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Simon Bexley - Pad-Man in Peril
He sits there in silence, pondering the news that has struck him like a thunderbolt, searching forlornly in the darkness for the merest glimmer of light.
Water drips morosely through a leak in the roof, droplets of moisture that threaten to flood the pavilion interior just as assuredly as the fact that Simon Bexley’s career batting average is about to be swamped in the wake of the news that the Decision Review System (DRS) is to be introduced in both the Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire Cricket Leagues in 2012.
The forecast has not seemed so bleak for one man since Noah was told to drop everything and start working on the ark. There is no doubt the world renowned padder-upper has been left grief-stricken by the news. To him the letters DRS are more distressing than ACB, HIV or even DNB.
Over the past three decades Bexley has carved out an illustrious career with his leg guards, establishing himself as the finest pad-smith the game has known. He started out in the days of canvas pads and buckles and has moved with the times, bestriding the game like a colossus in a pair of PU covered pads with Velcro straps made of cloth of gold. Eschewing the bat wherever possible, Bexley has revolutionised the game played by Bradman and transformed pad play into an art form, regularly making the most of his rebound-enhancing Semtex-lined knee rolls to keep the scoreboard moving with a steady stream of leg byes.
A bat endorsed by Bradman, Botham, Richards, Tendulkar or Ponting has always had some commercial appeal but no item of cricketing equipment has come close to rivalling the cache of a pair of S. P. Bexfield Ultimate Autograph pads.
More importantly than scoring runs, Bexley has also been able to preserve his wicket by thrusting down the pitch with his pad to intercept the ball in line with the stumps before adding an imperceptible final flourish after impact that conveys the impression he has been struck outside the line of the off stump and therefore cannot be given out. The combination of cunning pad play (Bexley’s own version of leg theory if you will) and the innate ability to make sure he is never running to the danger end during attempted quick singles, have ensured that Bexley has scored more runs than anyone else for Offley & Stopsley Cricket Club.
Now that famous pad-padded average is under threat. Just as the snow leopard faces extinction from hunters after her fur and the elephant must battle to avoid poachers desperate for his tusks, so Bexley faces the gravest battle of his career to preserve his average in the face of the dreaded DRS.
Our interviewer found Bexley fiddling nervously with the Velcro strap of his pad, adjusting it time and time again as he grapples with what he perceives to be the innate unfairness of the system. At his side a cricket bat is propped up on a seat in almost mint condition. Save for a few red marks it is a pristine blade. Apparently Bexley has been using the bat regularly since 2006. In contrast to the unscarred willow, Bexley’s pads have certainly seen action. Judging by their scarred and battle-damaged appearance, that action has taken place up in the clouds in a fierce dogfight with the Luftwaffe.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about trying to improve the game, or ensuring that there are more correct decisions, it’s about persecuting skilled batsmen,” intones Bexley, speaking with the martyred air of a man who relishes his time on the cross. “It’s about persecuting me.”. “Decision Review System? What is there to review? Maybe they should bring in a system to review how much work I do for the club. If you finish your shot with your pad outside the line of the off stump it shouldn’t make the faintest bit of difference where it hit you. Obviously, you should not be given out.
“Ultimately it’s all about persecuting those batsmen – namely me – with good technique. There’s no point introducing DRS for the spanners and the rabbits. We don’t need technology to tell us that Brodie’s been stumped by four yards instead of just five.
“We don’t need a computer to tell us that Keeley’s had his stumps knocked back having a hack across the line. We don’t need freeze frames and countless replays to tell us that Barker’s been trapped plumb in front because he hasn’t moved his feet. We certainly don’t need video evidence to tell us that 42% of Freeman’s wickets come via no balls, in addition to the 53% of his victims that are either under 12 or over 65 and that just 5% of his wickets actually account for decent batsmen.
“But we apparently need it because the authorities have a grudge against me and my technique - jealous bastards – and are desperate to put an end to my success.
“You’d think that I’d never had to suffer a dodgy decision. Have I ever complained when I’ve been on the end of a rough call? Have you ever heard me protesting about being given caught when it should have been a no ball?”
“Yes,” our interviewer interjects. “At Holwell. And against Nomads.”
“Bad example. Well, it’s not as though I’ve ever stood there in disgust at the umpire’s decision. I always walk when I’ve been bowled – I don’t expect that to be reviewed on the off chance of it being called a no ball. I never question stumpings.”
“What about the semi-final against Great Gaddesden at St Albans?”
“That was different – it was a semi-final,” Bexley emphasises his point as if he were speaking to a particularly dim child.
