It was an arching run up with trailing bowling arm and slightly unorthodox delivery action I mimicked on numerous occasions during my 1970’s childhood.
This then homage to Warwickshire and England cricketer Bob Willis ordinarily undertaken during ‘Test Matches’ my brother Ian and/or friends participated on the tarmac wicket of Dorchester Gardens, or dog dirt strewn cricketing square on Allerdene field, in Gateshead.
When the game was played at the former venue my run up started halfway down George and Pat Forsyth’s driveway at 19 Dorchester Gardens; an abode stood directly opposite my childhood home located in the middle of our twenty six home Low Fell cul-de-sac.
My release of the tennis ball occurring beside a lamppost at the end of number 19’s drive which, as I wanted to perform a lifelike impersonation of fast bowler RGD Willis, was delivered at full pelt.
Bearing in mind the batsman was only stood a road width away protecting his wicket (a lamppost at the bottom of number 8 Dorchester Gardens’ driveway) it was a pretty irresponsible decision on my part. These unappreciative opponents becoming victims of a desire for forensic accuracy with my Bob Willis mimicry.
As diminutive childhood stature meant the bouncing green fluffy sphere tennis ball generally hurtled over their heads of the batsman, thankfully there were no injuries consequential from my idiotic behaviour. The only deliveries to worry about from a safety perspective those which didn’t bounce; instead hurtling towards their torso or head with little time for the batter to undertake evasive action.
These mercifully rare ‘Bob Willis’ full tosses ordinarily leading to my cricket bat wielding opponent angrily exclaiming “Do you have to bowl so bloody fast, Gaz?!”
A verbal submission I often dismissed with a response of “You’d never hear Greg Chappell*** saying that to Bob Willis during a Test Match at Lords!”
*** – Australian captain and batting legend from that sporting vintage.
This retort never pacifying my adversaries, but they knew I’d tire soon and seamer ‘Mike Hendrick’ and slow left arm spinner ‘Phil Edmonds’ would soon replace the weary Willis. Insight providing the comfort that if they could survive the initial fast bowling onslaught, a slower paced Hendrick and Edmonds would be far easier to accumulate runs against.
I found Hendrick’s angular run up and bowling action harder to impersonate than Willis. In real life, the Derbyshire bowler running up to the crease and delivering the sphere as though still with dressing room coat hanger lodged in his cricket shirt.
I more or less nailed the Mike Hendrick impersonation eventually, though, as I did with Phil Edmonds’ laid back three step run up and bowling action which gave supporters the impression he’d rather be anywhere else but playing cricket.
As I was a slow left arm (SLA) bowler when participating in real 11-a-side games, the Edmonds mimicry was easiest of my England cricketing repertoire to perfect. Like when I copied Yorkshire’s Phil Carrick whose SLA action was similarly orthodox.
I did struggle, though, if copying right arm off spinners from that era like England’s John Emburey or Geoff Cope. Not from a perspective of them being left handed as such, moreover the fact their ball delivery was from an unorthodox wide angled outstretched bowling arm.
Anyhow, the reason I raised the subject of Bob Willis earlier was, following his untimely passing earlier in the week, I felt moved to pen a tribute to the Sunderland-born cricketer.
On hearing of his passing from my mother, as I walked into chez Strachan senior on return from my break in North Yorkshire, my sadness only tempered by those fond memories evoked of childhood impersonations of his bowling action which started with the run up on Pat and George Forsyth’s driveway at 19 Dorchester Gardens….. Potentially, recollections my brother and friends who faced my potentially dangerous bowling at that time won’t hold quite as strongly.
Despite frequently looking a “Right miserable bleeder!” (to quote my mum) I admired the Warwickshire quick bowlers undoubtable cricketing prowess, and respected his forthright views about the game I loved and played at club level for thirty years.
His diatribe aimed at the English press following taking eight Aussie wickets to bowl England to victory in the 1981 Miracle of Headingley Ashes will long live in my memory.
RIP Bob Willis