Thursday, 14 January 2010

The birth of a cricket fan

I have been interested in cricket for as long as I can remember. At my first school a really nice feature was a net set up on the front lawn in summer where anyone, literally anyone, could queue up and have a go at bowling to the school's most promising batsmen. The headmaster was one of those characterful cricket types that any cricket bod can relate to - full of experience and anecdotes on how to play the game, but most of all, oozing a deep love of the game that was utterly infectious.

Sadly he never got round to telling me that I should perhaps abandon my fantastically over-ambitious bowling style, which involved a Malinga-style half-roundarm bowling action, with the theory from there on being that by catching the seem in the rough I could pivot the ball onto the stumps. Note: I was not a spin bowler, or really a seamer, or a swing bowler. I had invented an entirely unique (and utterly hopeless) bowling method.

As I look back now, I must have been potty to persist with such an unorthodox and unreliable bowling method. In all the many thousands of balls I bowled in the nets this way, I beat the batsman and hit the stumps just once. Had I ever been allowed to bowl in a match, any over I bowled would have contained at least one wide and more likely several. As far as batting goes, I can't remember much that I did at my first school, although I'm sure I've never hit a boundary - yet... I vaguely remember some indoor stroke drill that formed a good basis in my head for how to go about batting, but that's about it.

I spent a couple of blissful seasons tending to the scorebook for the 2nd XI at school so as to avoid having to do any active sport, during which my enjoyment of watching cricket really blossomed (I'll never forget our team batting first and collapsing from 111-4 to 114 all out, leading to a tense final over win by single figures), but in my final year at school I started playing for the 3rd XI batting at around number 7 or later. The really enjoyable thing about the 3rd XI was that no-one was demanding results, so we all just had a laugh. Somehow, and God alone knows where it came from, I got it in my head that I would, nay, should, bat like a night watchman, despite us playing limited over matches. I wasn't there to score runs - I was there purely to support my partner and above all NOT GET OUT. For me, there were only two types of ball: balls that were likely to hit the wicket, which I blocked, and balls that were not hitting the wicket, which I left. That was all: Block or leave. Block or leave. Block or leave... Leave, leave, leave, block, leave, block... God I must have been awful to watch!!!

To my credit, the blocking worked pretty well. In half a dozen or so innings I never heard the crash of ash behind me, was never out LBW, indeed I was only ever out caught. Thinking back, I must have had a flaw in my technique where I followed through slightly on my defensive strokes, turning a forward defensive into a bit of a forward drive. Bowl some quick stuff for a few balls and then insert a slower ball and I'd make contact with the ball with my bat facing upward, resulting in an easy catch. Funny how you only figure these things out years later.

I played in a couple of house matches, one of which contained what still ranks as my most treasured memory playing cricket. We were playing Mitchell House and they had two large, lumbering big-hitters at the crease amassing a sizeable total made up almost entirely of boundaries. I was stationed at deep cover point as a ball came rifling towards my right at a huge rate of knots. I ran flat out and in a last desperate attempt to save the boundary flung out my right foot, whereupon the ball bounced off  a lump in the grass and torpedoed itself into my shin. 3 runs saved and the clap I got was easily worth not being able to walk properly for two days.

Since I left school at 18, I haven't played cricket, or indeed any other sport, at all. I've watched plenty of sport though, and amongst that I've watched plenty of cricket. And of course since I don't have Sky TV I've had to listen to plenty of cricket too, such as tuning in to TMS for all thirteen painful nights of the 2006/7 Ashes whitewash. In fact I'd say probably 60-70% of what I know about cricket has been learned since I stopped playing. Stopped playing, that is, until now, and it will be interesting to see if I can apply all this knowledge and be a better player than I was nine years ago.

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