No 55: Dharamsala

Small towns are rare in India (by population standards) and probably the rarest you could find an international cricket stadium located in a town with population of merely 25,000. Yes, I am talking about Dharamsala, the home of the Tibetan Government in Exile and its head Dalai Lama. The town is located in Himalayas and has an international cricketing venue – HPCA Stadium which has the capacity to fit over 80% of the town’s population. So what’s the fuss is about? Why is it one of the reasons to love cricket?

Its because of the mesmerizing backdrop you could see while watching cricket. I am not arguing that it is the most comfortable or cozy ground to watch cricket but certainly good enough to take your breadth away!! A unique venue for cricket with an altitude of 4780 ft above sea level allowing you to witness snow capped mountains in the background and feel the cold wind breezing across the stadium. No doubt, it was featured in Cricinfo’s list of top grounds to watch cricket. Add this to your to visit list NOW!!

PS: The population figures are just an estimate116258

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No 54: Christopher Stewart Martin

At his peak, Chris Martin was an excellent bowler. Often having to fulfil the position of work-horse and spearhead of the New Zealand attack, he ended his career as his country’s third highest Test wicket-taker. He provided a sense of consistency to a decidedly injury-prone seam line-up.

Particular highlights would probably include his eleven wickets against South Africa at Auckland in 2004, or his 6-54 against Sri Lanka a year later (knocking over six of the top seven). Or even his extraordinary burst to reduce India to 15-5 at Ahmedabad in 2010.

However, perhaps sadly for him, it is not just his bowling for which he will be remembered.

As well as being a fine bowler, Martin carved out a wonderful career as the anti-Bradman. Only once in his 71 Tests did he breach the ceiling of double figures, and in total he scored only 123 runs. Thirty-six times he was dismissed for no score – only Courtney Walsh, who played 61 more Tests, recorded more ducks. Out of all players to have played more than 20 Tests, none have a lower average than Martin’s 2.36 – and it is only that high because he was unbeaten in half of his 104 innings.

It is of course true that Martin isn’t the only rabbit that has played international cricket, but it is rare indeed for someone that plays at such an elite level to be as poor a batsman as him. Even Monty Panesar spent his younger days batting in the top order for Luton, and I even once saw Jade Dernbach, batting at 5, score 74 whirlwind runs for Guildford. However, with Martin, it often looks like he’s never even picked up a bat before, which isn’t actually a million miles from the truth.

The story went that in his formative years Martin, not being able to drive, used to travel to net sessions by bike, and was unable to bring his batting kit. As a result, he would concentrate almost exclusively on his bowling, which turned out quite well for him, even if his batsmanship suffered as a result.

Martin, though, is anything but a bad sport about it. He famously starred in a Pulp Sport comedy sketch, where he advertised a “Learn How to Bat like Chris Martin” DVD, and his good humour about his haplessness, allied to his wholehearted bowling, quickly saw him given cult-hero status among supporters.

If he is the worst Test batsman of all time, Martin’s position in cricket history surely will be under less and less threat as time goes on. Lower order players work much more at their batting than they used to, and it’s not that unusual any more for teams to select sides containing no players that average less than 10. The days of “nine, ten, jack” are coming to a close, for now, and players like Chris Martin may well live in history as the last of the great tail-enders.

No 53: India vs Pakistan

If you do love sports, you must have given a thought on the most heated and greatest rivalries in international sports atleast once. And your answers would depend a lot on your love for a particular sport, your perspective, age or country. But despite all there are few rivalries in global sports which no one could deny. So, give it a thought and tell me what comes to your mind?

May be the one between the boxing legends of the 70s – “Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali”  OR may be the Spanish football clubs – “Real Madrid vs. Barcelona” OR if you lived on the east coast of the states, you would think of “Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees” OR if you love Latin American nations, your vote would go for “Argentina vs. Brazil” in soccer OR for once you could think of “USA vs. China” in Olympics. I also asked this question to one of my classmates at London Business School wearing our rugby club hoodie and he told me – “Dude, it’s obvious – Australia vs. New Zealand!”. But probably neither of this would make sense to you if you belonged to the Indian subcontinent or love the true gentlemen’s game.

