He wasn’t the captain. He wasn’t even the vice-captain. If the captain and vice-captain were both injured, he wasn’t even the fellow next in line to lead the team. But boy could Dan Murphy talk.
Anyone watching the cricket match some seasons back between the Irish Independent team and a loose collection of players from Tower outside Cork city would have assumed that Dan was in charge.
He moved the fielders around. He commented on every ball bowled and every shot played. “Good man, Dinny. Keep it there, boy. You have him, you have him. He’s rattled, boy, rattled!” he’d say.
When Dinny’s next delivery was whacked into the far yonder, he was unperturbed. “Lucky shot, Dinny. He won’t do that to you again, boy.”
And when it came time for Dan to bat, the intense concentration required didn’t stem his loquaciousness. Again, every ball was parsed and analysed like a Latin sentence. “Well bowled sir” he’d say to our bowler, “moved a bit in the air I’d say, but didn’t I play it well myself?”
When the batsman at the other end was bowled out without scoring, Dan’s advocacy hit new heights. “Ah, ‘twas very unfair. Not a Taverners’ delivery at all at all. Sure, let him back in. He was hardly here at all.”
We Dubliners were unused to this sort of thing. In our version of cricket, when a batsman in out, he’s out and that’s it. Dan’s cricket was a more flowing, evolving thing, a space where the cold print of the Laws as handed down by the MCC met the super-heated emotions of actual play.
He had another card up his sleeve. “Sure, didn’t he drive all the way from Midleton to play,” he said, making spaniel eyes to the umpire. The umpire consulted me as the captain of the opposition, and, suspecting I wouldn’t get across the county border in one piece unless I relented, I agreed to “let him have another chance”.
Thus began my education into the Cork psyche. It has been a lengthy process, for this week marked the 20th anniversary of our little team, and we have been touring to Cork almost since the beginning.
The first thing you notice is the talk. Usually, the captain decides who will bowl when, and who will stand where to field the ball. Not in Cork. It’s a more collective thing. The captain’s authority is not so much challenged as ignored altogether. I doubt Mike Brearley would have prospered in Cork.
We soon discovered, as we set about playing a team from the Cork County club this week, that we were up against 11 captains and 13 umpires. Every decision, whether it was to call a ball a wide or to give a batsman out, was subjected to debate as if it were a Private Member’s Bill in the Seanad.
The captain’s authority is not so much challenged as ignored altogether. I doubt Mike Brearley would have prospered in Cork.
One batsman, whose off stump I clipped with what I like to think was an in-swinging yorker, argued that he wasn’t ready, and therefore was not out. Wides were disputed, while the idea of no-balls doesn’t seem to have reached this far south at all.
I have learned over the years that there exists by the Leeside a flexibility when it comes to matters of principle. The human element is stressed over the bureaucratic, the sentimental over the rational. Hard and fast rules bend in the face of the waves of talk, until eventually an accommodation is reached with which everyone is broadly in agreement.
This is not a bad thing, for when you set up your rules and your regulations, you have to stick to them more or less. But when you view rules and regulations as more malleable, more in the nature of general guidelines, then you have more room for manoeuvre.
Our match against Cork County last week was a nail-biter. Fortunes swung one way, then the other. In the end, in the drizzle at the Mardyke, we snatched an improbable victory by one run off the last ball of the match.
As we came off the field, I overhead one of the County players say to another: “Sure, ‘twas a draw, really.”