The Interviews: Pushing the Boundaries (although they’ll still not be big enough)

Somewhere in Northern Ireland or perhaps further afield there is a young man who kept wicket for CSNI 3rds back in 2008. I often wonder what happened to this glove man. Was he inspired to go on with his cricketing career or was what he saw that fateful day enough and did he give up the game shortly afterwards and retire to a monastery to live out his days thanking the Lord for what he had witnessed. Whatever he decided to do, through a glorious haze and in stunned awe he could only muster a few words, but what he said was to be repeated ad infinitum and has had a lasting impression on Bangor Cricket Club, as Evan Fraser explains:

“The ball was bowled and I was onto it like a flash. The timing was superb and as the best ball striker in the club at that point, it flew off the bat over the trees, over the nets on the top pitch, presumably coming to rest either beside or in the clubhouse. Admiring my own ability, I gave a modest shrug to the wicket keeper as we stood waiting for the ball, which let’s face it was going to take them a while to find. He stood up and approached the stumps, initiating the conversation ‘Mate that should have been a 12.’ They were his words not mine.”

It should be stated at this point that Evan has scored two centuries for Bangor, won two leagues with the Mighty 4ths and been latterly a consistent member of the 1 st XI squad and this is the story that we are constantly regaled with. There isn’t a six hit at the club that Evan doesn’t wander past the score hut and suggest to me “It was no 12 though was it Paddy?” Any attempt by myself or others to refute this statement is shot down due to the absolute testimony of the CSNI wicket keeper who apparently is given the final say on such matters “Paddy, even their wicket keeper said it was a 12.”

Had this interview taken place two years ago it may very well have taken this tone throughout. However, the man now sitting in front of me is a much more settled figure and this in itself is great to see. We discuss his life teaching in Myanmar, where his girlfriend, Jenny, and he have spent most of the second part of 2018. Evan talks through the thought processes of the decision they took to come back to the UK, the pragmatic assertiveness and level of maturity and judgement is admirable and dare I say it, impressive? “Promises weren’t kept and we weren’t happy. I’ve always been someone who if I’m not happy with my circumstances I change them and that’s what we did.” All of this seems a world away from the 14 year old Evan Fraser that joined Bangor in the latter half of 2004. Evan started his career at Donaghadee, where he first was able to watch the likes of Jonny Hewitt, Mark Williamson and his cousin Gavin Fraser, “The Dee had a decent side at that stage.” Evan and Paddy McAlister joined Bangor due to the youth set up at Uprichard Park and the young Fraser was impressed with what he saw. “At that stage that team was ridiculous. We had a strong Regent / Campbell contingent playing for us we were a match for anyone. Two Leddys, Pete Irwin, Stuart Kirk and Danny Hamilton; the list went on and on. I remember going to The Green one Friday night and annihilating North Down. It was class.” It was Pete Irwin who is credited with creating the nickname that has endured throughout his career at Bangor, “He asked me my name and didn’t hear me, so he just started calling me ‘Marv’. At that time Marvin Attapatu was playing for Sri Lanka and it just stuck, I’ve been known as Marv ever since.”

I encountered Evan for the first time in the closing weeks of 2004. He came into the 4th XI squad for the first time with three matches left of the season and he proceeded to play for me for the next four years. Initially, quiet and well-mannered, by the start of the 2005 season he had come out of his
shell and became a vocal force to be reckoned with. That 4 th XI was unlike any team I have ever come across. Barring three members over 20, the rest were all between 13 and 16 and they had talent to burn. We won the majority of our matches comfortably winning our league in 2005 and 2006 with myself as skipper doing a steering role of a vehicle becoming increasingly hard to handle. “During the actual cricket in those days we were bored. I mean we were winning so easily, so it was inevitable that we would endeavour to make life a little more interesting.”