People in the Indian subcontinent think that “India vs. Pakistan in Cricket” is the answer and so does the Wall Street Journal to some extent. The rivalry that has been going on for over six decades brings the Indian subcontinent to a standstill drugging it with jingoism and chauvinism. Two nations, fought three wars and are bitter rivals in every sport they play, have had one of the closest encounters in every form of cricket with many matches going down to the last over.

My childhood memories of this rivalry goes back only to the early 90s when I started understanding this game and the defining moment being the famous tussle between “Venkatesh Prasad and Aamir Sohail” during the 1996 World Cup Quarterfinal match in Bangalore. Prasad, not the quickest among the Indian pack (actually we never had quick bowlers), beautifully answered to Aamir’s sledging (see the video below) by taking his wicket on the very next ball and became an overnight Indian hero. That moments – an Indian triumph, dance on the streets, firecrackers in every corner and even sounds of firing of guns in the air are still intact in my memories. That became the defining moment for me for this IndvsPak rivalry.

When I asked my father, he cited a different example as the defining moment for this rivalry but a bitter one for him and Indian supporters. Chetan Sharma, a hat-trick guy bowler during the 1987 World Cup, became a prey to Javed Miandad when Javed hit a last ball six to take Pakistan to victory in the Australasia Cup final, Sharjah in 1986 (see the video below).

The list doesn’t end here and there are many more games and things to write about IndvsPak. The league match superover and the final of the T20 World Cup 2007, the famous Chennai TestMiandad’s mocking of Kiran More, Sidhu’s anger by showing his bat to Aamir Sohail and Sachin’s cut to Six against Rawalpindi Express (Shoaib Akhtar) are some of the ‘ugly-lovely’ moments. And trust me, this has no end!!

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No 52: Because Winning Really Isn’t That Important

I feel that I’m already on the defensive with such a ridiculous – indeed downright heretical – header. Over the next several lines I will try to explain why it is not the most outrageous comment you will read on-line today.

To explain myself it will help if I explain a little bit about my sporting background, such as it is. For over 50 years I have been a supporter, & occasional season ticket holder, of one of the top Premier League football clubs in England (one of the ‘Johnny come lately’ teams in the eyes of many – but I was watching them when they really were ****!). I have also been a follower of & occasional live watcher of one of the top rugby union teams in Northern England (come on, there aren’t that many it can be!). Do you know what? My support, particularly for the football team, has almost killed me. Why? Because in football results are all important. Not only that, but your whole weekend &, indeed, week ahead is dictated by whether your team won or lost. My late mother, who had no interest in football other than wanting her son to be happy, used to say that in the 1960s (pre internet; pre round the clock TV coverage of football) she would know if my team had won simply in the manner that I used to knock on the door when arriving home from a match – mother was not joking. In later life & still to this day I struggle to watch tight games against rivals for fear of what it will do to my blood pressure. It is often far easier (safer even) to wait until the match is over, take one quick look at the result, on-line, and get on with life – win, lose, or draw. If readers think that I am exaggerating in what I say regarding football results & blood pressure you might want to have a look, some time, at just how many people have died of heart attacks whilst watching matches. Well, can I not watch a match and enjoy it for the skills of my players & those of our opponents? Not a hope. Where I was brought up football is very tribal. The result is everything. The opposition? I hope they have a collective nightmare of a match when they play us & that everything bad – short of serious, long term, injuries – happens to them. Time for me to see a shrink? Maybe it is.

So now let us turn to ‘the greatest sport ever invented’, as I recently described cricket elsewhere on these pages & look at how differently things are. For convenience I will separate my comments into ‘Club cricket’ – where I have 15 years of playing at a low level, as well as a further 5 years of umpiring at club level ; and ‘First Class cricket’ – where I have almost 50 years experience of watching.

