Those of you who know how big a part cricket now plays in my life might be surprised that I can’t remember much about my first cricket match. Indeed, it has taken me a while to work out when it was (summer of 1978).
I am sure that my being selected for the game was largely down to my father. Although I showed up to nets every Friday evening, so did Dad, even though he had no real interest in cricket. I’m convinced that my selection for that one game that year was due more to his commitment than any ability on my part.
Needless to say, I was painfully excited. I didn’t have any proper whites, but that didn’t matter in those days. You just put on a pair of trainers, took off your tie and you were ready to go. And that excitement turned to despair on the day of the game, as the storm clouds gathered and then the rain fell.
Fortunately, the rain relented enough for us to play. The fact that my school had a strange, rubbery, artificial pitch almost certainly helped. Even so, there was still at least one stoppage for rain, which had us running for cover under the verandah of The Unit, the low flat building that was not only the school library but the place that we were taught anything practical, such as cookery or woodwork.
I didn’t get to bat in that game. I remember being all padded up to go in, probably at number seven, but the rain shortened the game to 15 overs a side and there simply wasn’t time for us to lose five wickets.
On the other hand, I did get to bowl. And I was immediately struck with a strange fear that has gripped me all of my cricketing career – a fear of bowling off my full run-up. The simple fact is that I grew up in an era of fast bowlers with ridiculously long run-ups and, like many kids, I imitated them (even today, the final strides of my normal run look very similar to Bob Willis’ from all those years ago).
In my first ever game, though, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t mark out an eighteen pace run and tear in. So I bowled off a curious, curving, four pace run and was not only no-balled on a couple of occasions, but taken off after two overs without taking a wicket.
I wish I could say I had learned from that lesson, but I can’t. I didn’t play for the school again that year. The next year I pulled out the full run-up, was given the ‘Most Improved Player’ award at the end of the season. A year later, in my first year at senior school, I was taken out of the attack in one game for bowling too fast. Even in my thirties I had a county player comment that facing my bowling was harder than most he came across in professional cricket. Yet every time I join a new side, I turn back into that timid ten year old who is too scared to bowl as he knows he can. I wish I could go back and tell him not to be so silly, but then I can’t even do that to the adult me.