Post 45 A game of cricket throws up a medical dilemma

It was a Saturday afternoon in August 1976 and the occasion of the annual cricket match between the hospital consultants and the junior doctors.  The juniors never had any trouble fielding a team, but the consultants often had to supplement their side with friends, relatives, or their colleagues in general practice. Since the object of the game was to relax, have fun and break down barriers, there was an unwritten rule that ‘regular’ cricketers, for example, members of local league cricket clubs, were not allowed to play.

One of a number of social events in the hospital calendar, it was always eagerly anticipated, not only by the participants but also by the rest of the hospital staff, many of whom came along to watch. There were some good-looking bachelors on the junior doctor’s team, which guaranteed the attendance of a healthy number of young nurses. Others came along privately hoping that some of the more pompous consultants might find a way of embarrassing themselves. Given that several of them were both unfit and overweight, there was a fair chance that they wouldn’t be disappointed! The format was a twenty-over match, with everyone except the wicket-keeper required to bowl two overs.

Towards the end of a gloriously sunny afternoon, the match had reached its climax. The consultants needed just eleven runs to win from the last two overs.  Then the ninth wicket fell, adding to the tension.  Four runs were now required from the remaining four balls. It was at this point, that Andrew Potts, the ten- year-old son of Leslie Potts, (who was probably the least popular of the consultants), came to the crease, his father at his side. By an unfortunate coincidence, Paul Lambert, Mr Potts’ surgical trainee was the bowler.  Whilst Potts Junior went to the crease and took his guard in a very confident manner, Potts Senior approached Paul.  He looked him straight in the eye.

‘Andrew has really been looking forward to this game,’ he said meaningfully. ‘You will let him score a run or two, won’t you?’

He put his hand in his pocket, and for one dreadful moment, Paul thought he was going to produce a five-pound note.  He didn’t.  Instead, he handed Paul a tennis ball.

‘Now you will treat him gently, won’t you, Lambert?’  To Paul, the words sounded like an instruction, not a request.

Then he patted Paul on the shoulder and walked away, shouting ‘Good Luck’ to his lad as he left.  Paul wondered what on earth he was supposed to do.  He was twenty-six years old, reasonably fit and athletic, with only a ten-year-old boy standing between him and a win for his team.  Sure, the match was a friendly affair, a chance to relax, a break from the daily pressure of patient care, but it was only played once a year, and was always played in a competitive spirit. Both sides were keen to win. Yet he was also a surgical trainee, ambitious and eager for promotion, and the only obstacle between him and victory, and the bragging rights that went with it was the son of his boss.  And his boss clearly expected Paul to allow his son to ‘score a run or two.’ If he did that, he would be letting his side down and gifting the match to the consultants.

Paul stood for a moment or two, a cricket ball in one hand and the tennis ball in the other. What should he do? Then he made his decision and put the cricket ball in his pocket.

He would use the tennis ball, bowl slowly and gently, but would aim at the stumps and let fate take its course. If Junior missed the ball and it hit the wicket, then that was just too bad.  But Paul also thought it wise to bowl underarm so that even if Andrew was bowled, at least it would appear he was trying to oblige his boss.

 Unaccustomed to the lighter weight of the tennis ball, Paul’s his first delivery was far too gentle. It bounced three times before coming to rest at Junior’s feet. He took a swipe at it, but only managed to return it to Paul along the ground. Now there were only three balls left, and the consultants still needed four runs for victory. Then Paul had a brainwave, a moment of inspiration. A good strategy would be to let Junior score a single and then bowl the last couple of balls overarm with a proper cricket ball to the consultant at the other end.    With this in mind, he pushed all the fielders back, almost to the boundary and then bowled the ball higher in the air, knowing that Andrew could hit it into any one of the unprotected areas, where a single was freely available.  However, he bowled far too high and a little too fast. The ball landed two-thirds of the way down the pitch and then bounced clean over Junior’s head.  He waved his bat at it gallantly, but it was quite out of his reach.

‘Hey, you,’ Junior shouted at Paul, in much the same tone that his father used to his staff, ‘that’s not fair.’   Then he turned towards his father, who was watching eagle-eyed on the boundary.  ‘Dad, tell this man to bowl properly.’

 All eyes turned to Mr Potts to see what his response would be, but he was wise enough to say nothing.  Meanwhile, the umpire, Sir William, the hospital’s genial consultant, and father-figure, had signalled a wide for the last delivery.  The consultants now needed three more runs to win, and there were still three balls left.  Once again, Paul tried to bowl a ball from which Junior could score a single. This time, the tennis ball reached him at just the right height for a gentle push, into any one of the spaces Paul had left for him to score. 
Paul was delighted. His plan was working. But Junior had other ideas.  He opted for a wild slog. The contact of the bat on the ball was perfect.   The ball sailed away off the middle of the bat towards square leg. High into the air it soared, clearly visible in the bright sunlight against the cloudless blue sky. It flew straight towards Simon Yates, another of Mr Potts’ trainees, who for two years had been the University’s cricket captain, who was fielding on the boundary. 
It was the simplest of catches, but mysteriously, it slipped through his fingers then bounced once, before crossing the ropes for a boundary. Four runs scored and a victory for the consultants, with just two balls to spare. 

 Junior did a war dance of delight, and then, whooping happily and waving his bat high in the air, ran back to his father.   ‘I did it, Dad. I did it, and we’ve won.’

 Ruefully Paul turned to Sir William, who handed him his cap.

  ‘Well played, Lambert. Well played.’ Then Sir William looked Paul in the eye and smiled. ‘Medicine can throw up some difficult dilemmas, can’t it?’

 ‘It most certainly can, Sir.’ 

Thought for the day

If the French noblesse had been capable of playing cricket with their peasants, their chateaux would never have been burnt.


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