Club cricket

I played my club cricket in the Manchester Association in the days before there was a recognised 3rd X1 competition. Thus, my cricket playing comprised mostly of playing for the Sunday side, playing ‘friendly’ matches in & against teams of variable quality (the ‘Has beens, maybes & never will bes’ as the late ‘Major’ Frank McCartney once described them), along with being on almost permanent standby for the 2nd X1. For three glorious years I was honoured to captain the Sunday side. Those were happy days of visits to the countryside, for us boys from the big city suburbs. North & mid Cheshire has some beautiful grounds. Grounds that encouraged even us average cricketers to perform, & clubs who had some wonderful guys playing for them. And do you know what? Having been retired 20 years (a bad back & dreadful bowling technique are a deadly combination) the things I remember most are the characters – Bob Hutton at Styal CC, to name but one; the grounds – just how awesome is Bollington CC; & the performances – Justin Mobey getting his first ton, as well as the gentleman at Timperley CC who got to within four runs of a deserved ton & then had the misfortune to come up against the one ball of that season that yours sincerely bowled which both pitched on the wicket and turned! Can you see a pattern developing here? I probably played about 300 games as an adult. I can only tell you the outcome of about half a dozen of those games. Even at the time, whilst I was disappointed to lose, I never found myself in a football style sulk – even when we played local rivals – and never to a point where my life away from cricket was effected.  It always was the pleasure of battling against opponents in the open air that mattered. Easy win against poor opponents? No thank you! Close loss to better quality opponents? Yes please – especially if I got a wicket or two in the process. Don’t get me wrong, I played the game hard (& I expected those I captained to play seriously). Wickets taken were celebrated as if the opposing batsman was Boycott or Gavaskar. Catches, similarly, received the ‘that one has just won The Ashes’ treatment. But if we still lost, well next week was another match – another chance to dream of 5fers or improbable stays at the crease to save a game.

First Class & Test Match cricket

How lucky am I? Born almost within sight of a major First Class & Test Match ground, even now I only live 15 minutes drive from that same ground. Not only that, but I am little more than a decent walk away from where my county regularly plays 2nd X1 matches. I am proud of my county & those who have played for the Red Rose. I am also a proud Englishman when those Englishmen are playing cricket. Whether it be at Lords, or Mumbai, or the MCG I always want England to win. But, somehow it doesn’t seem to matter if Lancashire or England lose.  The reason? Well if Lancashire lose, or England lose then it is highly likely that a member of the opposition has done something special. I can honestly say (& I defy any true cricket lover to disagree with me) that to see a Randall, with all his eccentricities; or Tendulkar, with the air of a man who must have been wielding a bat in his mother’s womb; or a Warne – nothing to add there; or, indeed, countless other wonderful cricketers; it has been worth the defeat of ‘my’ teams. If you are a regular watcher of cricket at the highest level, think of what you remember most about matches you have seen. Was it the disappointment of defeat, or was it the performance of an individual – who just happened to be playing for the opposition? I’m not being totally cynical when I make the following linked statements:- Disappointed by the loss of The Ashes? Well don’t worry, there will be another Ashes series in a year or two. But- Disappointed that you missed Shane Warne’s career? So you should be, as there might not be a similar bowler coming along in your lifetime.

I started this article with what I accepted was a contentious statement. I hope that I have now shown that, if you exchange your own playing & watching experiences for mine, winning at cricket really isn’t that important.

No 51: Umpires

Whether to discuss the decisions you have seen on TV that day, whether to fume about the bloke who has just spoiled your Saturday by quickly raising his finger (“being triggered”), or whether just to laugh at the idiosyncrasies of the bloke, cricket could not function without an umpire, so you have to love them (sort of). 

We giggled at Billy Bowden’s antics on the field when he first appeared on our screens in the 90s, before cricket collectively tutted at him & made him concentrate on the decisions.

We sighed despondently when Dickie took them off for bad light yet again when all on our screens seemed fine and dandy. 

We cringe at every stinker we got in our careers, and remember them ALL (well I do, don’t know about you). I still remember the guy who triggered me twice LBW in the same season after massive inside edges.

We swear, shout and question the lineage of the guy who saws you off LBW with the 2nd ball of the game. Especially if you don’t bowl. Your mood at work for the forthcoming week may be dictated by the movement of a Septugenarian index finger.

