Play for long enough and you will have a list of funny stories, it’s inevitable. My own personal favourite is catching Rod Green from Railway Union off Feargal O’Mahony’s head. You might have heard of such things even seen it happen but in this case you need to take into account that Feargal was the bowler and I was fielding at mid wicket. Oh to have had a live stream that day.

On a gloomy Sunday afternoon, I was trading stories with Peter Prendergast over Whatsapp including the above, one that Peter missed as he was traipsing around America that summer. We all know that Peter has a whole store of wonderful yarns, CricketEurope have printed his priceless “Stories I tell my kids” after all, but these were a couple you might not have heard about.

There was one about a midweek 20 over game involving Clontarf and the Midland League. Come the last ball, Clontarf needed 5 to win. A tough ask, but with Johnny Barry, a known big hitter, at the crease the game was far from over yet. The Midlands took time in spreading their field all around the boundary including if memory serves the wicket keeper who took 30 paces back to cover the area behind the wicket. Remember that this was pre fielding restrictions so all 10 available men were covering the ropes. While they stressed about the placement of their men, Johnny and his partner Karl McDermott had a mid wicket chat. Karl was insistent that whatever happened, he and Johnny should just keep running, come what may till the game was up. And so the final ball was bowled, it was legal, so that worry was out of the way. Johnny loved a leg side slog and that was the route he took but he did not quite get it right. The ball squirted out towards the mid wicket boundary and the bowler ecstatic at fulfilling his part of the deal decided a lap of honour was in order so he took off like Eamon Coghlan. Johnny and Karl true to their word starting running and kept running. When the fielder spotted them turning for a second he saw his chance of glory and let fly with his throw, but remember the keeper was struggling in from long stop in old fashioned keeping pads and the bowler was AWOL. Well maybe you can see what happened next. The ball started flying everywhere as the batsmen continued to run, Johnny slipped on a turn but such was the comfort of the victory the two lads were able to jog the final and match winning run. Shamefully now I should admit that the home crowd were indulging in a bit of their own shenanigans in encouraging the visitors to keep throwing but by that stage I fear their composure had gone and they hardly needed such encouragement. I am sure it was a long drive home that night.

Another of our favourite recollections was a Whelan Cup game. This was (perhaps still is) a midweek competition for junior teams with the nice novelty of being, in those days, 15 eight ball overs, Aussie style. It was a drizzly night in Castle Avenue and the supporting crowd were all huddled under the old porch which was in front of the old changing room area of the clubhouse, this game predates the current changing area. At the wicket for Clontarf were Fergal Tobin and Mick Ostinelli, two experienced campaigners. What we witnessed was like something from a black and while slapstick movie as they attempted a run before abandoning and restarting over and over again. They must have effectively completely about 3 lengths of crease without completing a run as they ran back and forward in panic. It was priceless. When eventually Fergal was run out he had to come back to a clubhouse in uproar, poor Lenny Dexter laughed so hard and so long he nearly gave himself a hernia. To appreciate it, you probably needed to be there, Pete and myself were there and boy do we appreciate it, even though it is close to 40 years later.

The common denominator between the last two incidents is of course that they involve running between the wickets and the topic arose on Sunday as on her way to a magnificent 100 for the Typhoons , Peter’s daughter Orla was involved in a couple of run outs. Now, I am not here to lay any blame on anyone, run outs happen and at the start of the season, they are much more likely to happen, it is all part of the annual seasonal adjustment.

I will lay my cards on the table here; I love the art and skill of running between the wickets. The only thing I love more than a quick single is a cover drive and it is a close thing, believe me. Yes I love it that much.

And it is a skill, a much underappreciated skill and I fancy a much under coached skill.

I haven’t seen an MCC coaching book in many years but growing up there were all sorts of protocols involved in running between the wickets. Whose call is it? Behind the wicket and the non striker is the man in charge, in front of square and the one facing has the rights. I for one do not buy this system for a moment.

It is a much simpler and non contentious idea that the two participants take equal responsibility for the run. Make the deal right at the start that both batters need to be prepared to run if there is going to be anything added to the total and if you don’t like the odds, don’t run, simple. That way there is no argument, you sign up for it, you live with the consequences. And I hear you thinking that with this approach you might never get a run as the partner keeps saying “no”. And this is where the second part of the deal comes in. Running between the wickets takes bravery, not a physical bravery but a moral bravery. Certainly you can sit on your bat and refuse to budge, but that is just not going to endear you to anyone other than the opposition. This moral courage can only really be fully developed on the pitch, when it counts but if you are a coach then get your kids to play hit and run in training. I guarantee that very quickly they discover just what a run is and also what’s not. I remember a good number of years back arriving in Phoenix to play a game just as Clontarf under 11s were finishing off a pairs game. Scott McGreal (definitely) and Keith Spellman (possibly) were the final pair and they were engaging in the best game of tip and run I have ever witnessed. They set off running for everything, nothing was off limits, the Phoenix team could not cope, and the joy on the Clontarf batters faces was a wonder. Do you coach a pair’s team? Let them try this, why not? You have nothing to lose and they have so much to gain. It might cost you an under 11, minor even junior game but the players might just learn so much from it.

Of course there are techniques that can be learnt, turning, holding the bat while running, ball awareness but these are skills, skills to be practised and learned. Certain athleticism is needed, of course but is that not true of any sport and any part of our game?

And there is so much fun, so much power that can be exerted over an opposition by skilful and brave running.

How long does it take to cover the 20 metres necessary to complete a run? I could make a guess but why not time it? Then time how long it the field to respond to a random ball, get to it, pick it up, return it to the keeper/bowler, for them to break the wicket. My money is on the runners nine times out of ten. Try it, let them see what is possible.

You think your team have the concept in place? In that case, get them to run without calling. Just a look, eye contact, a nod, whatever it takes, non verbal communication. It is something that is guaranteed to drive an opposition mad. Without realising it, fielders respond to the batters calls, whether they like to admit it or not, fielders get lazy. It is a tough, long and generally boring part of the role. If they hear no call and they will not quite have such urgency in getting to the ball. The runners have a head start and the captain is likely to throw a hissy fit, whic makes it even more fun.

I will not go into the batter who strolls a single, I could get very upset.

So here’s to 2021, the year of the Sneaky Single.