Interesting? That’s a novel concept. During one match at Beltoy against Carrick, I had to separate Paddy Mac and Evan on the field for conspiring against me to tell me every decision I made was wrong. Another match at Ballymac saw Evan and Ryan Law flashing the lights and beeping the horn of my car as I fell over unceremoniously running between the wickets. Pretty soon ridiculous demands would be made by the team and in particular Evan regarding the ice lolly ‘Twister’. I would make the weekly phone call to confirm availability and I would get the response of “I’m only playing if you buy us Twisters.” It may seem like a false threat but there were stand offs until I relented. Perhaps the best example of making life ‘interesting’ was the no ball / attempted murder incident at Downpatrick at the end of the 2005 season. In true Bangor style, we’d done a fair amount of sledging during a facile victory at Uprichard at the beginning of that season. This had led to Downpatrick spending the whole season with revenge in mind and they stacked accordingly with the inclusion of a young lad who was faster than any bowler I have seen at that level. They inserted us and quickly decimated our top order, including the hapless Fraser who took over a stint at umpire by the time I had arrived at the crease. He proceeded to not give out Zach Rushe to a full ball hitting middle half way up before he got to me. The quick bowler rattled in and the ball smashed into my stumps. I didn’t see it and I start to trudge off only to see Evan standing with his arm out to signify a no ball, with the sole intention of watching me try to face this guy again. Two balls later, same outcome. It was the only no ball of the innings. After his stint on the fours, Evan began to make his way through the teams. The two centuries alluded to at the beginning of this interview both came on losing sides against CSNI and Cregagh. A flamboyant batsman, with the exception of Chris Burns in full flight, there is no innings that is as eagerly anticipated than when Evan plays. A great thinker on the game, it is his assessments and cricketing psychology that he is best known for, “I like to get bat on ball. As a kid the only shot you are taught is a forward defensive. Why is that ok? Take Burnsey, he needs to play with the handbrake off. There is no point in Burnsey just blocking and I’m the same. I’ve always been the cleanest ball striker at the club, Burnsey only hits a bigger ball than me because he lifts bigger weights and he knows that. If there is a ball outside the off stump I need to score off it.” At this I give a quizzical look. If Andy and Mark Nixon practised in a driveway where they could only play straight, Evan must have practised with a row of cars to his right, a wall straight in front of him and a vast expanse of two to three miles to his left.

He is also exceptionally loyal. By 2012, Bangor had hit a wall. “I was just looking around and going where is everyone? Those days were extremely tough and the guys who were there did a great job to keep it all going. I was definitely worried for a while.” Evan was always good at drumming up support even in the days of the Mighty 4ths. You would be short a player and Evan would say “I’ll give Timmy Boal a shout” or just turn up with childhood friend, Ross Stevenson, who had never played the game but became quite useful. On one occasion when we were short on a Saturday night he tried drunkenly to convince my wife Louise to play stating “we will be like gazelles sweeping across the Serengeti in the covers.” In 2012, Evan started to take the youth sections and there are many of that vintage who are still present in the club today. “I was trying to instil in the boys the sense of fun that I had when I played for the 4ths. That is why you play cricket. You have to spend so much time with each other it has to be fun.” Evan has no intention of finding a new club in Liverpool where he lives. “I’ll be back a couple of weekends each summer and hopefully I’ll be considered. If not then I’ll be down supporting the boys, walking round the boundary. I’ll be checking the scores every Saturday on Facebook without fail. There is only one club for me.”

The interview concludes and I offer to drive Evan the short distance from the Esplanade to his home in Ballyholme. We talk and laugh the whole way up the road about past glories and the endless amount of memories we have from our time together at this great cricket club. It strikes me that this is a journey I used to do all the time, watching him walking out of his house with a massive hangover, sunglasses on, bag over his shoulder. Telling him immediately he was a disgrace to both himself and the club as soon as he got into the car. To which he would respond with a flurry of what he planned to do with the bat when he got to the ground. Those memories forged through this great game and fantastic club will last a lifetime, as will the story of the CSNI wicket keeper claiming 12, it would seem.

Evan Fraser was talking to Paddy Dixon

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