Most team sports allow for substitutes, players who can replace injured players, a tactical rejig or let's face it, just because someone is having a shocker.

Sports such as hockey allow for rolling substitutes meaning players can do their stuff at full belt, have a rest before coming back on the pitch and start charging around again. A forward might only spend 10 minutes on the pitch before being called to shore for a rest. It is one of the rule changes that has transformed the pace and spectacle of that particular game.

Rugby at the highest level allows for 8 subs. I had to google that and even still I find it hard to believe that it is true that over half the starting team can be replaced. Before the AIL and subsequently professional rugby began attracting spectators the majority of rugby games would have had fewer watchers than the modern day subs benches and by some distance on occasions.

In the olden days (well the 1980/90s) you had to be certified as unfit to continue by a doctor, if you were to be replaced. Doctors were only on call at official league and cup games so in a friendly, the player probably had to be carried off on a stretcher to justify a replacement and even then the opposition would be sceptical and suggest that it was all an act. Suffice to say that a place on a subs bench in a rugby match of that era was not something to bring any great joy or action.

Cricket of course is different. We do not have substitutes, we have the twelfth man, twelfth woman or just twelfthers. During the years 1986 to 1991 I was lucky enough to play for the Senior Irish team 21 times and in that same period I acted as 12th man for a further eight games.

Deryck Vincent and Junior McBrine 

It was a strange experience for those eight games, the knowledge that you were so close to selection, meant that there was a validation attached to your presence but, along the lines of the bridesmaid, you were involved but largely irrelevant to the main action of the day. Acting skills good enough to earn an Oscar might be needed if you really thought you should be in the side, as you wished all and sundry the best of luck while secretly hoping the opposition quicky nailed the immediate rival early or your bowling competition disappeared all over the park.

Unlike nowadays where there might be a number of players in the squad who are not in the match day team, back then unless it was on a multi game tour, the 12th man was on his tod.

One of my 12th man caps was a three-day game in Clydesdale, Glasgow. A long and lonely three days. The highlight, if that is what it could be called, was bowling some gentle off spin to John Prior in the nets. That I remember such a thing is perhaps testament to the numbing boredom of the rest of the game.

Warm ups on 12th man duty days were a depressing time. Already in a bit of a grump, the warm ups would still have to be done, catching practice and fielding too, after all that was the potential involvement and if called upon you had to be ready. After that, “twelfthers” might get called upon to provide some gentle throw downs to the batters. Oh the temptations this provided, but most times it was just a case of grin and bear it.

Another game that saw me on the sidelines, or indeed in the pavilion, was a NatWest Game against Derbyshire in 1989. Due to poor weather, the game took place over two days and for the first half of the game it looked like it could be one of the great days in Irish Cricket. Derbyshire were bowled out cheaply. It might have been even less but Michael Holding availed of an early let off and his 32 helped his side to their final total of 145 after they had been reduced to 87 for 7.

After a day and a bit, stuck in the pavilion, either watching the play or the rain, I was keen to stretch the legs so when it came to our turn to bat so I headed into the Racecourse stand which at that stage allowed a view from behind the bowler’s arm (the wickets at this ground have subsequently been turned). The first over was bowled by the same Micahel Holding and after six balls it was clear that the modest chase was not going to be an easy one.

So it proved and that was before Devon Malcolm and Ole Mortensen had a bowl. While Mortensen walked away with the Man of the Match award that day, for his bowling figures of 6 for 14, I am convinced that the physiological damage inflicted by the pace and unerring accuracy of Holding and later the hostility of Malcolm were what actually won that game for the professional home side. For the record Ireland ended with a total of 82 and for once, it was arguably a blessing not to be in the selected eleven.

An aside to that game, after the Man of the match award, an English journalist stormed into our changing room, something that I am sure he would not have done to the home side, and sought out our captain, Paul Jackson.

Waiting for the MOM Award at Derbyshire

For all to hear, he lambasted the quality of the wicket on which the game had been played. Paul, realising that the journo was looking for a cheap headline, took his time before telling him "mate, you should see what we play on every week". The journalist left with tail between his legs and no usable quote in his notebook.

