He heard Maunder coming up behind him, say quietly, authoritatively, ‘I’m here when you want me, Ellerman,’ not instructing him, but backing him up. Ahead was Gardener a very useful inside, who represented Cranchester Colts. Gardener heard Maunder too and positioned himself so that he could either tackle Ellerman and knock him over the line, or smother Maunder as he received a pass. Ellerman moved the ball into both hands, ready to give it to Maunder who was running slightly behind him out on his left. With an economic movement he drew the ball slightly back to the right and swung it easily across his pivoting body, removing his right hand as he began to let it go. A classic textbook pass.
Then, at the last moment, just as his left hand was at full stretch, with an intuitive skill which never can be taught, he scooped the ball back to the left-hand side of his body, swaying a little to the right all in the same movement, just inside the white line. Maunder, certain the pass was on its way, had his hands out ready to receive it; Gardener, poised to smother the pass, could not prevent himself from cannoning into Maunder.
There was an electric silence. Then an astonished, piercing, solitary voice shouted out, ‘A DUMMY! He’s sold them a bloody dummy!’ Then the one voice was drowned by great laugh and a cry of ‘Ansell’s! Ansell’s!’ Of course it could not last, but nevertheless they wanted it to end in the try which, in the best sort of school story, it would have deserved. However everyone knew that Lightman would expertly snuff out such an entertainingly cheeky move. He came across, calmly, very fast. For an eighteen-year-old he was perhaps slight but, even so, his size and speed made Ellerman seem incredibly fragile. Ellerman had accelerated too but, with an inward sigh, the spectators hunched in their coats saw the younger boy, possibly exalted by his successful dummy, lose concentration and drift towards the centre of the field, inadvertently shortening the distance between himself and Lightman.
‘Ansell’s! Ansell’s! An-n-n-sells!’ Ellerman could hear the shouts He could hear Maunder, recovered, call urgently ‘No! Go right! Go for the FLAG!’
If he went for the flag, he might just possibly make it, but Lightman was older, longer in leg, heavier, more experienced. If there were a tackle at the corner he, Ellerman, would certainly be carried into touch. Instead he swung slightly, but quite deliberately, towards the centre of the field and into the path of the oncoming full-back. Maunder shouted as if in anguish, ‘NO! Ellerman! GO RIGHT.’ At that instant, on their twenty five, Ellerman perceived the gleam of satisfaction in Lightman’s face.
The crowd groaned aloud in sympathy and frustration as, in response to their groan and Maunder’s instruction and, although now too late, the smaller boy seemed to change his mind. In that hesitation he appeared momentarily, even to have lost the edge of his pace. Another communal sigh. So near! Nevertheless such a gallant attempt negated criticism, they could not blame him.
One or two began to clap.
Ellerman angled back towards the corner-flag and the touchline, seeming tardily to obey Maunder’s despairing bellow. At that instant, exactly as Ellerman anticipated, Lightman committed himself. In mid-stride, Ellerman took a half-pace with his left foot,