We hide out of the way if there is a chance we might be required to do “square leg” or maybe even an end in games with no umpires. 

We chuckle at the famous ones, the umpires who gain a near-legendary status due to their sheer incompetence. The umpire who you make sure you appeal at constantly in the second innings, because you know what time his last bus is due, so are bound to get decisions if time is looking a bit tight.

In personal experience, there was one guy who became famous around our club, and would provide the fuel for beer anecdotes, including (but not exclusively)

 

“Wide ball. And over”

 

“One short”

“But they only ran one”

“Oh yeah. Cancel that last signal scorers”

 

“Dead Ball, you didn’t play a shot”

“Well, yeah it was a bye, I don’t have to”

“Get back to the other end”

(Some two overs later)

“You were right about that bye. Hope you don’t lose by 1 run”

 

The number of teams who left our ground in utter disbelief at some of the decisions grew year on year. I must point out they guy wasn’t biased, he was just as likely to give decisions against either side.

Every club cricketer will have tales about one or more.

Confession time, for the last 12 years, I have been an umpire.

spiffump

It’s amazing what jumping to the other side of the fence does. I immediately underwent a conversion from non-walker to walker for the rest of my playing days (Umpires’ Union and all that). Looking back, not walking hadn’t done me much good over the years anyway.

My pet hate was being given out LBW sweeping. I would return to the sanctity of the dressing room and unleash my stream of invective about how if I was just playing a forward defensive with the same stride, I would never be given. You know what? When someone sweeps, it is very easy to give LBWs, you get such a good look at it. I’ve given loads of them!

Presumably now players question MY parentage and abuse me when they have returned back to the hutch (never on the field, I always waited to get off the field first!). Certainly the facial expressions of many LBW victims would indicate that is likely to be the case.

Obviously umpiring is very straightforward, just ask Bob Willis. The scrutiny given by TV means that 15 year old lads now expect you to be able to give naked eye run-outs that a high-speed camera can barely discern, cos they can do it on the telly. 

It doesn’t half help you keep in touch with the game once playing is no longer a physically-viable option, though it’s murder if it rains, cricketers REALLY can moan. 

And it makes you a real saddo as well, having learned the laws.

 

1.    On a very small ground, the opening bowler is bowling express pace. He runs in and delivers the ball, but it slips out of his hand, sails over the batsman’s head, the wicket keeper’s head and crosses the boundary without bouncing. What should be the correct call & signal?

 

2.    Batsman A faces a delivery & hits it straight up in the air, a long way up. The batsmen take a run whilst the wicket-keeper positions himself under the ball to take the catch. Just as he is about to catch it, Batsman B (the non-striker) screams in his ear “DROP IT” at the top of his voice. The wicket keeper drops the ball, and the fielding side appeal. What do you do?

 

If you can answer those you are probably a qualified umpire (or maybe scorer). Because I’m a little sadistic, I’ll post the correct answers as a comment at some unspecified time in the future!

No 50: Clandestine Updates during Work

5th December 2007 is a day that, perhaps curiously, I will remember for a long time. It was the final day of the first Test of England’s tour of Sri Lanka, in Kandy. Having been nowhere at 130-6, Ian Bell and Matt Prior took England to the brink of saving the match, batting for 45 overs against the indomitable threat of Muttiah Muralitharan.

This I remember so acutely because England collapsed to defeat within the confines of one French lesson. With every wicket that fell, I failed more and more to hide my displeasure as the screen on my portable DAB radio flashed up the bad news. In the end, Hoggard b. Malinga 8 was met with a louder-than-intended pained sigh, alerting the other cricket fans in the room to England’s sudden demise.

What I have just described has been a common quandary for cricket fans for decades. The necessary length of a Test match (even an ODI) means that it will always cut into your work/school day, and your job as a fan was to try and keep abreast of matters as surreptitiously as possible. Top marks always went to the one who could thread an earphone through the arm of their jumper and into the palm of their hand, so they could listen to TMS by “resting” their head. (My strategy during England’s tour of Pakistan in 2005).