Don't get me wrong, the boredom of 12th duties had its advantages compared to the modern day. Players did not need hydration every five minutes so there was no rushing onto the pitch with a crate of water bottles, towels draped around the neck. At every possible opportunity, the players in the yellow bibs are sprinting onto the pitch, seemingly in a race to see who is the quickest.

If someone was thirsty, the 12th might wander around the boundary and leave a bottle at a suitable spot. Those who were thirstiest were usually the bowler busting their guts rather than square leg, daydreaming their life away. I wonder what the reaction to a fielder looking for a sup would have been, undoubtedly the 12th would have suspected that the on field players were conducting some form of test and would have (quite rightly) ignored any such requests from the prima donnas. Suffice to say, it didnt happen.

Drinks breaks only took place in the fiercest of heat and only then under the supervision of the umpires, so the majority of your day was sitting on your backside “watching” the action. Of course, if it was a cold one and extra jumpers were required, the trip to the middle was allowable. A trot onto the pitch on such days as this might actually be welcomed if only to get a bit of a run to warm oneself up.

Clearly there was a bit of company while your team was batting but the fielding innings stretch could be a chore. The expectation was that you stayed at the pavilion and did not move. Reading the latest blockbuster might be inviting but undoubtedly frowned upon. Inevitably if you disappeared even for the briefest period, then that was the moment someone was looking for you. No laps of the field to strive off the boredom, no company since there were no “support staff” or squad members with whom you could banter or let off some frustrations about the selectors who were “watching” from the bar.

Ireland supporters and officials at Derbyshire

However,it gave a head start to lunch and tea which in the circumstances were a tasty plus. But what if you were actually called upon. Picking yourself up from a quiet slumber and heading out to for a stretch in the field is a skill that takes some doing.

Fielding is a lonely enough pastime at the best of times but after a day on your own, heading out as the light begins to fade at a crucial juncture in the proceedings takes some skill. It is of course your chance to show those selectors that they had made a mistake in their selection, just look what they are missing. That is if they were still looking.

And any opportunity to prove them wrong is just as much an opportunity for them to be proved right. “Pah, told you he had a jelly arm”. “How could he drop that, your man will go on to get a 100 now” For every Gary Pratt (England v Autralia 2005) there are hundreds of disillusioned Twelfthers.

Twelfth men (and of course Women) are rare enough in club cricket. They might appear for a final but rarely any time else. If a fielder is needed it is usually a youngster happily playing a stump test in the nets that gets called upon or someone who lives close enough to get a set of gear quickly.

Sometimes a team will bring along a young player, primarily to give them some experience but let's face it they would be better off hitting tennis balls or conjuring up a mystery ball with their mates in those same nets.

Twelfthers, it's a lonely life.

Ed's postscript

One of my most embarrassing moments came while fielding as 12th man at the old ground on Strabane. I was on my way to a wedding and stopped off to watch Strabane playing Ardmore. In the 49th over one of the Ardmore team cut their finger and had to go off.

I was pressganged into coming on for the last six balls despite my protestations about unsuitable attire, especially my size nine, black, shiny shoes, given the damp conditions which saw puddles on the outfield.

I was positioned down at fine leg beside Dennis Porters house where many of the old Strabane faithful were positioned. The banter coming in my direction was good-hearted and I gave as good as I thought. As each ball passed with no incident my confidence grew that I would emerge unscathed.

However, the last ball of the innings was hit in my direction and I went racing in determined to ensure no second run. The first part of my plan went well as I got quickly to the ball, picked it up cleanly and prepared to throw in to the keeper.

Thereafter, however it went awry. My size nines had no anti-lock braking system and I aqua-planed 15 yards, before landing on my backside and sliding another 10 yards, coming to a stop right in front of the spectators, who by this stage were in absolute howls of laughter.

Luckily there were no phone cameras in those days to record my embarrassment, but the memory still burns in my head 20 years on!