The discussion is paused for a moment as the interviewer digests the realisation that Bexley believes he is capable of acting as his own umpire and his decision should be final. For his part it is obvious Bexley can’t see what the fuss is about. After all, he is the best batsman and the best umpire at the club so why shouldn’t he pass judgement on himself? Besides, is that not what it says in the scriptures – judge yourself as others should not judge you? Something like that anyway.
Finally we return to the heart of the matter, namely the effect DRS will have on Bexley’s batting statistics. Bexley clearly suspects a trap, yet he is powerless to prevent himself from rising to the bait as the innocent question is dropped artlessly into the conversation.
“Over the years wouldn’t you concede you’ve been treated very favourably by umpires and generally been given the benefit of a doubt you didn’t always deserve?”
“Are you trying to be funny?” Bexley thunders as he turns a pleasant shade of purple. “Benefit of the doubt? Me? When have I ever got the benefit of the doubt?
“Did Keeley give me the benefit of the doubt at Therfield when he triggered me within three balls of going out to umpire? Did he? No he fucking didn’t. And he stole my chair in the pavilion as well! Did Barker give me the benefit of the doubt when he decided he wanted to do his sodding Rudi Koertzen impression? Worst.... Decision.... Ever.... He admitted it! He even apologised for it! Still damaged my average though, didn’t it? I’ve had better decisions from Qumar. Qumar!”
At this point our interviewer seeks to draw a discreet veil over proceedings but it is clear that Bexley wishes to have his day in court, all too anxious to appeal the appeals that have been upheld against him.
“Leighton Buzzard! Remember that? Their bloody umpire gave me out despite the fact I was playing a shot and was hit on the front foot. Of course it was outside the line. Do you honestly think I’d allow myself to be hit in line with the stumps? Do you not listen to what I’m saying about technique? Technique! But no. It wasn’t enough for Trigger. And even though I stood there with my hands on my hips – yes, admittedly I may have flicked my bat away in disgust, what of it? – and gave the umpire every chance to admit his mistake and gave the opposition captain the chance to call me back, the bastards didn’t.
“And Austin? What about Austin at Southgate? Couldn’t wait to get his finger up, could he? Again, I did the hands on hips thing, beseeching him to reconsider the mistake he had made and offering him the chance to rectify it. But no. In the end I had to be the bigger man and walk off, pride and dignity intact, even though I know there’s no way it was out.
“They’re not the only ones to have done it. Bloody Cooper is another one who has sawn me off in my prime, all because he hasn’t been able to view the decision in the context of the game. He says it doesn’t matter what the context is – and up to a point he’s right. The context doesn’t matter when the ball hits me on the pad because it cannot be hitting me in line with the stumps. Honestly, it’s not that difficult to understand.”
At this point we tactfully interject to inquire as to why Bexley is so concerned about the introduction of DRS. Surely if – as he maintains – he is never hit in line with the stumps, he has nothing to worry about from new technology. He pauses for a moment, mumbles something about the need for human error in the game and then adopts a vicious look, the type of which he only tends to display when he finds himself in the queue at Chicken George behind a fat bloke when there are only three bits of chicken left.
“Look at my record. You don’t score over 12,000 runs by using your pad all the time.” (No, you get 12,000 runs by using your pad most of the time... and playing the odd cheeky season for the Second XI.)
“People seem to think I’m going to be made to look like Wayne Cutts – that fucker’s given me out as well when I was on the front foot outside the line – just because bowlers are going to be able to have decisions reviewed. They can review what they want. It won’t matter. I know I’m right. My technique is sound. I’ve been victim of umpire error more times than I can remember. I doubt I’ve got the benefit of the doubt more than once or twice in my entire career. And you know what? I don’t need it. My technique is flawless enough to render the umpire redundant.
“I say bring on DRS. It will just go to show my blend of impeccable judgement and immaculate footwork is more than a match for any combination of bowler, umpire and technology. I’ll score even more runs. As O.J. Simpson said – another man harshly persecuted by history – if it would not hit, you must acquit!”
You suspect Bexley is whistling in the cemetery, pissing in the wind of the hurricane of LBW appeals that are set to engulf him in 2012. He knows the LBW cries are coming, knows that his tried and tested technique of leading with his pad is about to be undermined by DRS and knows that his average can only head in one direction as he enters his 44th year.
One thing is for certain. The finest pad-smith the game of cricket has ever seen feels threatened by the coming of new technology because Simon Bexley knows that DRS means his career is DTD – Down the Drain!