A first century achieved when I was past the age of fifty, by Joe Hackett

Joe Hackett, born in 1946 and still playing cricket, recalls a dream come true – a first century achieved when he was past the age of fifty.

It was a sunny July Saturday in 1997. Just another game of cricket. I was 51, playing for my Devon village team, second eleven. We were in trouble, with the score at 39 for three. I was probably the most nervous player in our team. I had resumed playing when I was aged 35 and for the next few years had failed miserably. There was one sequence of seven games containing six ducks. I had slowly improved on that (things could hardly get worse!) but I was still very unconfident. I was averaging well below 20 runs an innings.

I walked out to bat. I looked diffidently around at our small field, the church visible through the trees, a couple of cows in a neighbouring field. I tried to relax, yet be alert. I tried to remember coaching books I had read about visioning success. Good theory. It was just that I couldn’t do it. Instead, all I could seem to envision was failure. True, I had once scored 93 – but that was a few years previously. I just didn’t think I had a century in me anymore. I was the oldest member of the team, by a few years. Over the hill.

The opposing eleven, a cheerful bunch, were enjoying being in the ascendent. The way I shuffled to the wicket, adjusting my glasses, my greying hair under an old green cap, the way I typically played and missed at the first few balls – all this must have convinced them that I was another easy wicket to take. There’s an expression for that in cricket. A rabbit. Waiting to be shot.

But I began to have some luck, which helped calm my nerves. I hit the ball in the air a couple of times, but not near any of their players to give a catch. I had another oldster batting at the other end, and we kept encouraging each each. The bowling was not great, I began to think. The boundary was near, and the ball skidded pleasingly for fours – lots of them. Soon, my score passed 50. Nothing so special about that. Then 60, 70, 80. I was middling the ball. No more playing off the edges.

I had somehow developed my own rhythm. Hitting the bad balls, leaving the really wide ones, defending the good ones. Keeping it simple. Mind over matter, plus I had acquired that magic, elusive ingredient: confidence. For the first time ever, and it never happened again, it seemed I could do no wrong. Magic!

The 100, when it came, was from a ball hit along the ground to the cover boundary. I remember it still, fifteen years later. I remember the disbelieving cheer from the pavilion. I remember feeling faintly embarrassed, as if this should have happened to someone else. I ended up on 115 not out – scored off only 103 balls. I’d hit four mighty sixes and 18 fours – 96 runs scored in boundaries! There are (younger) players in my Club who cannot believe I ever did it. One of the opposition – a fellow veteran – kindly sent me a copy of their scorebook, which I keep and sometimes refer to just to remind myself that this century really happened. I can still barely believe it myself!

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