Others would be forced into using more intermittent sources – remember, ubiquitous internet is a fairly new phenomenon – and would have to be even more creative to find out the score. The telephone was always an option, either through contacting a friend who had a radio, or via calling one of those score update services whose existence I never knew about until hearing about cricket in “the old days”. You might have used the work phone, or even the phone box down the road to satisfy your cravings. You might even have drawn up a complex plan, using timetables, to work out when the rooms which had working televisions were free, so you could check Ceefax (John Major’s plan of choice).

Rare it is that fans of other sports have to deal with this hardship. Only really during World Cups and Wimbledon do non-cricket fans engage in these activities, as since the widespread advent of floodlights in the 1950s, midweek football games are played at much more convenient times for the English working/scholastic hordes than cricket matches.

As time has gone on and technology has improved, there has been less and less need for these complex strategies – a smartphone on the lap is all one need use. You can even watch the match if you have the opportunity to log onto WiFi, or don’t mind incurring large data roaming charges.

How times have changed from having to conceal a transistor radio in your blazer.

No 49: 100 International Centuries

If you have any knowledge of cricket, then it is very likely that you know what exactly the above title refers too. If not, then let me elaborate in one line – its the feat achieved by Sachin Tendulkar in his career spanning over 24 years (1989-2013). Sachin is regarded as the best batsmen of modern generation and perhaps the greatest cricketer all time by many cricket pundits. He holds the title of “God of Cricket” among his millions fans and people have shown their gratitude by publishing endless articles and blogs on him. If you want to read more, even ESPN Cricinfo has a dedicated website on his retirement.

I would not even make an effort in telling you how great batsman he was for India because neither my writing skills are even 1% fluent compared to his cover drives or flicks, nor they are even close to being exquisite to his trademark straight drives (Now, I somehow feel that I did very wrong by even writing this line). But, I would care to elaborate the gravity of the landmark he achieved in international cricket.

In his international career spanning over 24 years (which is 5th on the record list), he scored 100 international centuries, 51 in Test cricket and 49 in One day matches; the second best man (Ricky Ponting) on that list is way behind at 71 and there are not many players (4 till date) with more than 50 centuries on that list. Similar to Lara’s 400, Sir Don Bradman’s 99.94 or perhaps Roger Federer’s 23, this is Sachin’s 100 and these records are meant to stand in the test of time. But, one wise man once said, “Records are meant to be broken”. Amen!

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No 48: Old Scorebooks

As a young lad, my club’s dressing rooms incorporated seating that lifted up to reveal storage space underneath. These were the 1970s and the era of “club gear”, where the club would provide pads, batting gloves, keeping gloves, bats and even occasionally boxes (!) for communal use. Try telling that to the kids today! Such gear would be stored in these under-seat lockers between games.

Naturally, inquisitive young minds would have a scout through these lockers to see what treasures lay within. On occasion, you struck gold, and a copy of Penthouse or Men Only would be lurking amongst the pads – well I was 11 after all, and the internet hadn’t been invented….

More often though, you would come across an old scorebook. A record of games past, a record of your club’s history. A record of games you knew absolutely nothing about, games that took place before you were even considered, never mind born.

Having played for a  club which has been less than diligent in keeping accurate records over the years, no set system has ever been in place for retaining old scorebooks, with the result that a huge number are untraceable. I know, I have the ones that ARE available in my house.

So discovering a 1962 book in the lockers allowed you a window into the past, to see names of men who were now retired & regular spectators. To see that they too played for the club and also allowed you a glimpse of how good / bad they may have been.

Looking back on the games your Dad played in, such as the effort from 1974 below , which was one of his games just prior to retirement.

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The perfectly manicured efforts of the 1976 scorer (see below), or the books that are much more the norm with an ink-spider crawling across them and not adding up, even though as a side you only totalled 48.

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Or, more commonly, you can take a nostalgic look back over your own performances, remember some of the games in which you played, especially the ones where you did well! (I couldn’t resist popping my highest score in!)

