< This is a continuation of an earlier post written many, many months ago. Why has it taken so long to get to this one? Well, TheLastWord outranks me in the office and he was off writing about trips to Nepal and France. This gave no one else a word in edgeways. They say I wasn’t motivated enough. I talked about opportunities and the fact that the LastWord was taking so much room in my head and a couple of stormy meetings ensued. So, anyway, we then had the divorce and I came here to run my own blog devoted only to cricket.
Also, I’m not sure anyone is reading this. Anyway, it is here now. >
Batting was about survival, because I knew only how to play off the front foot. It was in my final year in school that I finally found my name on the board. This was it. I was on the school cricket team. This is how it happened.
I’d been invited / invited myself to the practice sessions. One of the English teachers doubled as coach / manager. He was late to practice and the net sessions started without him. I was sent in to bat early and I had just finished my twenty minutes of batting and was off at one side taking off my pads, when coach rushed up and went straight up to the captain.
“From the third floor as I was coming down, I saw a very correct left-handed batsman batting just now. Where is he? Who is he? Why haven’t I seen him before?” I was pointed out; I was the only left-hander in the school. I was promptly told to put my pads back on and got another twenty minutes of batting. He stood where the umpire would normally stand, watching me bat. Even my usual nick into the the hands of second slip didn’t faze him. That was it. No one told him I was there to try out as a bowler. He never asked and I didn’t bowl a ball. The next morning the list came up on the board. I was down at #5, as a specialist batsman. In the First XI.
I did not ever bowl for the school team. I did bowl leg breaks for the class team, but even there I was considered a batting allrounder rather than a bowler. The captain of the school was also captain of the class team and he bowled leg breaks too, so opportunities were limited.
Over the years, I could not convince anyone I was a bowler. I could not convince myself that I was a batsman. Playing for the local club, I batted up the order at #3, because I was a lefty and had the perfect forward defensive stroke and that was enough for most teams. I was a painfully shy teen and could not bring myself to tell people I wanted to bowl. In fact I hardly spoke to anyone at all.
I was usually in within the first 5 overs of a seaming, swinging red ball. Without any back foot strokes to help, I was stuck. Playing with right handed gloves because left-handed gloves were impossible to find, bleeding fingers resulted from playing forward to short of a length balls that crunched my unprotected fingers against the handle. I had not the wherewithal to play forcing strokes, except on the rare occasion, if the length was right and the line was right and the pace was right and I was feeling right and the sun, the moon and all the stars were right, I could unfurl a drive through the covers. Played with a “left hander’s natural grace” it looked good and I felt good and ’twas enough to reaffirm the mistaken belief that I was a batsman. It would not, could not last and it usually didn’t. I was exhorted, urged by people on all sides to “open your shoulders” and “play your shots”. But I did not have the ambition to score runs. I counted my successes in balls faced, time spent, partnerships, fingers crushed from batting with righty gloves. Runs? What were they?
It was a very sad state of affairs. 5 years now from the last chipped bone which prompted the missus to call time on my peripatetic amateur cricket career, I realize how much I was to blame. If I had just accepted my role as a batsman, believed everyone’s belief, I may have enjoyed my batting and my cricket a lot more. Instead, I let the yearning for legspin taint my pleasure and spurn the potential.
But all I really wanted to do on the cricket field was bowl, and bowl leg spin, in particular. The grim, defensive mindset that characterized my batting was gone when I bowled. I never had any major issues with with line or length. I knew what to do; attack and fool the batsman out. There was no physical fear involved. I bowled slower than normal through the air, letting the ball hang tantalizingly before looping just a bit and turning way.
Legspin was magic. Brought up on tales of Richie Benaud and legions of Indian practitioners of this black art of cricket, I was mesmerized early. I was willing to bowl all day and all night. I could turn the ball a long way; had a topspinner too. The googly didn’t always come out, but I could have learned that too, all it needed was a few thousand hours of practice. I’d read Doug Wright on the art of legspin and had seen pictures of WV Robbins spinning himself right off his braced left leg and I was fascinated by that picture. I worked to see a circular footmark and was rewarded with the ability to turn the ball at alarming angles.
But the world around me was changing. This was the golden age of fast bowling. It was the age of ruthless power; Lillee, Thompson and the big West Indians, Roberts, Holding, Marshall, Croft, Garner and seemingly countless others such as the English poet, John Snow, who was no delicate lily when he bowled. It was also a glorious period for swing bowling allrounders. The handsome Imran Khan, the deadly Richard Hadlee, the engaging Ian Botham and India’s athletic Kapil Dev. They could bat too. Who needed even more firepower? Leg spinners were a condemned breed; they were considered superfluous. A part time offspinner or their lefty versions were all that was needed to keep things tight and offer some periods of rest before the boiler factory was in full swing again. Wicketkeepers of the time probably saw them as a chance to catch their breath and relieve their stinging hands.
So I took to offspin. At first, the opposite turn and the reliance solely on fingers felt odd, but I learned to turn offbreaks, even found a floater.The angle of attack was alien, bowling wide of off stump was just weird, going around the wicket to pitch on off stump was the only variation. As I became more economical I was even allowed to bowl longer spells, sometimes 4-5 overs at a stretch! All the time I wanted achingly to bowl leg spin but no captain would allow that and I could not countenance not bowling at all. I lost the bouncing 10 step run up and bowled offspin from a stuttering 4 step amble and never quite learned the off spinners run up. This simply added to the impression that I was no bowler at all. At one point I even taught myself how to bowl left arm orthodox spin.
A job that had me living out of suitcases in strange cities and even stranger hotels meant that there was no cricket for me at all. Aged 25, I retired. 10 years went by and my older son started sessions at a cricket coaching centre. Forced to be there, I stood on the periphery of the coaching staff, aching to be playing myself. I eventually sidled into helping out the coaches from time to time, sometimes umpiring practice games for the 7-year-olds, helping with throw downs and demonstrating the one stroke I knew really, really well.
The Forward Defensive Stroke.