THOMAS had read somewhere that it's 22 yards between the wickets on a cricket pitch, but this was nowhere near that.

When he was Freddie Trueman bowling to the Aussie's Neil Harvey, he thought the gap between the wickets was the same as it was on the real pitch, but that was a long time ago when Thomas and his best pal Geoffrey spent their summers re-enacting Test matches on The Green, an oasis between rows of anonymous council houses. The Green had six trees of various species spread around it which, in their imagination, provided the perfect Test match arena for the boys.

 

Every morning, once he'd devoured his Weetabix soaked in hot milk at a temperature his mum had got down to perfection, Thomas would rush to Geoffrey's house with his tennis ball. Geoffrey provided the cricket bat and off they scuttled to The Green.

The rules were simple, one of them would be England, the other Australia. They bowled from one Oak tree to a another one which served as the wicket. If you hit the ball straight onto one of the surrounding trees without it touching the ground you were out caught. The trees stood guard, imposing fielders towering above them like sporting giants, never, ever to drop a catch.

This went on until 'big school' and the youngsters went their separate ways, never to see each other again until...

 

Thomas had been in the hospice for about three weeks when they wheeled in this chap and put him next to him to watch TV. They didn't speak until the woman on the box said 'No Deal Noel' to £30,000. The man chortled: 'Silly bugger.'

'Too right,' said Thomas, a lean, gaunt man with a pronounced stoop which made him look smaller than his 6ft 2in frame.

'Thomas?' 

'Blimey, Geoffrey?'

Over a pot of tea and a plate of Jaffa cakes they worked their way through jobs, marriages and kids before they got to the nitty-gritty - illnesses and how long they'd got left.

Geoffrey had had both legs amputated, Thomas's lungs were barely functioning.

No doubt in an attempt to lighten the moment, Geoffrey piped up: 'Hey, do you remember cricket on The Green?'

If Thomas closed his eyes he could feel the ragged texture of the worn tennis ball, the rubber handle grip on Geoffrey's battle-scared Gunn and Moore cricket bat which his granddad, who played Minor Counties cricket for Staffordshire, had handed down to him.

'Of course I do mate. What I wouldn't give to throw down a few bouncers now,' he said.

Geoffrey, red faced, white haired and bearded like a friendly Co-op store Santa, swung his wheelchair closer to him: 'Do you want to be England or Australia?' he whispered with a sparkle in his eyes.

 

So here they are at The Green, some 60 odd years since they last took their bat and ball home. Geoffrey persuaded his granddaughter Nancy to take them and she's leaning on her car looking extremely worried as the two men prepare to play cricket. She took some convincing, the hospice thinks they've gone to listen to a brass band in the park.

The bat is some crappy thing from Toys R Us, made from foam rather than from the fruits of the Willow tree, the tennis ball from Asda but they're ready for action.

Despite being in a wheelchair, Geoffrey is determined to bat so Thomas gently lobs the ball down to him. He misses it by a mile and it hits the 'wicket'.

'Shit!' he exclaims.

'No-ball!' shouts Thomas and it strikes him how short it is between the trees, must be no bigger than 10-12 yards. So that's how the world looks when you're nine.

Collecting the ball, Thomas walks back to his tree, the one from where Freddie Trueman let loose so many thunderous deliveries at the Aussies. Then it was upright and strong like Freddie, now it's fallen and withered, lying lifeless on the ground.

He turns around to face Geoffrey who is hunched low in his wheelchair. Thomas can see Nancy edging closer, concern etched on her face.

'One more?'gasps Thomas, his lungs pulsating with pain.

'Aye, I think I can just about manage that,' replies Geoffrey with a wry grin. Thomas gently wipes away a tear, he wants to go and hug his pal.

He takes a deep breath and for one final glorious moment, thanks to Geoffrey, he is Freddie Trueman again.

© Patrick O’Connor 2012