day in ferment. Nothing can be heard above the noise of a crowd who, when the whole series is taken into account, can hardly believe what they have witnessed.

One week on it is Saturday 27th June, and Mathieson is opening the bowling for Sidmouth against Exeter in the Premier Division of the Devon League. On Exeter's old ground, Devon's County Ground, the ancient pavilion has been demolished to make way for a gleaming replacement, ringed by student flats. A crane dominates the skyline, the players change in prefabricated huts, and the spectators can be counted, one by one, in a few minutes. It is a humid, slightly soporific afternoon, with the morning's bright sunshine giving way to cloud. You can hear the birds singing. The players are wearing whites. Contrasts with Durham are everywhere.

Sidmouth's powerful batting line-up racks up 307 in their 50 overs. Exeter are below strength, and they are never serious contenders to win, but their chase begins with Mathieson taking the ball following an initial over of slow-medium seamers from his captain Will Murray.

On television, Mathieson's pace looked relatively benign. Here, at a much lower level of the game, it appears razor sharp, and he extracts bounce from a batsmen's track. When the Exeter batsmen have to play, they tend to play late, and in a hurry. But they don't have to play enough, and Mathieson's first spell is negotiated with relative comfort. Later, as Exeter's innings fades, he returns. Exeter's impressive fifteen year-old, Tom Lammonby, handles him without undue trouble, and he remains wicketless until he shatters the stumps of Exeter's number ten with the game's final ball, securing victory for his side by 129 runs.

For Mathieson it has been a quiet afternoon. He has not batted, and he has taken just one wicket and a single sharp catch in the deep, which, with the anticipation and sense of gathering danger which is second nature to one who has played at a higher level, he has made look easy.

This has been an unusually varied interlude in a jobbing cricketer's career. Two weeks running he has bowled the final ball of a match, but they have been worlds apart in setting, in relative importance, and in result. One has extended him to the furthest limits of his abilities and emotions; the other has been a subdued return to normality.

Who knows if the opportunity to repeat his experience at Durham will ever come again? If it does not, there is little need to worry. He is what he is, and what he will always be. There are plenty of people around with no One-Day International wickets, and nobody will ever be able to take Roy's scalp away from him.

A week in cricket can seem like a very long time.

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