Date added: July 22, 2011 Category: Richard O'Hagan
Sometimes, it seems like the cricket season will never begin. This week, it seems even further away. On Sunday, I was supposed to be opening my account for 2011 by playing for The Min against Britwell Salome CC in Oxfordshire. Instead, I'll be sitting in a pub garden (I hope) looking after my two nieces.
Professional cricketers are well used to the 'county v country' debate. The reality for most cricketers, though, is the tension of 'club v family'. There are many men (and women) out there who have given up the game altogether because of this, the sheer difficulty of balancing a family life with their love of cricket ultimately defeating them.
I am very fortunate in this respect. My wife has never, ever, stopped me from playing cricket. In turn, I try and limit myself to one game per weekend. It is a balance which works well. Others are not so fortunate, and there is at least one teenager at one of my clubs who has been pulled out of games by his girlfriend simply because she fancies keeping him to herself that day. I'll not name him, in order to spare his blushes. Well, for now, anyway.
The reason that I am not playing this Sunday is that my parents, who were due to look after my nieces that day, find themselves unable to do so and asked for help. As the roles are reversed 99% of the time, and even though I have no doubt that my wife would have coped brilliantly with three under fives for an afternoon, I was happy to acquiesce. I can't imagine Kevin Pietersen doing the same, frankly.
So, instead of writing about cricket, I am going to tell you a dirty little secret.
I have the yips.
Not as badly as some. I can at least let go of the ball. But when I am bowling, I no longer have a clue where the ball is going to go.
Back when I was at school, I was a quick bowler. Properly quick, in the sense that in at least two matches I was taken out of the attack for being significantly quicker than the opposition could handle. Then I grew ridiculously tall and my action took a long time to adjust, until I was in my 20s in fact. But I got it back. It all came together one miraculous Derby Day afternoon near Epsom, where after my first seven overs had gone for over fifty runs, everything clicked into place and I turned in a spell of 11-7-8-2.
I don't want to blow my own trumpet too much, but later that season I played in a charity match against some county players – two of whom later played for England – and was told by one that he'd faced a lot easier bowling in county games than mine.
And then two other things went wrong. First of all, I suffered a stress fracture in my back in the first game of the 2001 season. And then I changed clubs.
My first league game for my new side was a nightmare. I bowled two overs for 25 runs. Everything I bowled, I dragged down short and saw carted over mid-wicket. In four years playing for that side, I was never thrown the ball again, not even in Sunday friendlies.
I've bowled occasionally since then, but it has been horrible. One jaffa of an awayswinger aside, every wicket has come with a bad ball – a long hop chopped onto the stumps here, a full toss belted down a fielder's throat there. Increasingly, I have persuaded people to let me keep wicket. It is a skill I have worked at over the years and I like doing it because it keeps me involved in the game. But it also means that I won't be asked to bowl.
If, on the other hand, I can't take the gloves, I spend my entire time in the field worrying that I might be asked to turn my arm over. Which is odd, because it so rarely happens. I don't even bowl myself when I am captaining the side.
It is all a bit ridiculous, really. I can bowl. I know that I can bowl. Heck, I can even bowl leg spin pretty well if I want to. I just don't have the confidence to. I'm embarrassed to mark out my full run up and wander in off a Warne-ish couple of paces, roll my arm over, pitch the ball short and watch it disappear.
My ambition for this season is therefore very simple. I want to get all of this back. At some point, I am going to have to have the courage to go back to at least trying to bowl the way that I know I could. I am going to have to mark out that eighteen pace run up, charge in like a malcoordinated Bob Willis (yes, really), bang the ball in just short of a length and see what the batsman does. I just hope that I can bring myself to try.