Much like a Daniel Farke training session, opening the batting in the Norfolk Cricket Alliance is no easy task.
The bowlers are experienced, crafty and skilful. The ball is new, hard and with a pronounced seam that could so menacingly lead to some form of deflection off the unknown quantity that is the freshly prepared pitch. The slip cordon are vocal. The bowlers are fresh. The heart is pumping.
Such factors invariably render opening the batting an unenviable job. Some may argue it is a task only a fool would undertake, a player who is satisfied with resigning themselves to multiple single figure scores throughout the season owing to the occasional edge or – in my case – stone-dead LBW.
The indignity of being dismissed in the inaugural ball of the match remains a perpetual possibility. Your afternoon can be over at 13:01. It is, axiomatically, a difficult task.
All these reasons become subordinated, however, when August arrives. Forget the bowlers, the slips, the pitch and the new ball, the weekly trudge out to the middle that can so often lead to the return journey taking place so agonisingly soon after. More broadly, forget the pain of falling just short in a run chase or failing to defend an ostensibly sufficient total.
When August arrives, football is back.
While Norwich City trek around the country in the summer sun treating the travelling faithful to a quintessentially unpredictable performance, I can be seen accumulating some mileage of my own as I travel along the country roads of the depths of rural Norfolk, more often than not failing to navigate myself successfully to grounds such as Martham, Great Melton and North Runcton.
In August, playing cricket and opening the batting becomes an even more challenging task, with a constant curiosity concerning the City score wherever they are playing manifesting itself in my mind. My focus, naturally, becomes diluted.
I’ve always put playing cricket before watching football. For four August weeks, I believe it is worth prioritising playing a sport you love over watching a team you equally adore, completing the season before spending the winter months following City both home and away.
During past Augusts, I’ve departed the cricket field to be welcomed with news of away wins at Sunderland and Blackburn and more damaging defeats at Fulham and at home to – thanks, Simon Hooper – Crystal Palace. Emotions in August, so frequently for City supporters, become polarised.
This August, however, will be different.
Excruciating pain became fused with comedy for me this weekend when, while batting, a dislocated kneecap led to me falling backwards onto my stumps and being dismissed hit-wicket for 39. A subsequent trip to A&E only served to reinforce the severity of the injury and confirm that a disappointing few weeks away from sport are about to be endured.
But, as Bruce Springsteen once sung in 1995, every cloud has a silver lining. Such disappointment was soon distorted into a more positive sense of anticipation, a transformation that derived from my swift realisation that a trip to Craven Cottage may now be a viable possibility.
Despite the considerably impressive selling out of 3000 away tickets in a staggering three hours last Tuesday, the neutral section now awaits for me and a couple of mates.
And I can’t wait. With under two weeks to go, I may be championing idealism over more rational realism in terms of my expectations, but to be candid I could not care less.
In the Thames sunshine in a week and a half, I hope to see a Gunn in goal relentlessly thwarting opposition shots, a new centre-back partnership begin to blossom and a dynamic and energetic midfield work indefatigably and seamlessly with the hopefully prolific Nelson Oliviera up front. I may be dreaming, but the hope will never die.
I will save the pontificating over tactics until the day itself. Having only witnessed highlights of City’s pre-season so far, such a judgement on my behalf remains futile and one that should be left to my more well-informed colleagues such as Gary, Connor Southwell and Martin Penney.
That said, reading their eloquent thoughts on the Farke-inspired possession-based, high-pressing and rapid-paced football only functioned as a means of intensifying my desire for the season to begin.
The foundations are laid for my maiden trip to the Cottage to be one of joviality, jubilation and promise. And let’s not kid ourselves, City are due a win there at some point.
While Slavisa Jokanovic’s side were unequivocally one of the two best sides – along with Huddersfield – who I saw at Carrow Road last season owing to the pace and fluidity with which they moved the ball, I remain hopeful that a Farke-led pre-season has efficaciously instilled similarly aesthetic values into this rejuvenated City side.
Although the more conservative fans amongst us may be reluctant to accept the somewhat acute sense of transition that is still being undertaken, I trust Webber, Farke and Stone to be conducting their duties with pragmatism and the long-term interests of the club at heart. I am fascinated to discover how the following months will unfold.
But until then, I can only continue to dream while simultaneously nursing my alarmingly swollen knee. Cricket – for the imminent future – may be over, but the football is yet to begin. South-west London, a return to watching City on the road, and a potentially glorious epoch for the club all beckon. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait.