One of the pages within my website menu is Cricketing Yarns. A literary portal containing a series of partly fictional and unreliable tales from my club cricketing career.
Although now retired, I played club cricket in Gateshead, Buckinghamshire and Leeds for over 30 years. An odyssey that started when one of my neighbours (Brian Dixon) introduced me to Gateshead Fell cricket club. A Durham Senior League outfit where I’d go on to have a decade of mostly upbeat times as player, scorer and scoreboard operative.
In younger days as a fledgling bowler I’d a penchant for wrist spin bowling. A delivery borne from flipping the ball out of the back of my hand. An action which generated significantly more rotation on the sphere than my later slow left arm deliveries of adulthood.
I ceased bowling that form of delivery in adulthood, the result of failing to master the skill of bowling a ‘wrong un’. For the uninitiated – The ability to spin the ball in an opposite direction with the almost identical bowling action to mislead the batsman. A necessity if you aspire to bowl that type of delivery to a good club level, which I did.
At one point I thought I’d cracked it in net practise, after I got a delivery to spin away from the batsman with a similar action to my stock ball, which deviated towards the cricketer on strike.
Delighted my hard work in the nets appeared to be bearing fruit, I wandered over to the coach to request if you could tell any significant bowling action anomalies between the ‘wrong un’ and stock ball. He paused a moment before responding:-
“I can see you’ve put a lot of hard grafted in to spin the ball different ways with the same action, Gary” he encouraged. Coach then paused momentarily before adding “The only thing son is, although the actions are nearly identical, it’s not going to fool the batsmen as you bowl the ‘wrong un’ with a different hand!”
With the sensitivities of youth, this setback led to becoming disillusioned with wrist spin bowling. Subsequently, I quit cricket at the age of 18 – In my disenchanted state, enlisting as a soldier in the French Foreign Legion.
The Legion was a physically tough regime. Hardships within this unforgiving environment including the banning of Noel Edmond’s Swap Shop on Saturday morning TV. Breakfast in bed was also notoriously cold due to the tardiness of our barrack room waiter. On the plus side, though, I quite liked the hats and the Luncheon Voucher benefit was fairly generous.
Already unsettled, things got worse in the autumn of that year when I received an unexpected ‘Dear John’ letter from my sweetheart saying she’d found someone else. I say unexpected as I did even know I had a sweetheart!
On receipt of this communication, I returned to Blighty to seek out this women, with a view to admonish her for spelling the word bollocks with only one ‘l’.
On my return to Gateshead, I started playing cricket again, spurning wrist spin to become a finger spin bowler. A decision I took when my dad suggested “I tell you what, Gary, why don’t you spurn wrist spin and become a finger spin bowler……. Oh, and was that Hustler magazine your mum found yours or our Ian’s?”
As I’ve written before I remember very few specifics about the vast majority of my wicket-taking deliveries over the 30 years I chucked the corker. However, one I do recall was my final wicket for Colton Cricket Club away at Beckwithshaw, Harrogate.
At the age of 47, and still with a level of fitness for the level I played, I’d no idea it would be my last ever club cricket match, or wicket. I wasn’t really enjoying playing at that time, but the aesthetically pleasing venues of the Aire-Wharfedale League wouldn’t let me leave. Constantly drawing me like a mermaid luring sailors in Homer’s Odyssey.
My final wicket was a slow left arm delivery to a left handed batsmen. With his cack-handed stance I changed to bowl the ball over the wicket; as opposed to my usual preference of bowling around the wicket.
As I ran up to the batsmen pre-delivery, I noticed him step down the wicket with a view (I assumed) to get closer to the pitch of the ball. A move to slog at my standard slow left arm delivery. That being the case I bowled a much flatter, quicker delivery to surprise my cricketing foe.
The ball didn’t pitch, instead hitting the guys off-stump half way up the wickets. As the guy trudged off dejectedly after his dismissal, he was heard to mutter “Fancy getting out to a s***e ball like that!”……. A view anyone present at Beckwithshaw’s ground that day would no doubt have concurred with.