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Then there are the score books that hold a greater club-history – the 10 wicket performance of one of our 3rd team players in the late 90s,  the fabled 1973 game where my Dad captained our 2ndXI on Cup Final day with 7 men (Sunderland were in the Cup Final) and how they were all out for 15 and got to watch the whole game.

Or the game where our 3rd XI could only muster 6 men (had 3 teams to turn out on same Bank Holiday Monday), but still managed to get 170.

Or my personal favourite, the book where the young lad scoring was required to enter the surname “Wordsworth” in the book seven times over the course of the game. All 7 efforts had a different spelling, none of them correct. How I wish I had that book.

Get a few lads who have played cricket together over a period of time, and chuck them the scorebook rom when they were under-17s and see how they react.

With the general move towards computer scoring now infiltrating well into the club scene, perhaps we aren’t too far away from the point when all scoring will be carried out via an ipod-compatible app and the records all stored online.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Luddite, and electronic recording of results has huge advantages in terms of the statistical record, but there will be a moment of sadness within me if the scorebook is to die. In 20 years’ time, I just can’t imagine anyone sitting enjoying a pint leafing through the webpages of the 2013 season on play-cricket.com.

If you’re lucky enough to play at a club that regularly stores their old books, go and dig out the one for the first season you played next time you are down there. I guarantee you’ll love it, old scorebooks are great. Now I’m 45, I’d definitely consider them a better find than a copy of Penthouse or Men Only. Just.

No 47: The Dressing Room.

Ask any sportsman what he misses about the game after he retires, and a huge percentage will answer “the craic” or “the dressing room” or “the lads”.

It was ever thus. The lifeblood of any sporting team is its spirit, and this spirit is engendered in the dressing room. (And maintained by the absolutely necessary lads’ nights out / bonding exercises / team curries etc)

The dressing room. An area of sanctity for the team. A space which is the domain of only the selected few, with an overriding mission to make it smell as unpleasant as possible over the course of a day.

An area of hugely varying size and quality, from the club dressing room that would require three shifts for 11 people to change, to the old-school comfy-chair filled variety that the pros are used to.

From those with gleaming new power showers that exfoliate you with the power of the spray, to those which have floorboards that may give way at any minute, a solitary sink in the corner (cold water only) and a toilet that last flushed 15 years ago. The latter is still preferable to the clubs that provide open-air facilities “out the back” of the dressing rooms. Invariably overgrown, it is impossible to convey the joy of urinating whilst being nibbled at by insects of such great variety that David Attenborough is planning a 6 part series. Smells lovely too, especially at the height of summer…

It is the company of your team mates that provides the greatest joy. Nowhere in my experience provides a clearer demonstration of Darwinian theory, though in this case “fittest” refers to the ability to deliver the most withering put-down, or funniest micky-take. Nothing is sacred. Dressing rooms appear not to have an “edit” button when it comes to taste or decency.

I have toyed with some examples from my own club career, but have decided against it, save to say that if you bear some passing resemblance to anyone in the news for ANY reason, it may well be likely to become your nickname for the foreseeable future.

The creation of nicknames is a rich seam that can be plundered at will almost inexhaustibly (see reason number 27) for both your team-mates and the opposition, examples from personal recollection including

1) The very thin player – Herschelle Ribs

2) The single-toothed umpire – Juanita

3) The dark haired, bushy bearded opponent –           Sutcliffe (the one that got past my “edit” button – references to serial killers are surprisingly common)

4) The opposition bowler with the Grouch Marx-like glasses and moustache – False Face

5) The red faced opening bowler – Jerry the Berry

6) The unkempt player – Shipwreck

7) The spectator who stammered a lot at the start of sentences – Porky Pig.

8) The player who grew his hair long despite receding alarmingly on top – Terry Nutkins

9) The player whose Dad looks like Popeye – Sweet Pea.

And so on, there are hundreds. We once counted around 20 different nicknames that were used for Jerry the Berry at one time or another.

But the dressing room is also an area where you should consider your remarks before issuing them into the public domain. An ill-considered utterance may condemn you to months (or more) of humiliation, and provide the material for many a “beer-tale” for years to come.

Perhaps again best illustrated by examples from personal experience

 

a) To the player who has been recently injured

“How’s it looking for next week”?

“Getting there, I’m 90/20”

 

b) Having overtaken a horse & rider on the way to a game

“Do you need a licence to drive a horse on the road?”

(Of course I PROMISED not to tell the rest of the team about that one…)

 

c) When a player was ill in the dressing room

“What’s up with him”

“Sunstroke I think”

“How do you get that?”

 

Tales of the lad who boiled the kettle before going to bed to save time the next morning, the constant criticism of the size & shape of everyone’s genitalia, the Deep Heat in the underwear, the cigarette ends in the batting gloves, the stench of the gear that hasn’t been washed for weeks, the ability to evict the debutant who has innocently taken up “my spot”, the 20 year-old Wrigley’s chewing gum that just shatters when you try & chew it, surreptitiously pouring extra shampoo onto the head of  neighbour in the shower until he realises, trying to get in and out of the shower before “the big lads” come in, having to untie the knots in your clothing, people telling lies about their sex life.

 

All things I miss now I’ve finished playing. Because the craic was great in the dressing room.

No 46: Size Doesn’t Matter

‘Me? At my peak I was about six feet tall & weighed under ten & a half stones.’

‘So you were a batsman then? Using your reach & light weight to move effortlessly into place, before executing a perfect drive through the covers?’

‘Er, no.’

‘So (& I’m sorry to get personal here) you used the power from your ample backside to thunder into the crease, scaring the wits out of batsmen the length & breadth of the country?’

‘Er, no again, sorry.’

‘So what did you do that made you such a successful cricketer?’

‘Well I’ve got buckets for hands. Oh &, like my father, I was left handed. Is it making sense now…?

So began the Test Match Special interview that never was. The TMS team were never going to interview me about my career.  Players who don’t make it beyond the 2nd X1 of a couple of very average teams in the Manchester Association rarely are interviewed on national radio – certainly not about their cricketing exploits. Ah well. Did my lack of success diminish my love for greatest sport ever invented? Did it fiddlesticks!! (You haven’t just dropped a catch off my bowling, reader, so I’ll keep the language polite.)

So what is it I love so much about cricket? To answer that question, let us start by looking at a couple of other sports that are popular with amateurs – football & rugby union. In both sports, to succeed at even a lowly level it helps to be physically big. Sure, in football, you will occasionally come across a slightly built but technically gifted midfielder. However, he will be greatly outnumbered by the man mountains in the defence & forward line. As for rugby union, the need for big men is even greater. Long gone are the days when the half-backs were slightly built guys who could wriggle their way through the opposition. ‘You want to play at scrum-half, son? Come back when you are six inches taller & two stones heavier.’ Well that stopped me ever enjoying either aforementioned sports, irrespective of a complete lack of ability.

Cricket, on the other hand? Well, at all levels of the sport, but particularly at club level, I’ve seen all sorts of physical specimens have success. Bit of a short-arse are you? Doesn’t matter, you can still become a decent batsman (for a start you won’t have to duck as frequently when the short pitched stuff is flying around) in the manner of the late Harry Pilling or, for that matter, any number of teenagers playing  for their club first team. Want to bowl spin? Well I’m sure that the MCC boffins have, under lock & key, the blueprint for the next English Murali but don’t let that worry you. I’ve seen spin bowlers who looked no more like Murali than I look like Miss World. Big guys, little guys, in between guys…they could all bowl spin with varying degrees of success. One thing they never lacked was enthusiasm. See yourself as the next great fielding sensation? Jonty Rhodes your hero? Again, don’t worry that you are only five & a half feet tall & weigh close to fourteen stones…we’ll put you in the slips & with those large hands of yours & your mental speed of reaction you can take twenty catches a season to turn our season into a successful one.

The above examples are but a few of the hundreds that I could quote, at all levels of the sport, but particularly at club level. There are, as this site proves, hundreds of reasons to love cricket. However, cricket remains, even at its highest level, the one major sport where size really does not matter.