3 or 4 years later, <after this story> I was in Canada, far removed from cricket. A chance remark by a friend at dinner found me searching out a cricket club in Canada.
Their first question “Do you keep wickets?”
“No, I don’t , but I bat a bit and bowl a bit.”
They were unimpressed by my bowling skill. Twenty years of rust were hard to shake off. Once again I found myself batting at #5, #9 and then, of course, #3. That old familiar state of affairs. I looked like a batsman, therefore I must be. I played for the club for 4 years and did not bowl a ball. I would get some action at practice sessions, 10-12 deliveries at best. Like giving a patient with a broken leg an M&M to chew on. The limited amount of practice was totally inadequate in helping me get into a groove.
I switched clubs after a 2 year break of no cricket at all and was able to bowl more often during practice sessions. I was still not considered a bowler, mostly because I was trying to shake the rust off by bowling off spin. It seemed to work. Then one day at a midfield practice session I recklessly decided to give it a real go. So I let one rip, twisting off left leg and whipping my wrist over. The ball drifted away down the leg side. The right handed batsman chose to ignore the ball that pitched about a foot wide of the leg stump. He looked at me with an expression that said “really? why are you wasting your time?”. An expression that changed when he heard the guy standing at the umpires end, running the session, yell at him. “Look behind you!! See where the wicket keeper is!” The wicket keeper was sprawled on the ground, arms stretched out 2 feet outside off stump with the ball in his gloves.The ball had ripped right across behind the batsman’s back.
Despite occasional flashes like this, I played in the lower middle, one of the fillers in the team. Not really a batsman, not a bowler, just a pudgy, middle-aged club-member who had paid his dues and was entitled to 10-12 games in a season. Two years later, the club finally was promoted to the Premier Division, where the big boys played. The club split it’s member’s down the middle and fielded a side in the 3rd Division and one in the Premier Division. By some strange quirk, I ended up being out of my depth playing in the Premier Division.
On a hot, shiny Canadian summer day, the mercury was already up into the middle 30s and I waited at the ground, wondering how come of the two teams I was seeing there, neither was mine. Then it struck me, I was at the wrong ground! A quick call confirmed it, curses down the line told me I should get up there quick because they were going out for the toss in 10 minutes. “And grab 3-4 packs of ice, we’ll need it”. I was at the ground 25 minutes later. I dumped the ice into the cooler. We were fielding so I could not go in until the over finished. 3 overs had gone by and already the score was up into the late 20s. The match had started badly on a ground that had that quality so rare in Canadian cricket fields, a fast outfield with grass cut low. Opposing us was a team comprised mostly of West Indians. Both opening batsman were spanking the ball nicely off the back foot to all parts of the ground. In no time at all, both opening batsman had scored centuries and were batting with great confidence. Our captain had gone through 6 different bowlers already. Then he turned to me and said “Agla over – us side se daalega?” – Next over, will you bowl from the other end?
And suddenly, there I was going through the same routines again. Walk up to the umpire, hand him my cap. Run my right hand through my hair. Walk over to the wicketkeeper who was also the captain. “I’m going to bowl leg breaks. Can’t do worse than the others! If it works it works. I need to strengthen the offside”. Then I walk over to the bowling crease, stare down at the other end, check the bowling crease, pretend to see something closely, step back and check the offside fielders first, push point a backward a bit, bring thirdman up a tad, turn around and acknowledge long off with a nod and a gesture, then push long leg finer and bring him up 5-7 yards. All the while the ball is spinning once more through my fingers, unconsciously, the ball moving from hand to hand automatically. Then I line up my heel with the bowling crease and count off 7 steps and mark my slightly angular run up. Nod to the umpire, I’m ready. Check the offside field again. It’s been 26 years since I bowled legspin, offspin or any thing in a match. “Right arm, over”, says the umpire to the batsman. Batsman nods, settles down. I pause, count to 10, blank out my mind. In it I see only a perfectly spun ball, spinning along the seam violently from right to left, humming a little as it floats down to the batsman.
Opposing me were two powerful West Indian batsmen, each with a 100 to their name. On strike is K De Freitas, batting with a 102 to his name. The third ball of my first over looped down and pitched 8 inches outside the leg stump, DeFreitas went back and let it go, watching it carefully as it hit his off stump.
Ah, The joy!
I bowled 9 out of a possible 10 overs that day, in a single spell. With fielders wilting all around from the heat of the scoreline and the sun, I was going to be expensive and I was. But I also had 4 wickets, including both the century makers, and what had seemed like an insurmountable score of over 400 or worse was brought into a less awe-inspiring 391. < it was still too much for us, btw >
Note the 2 wides. Both of these were straighter ones, pitching just like the ones that got Mr De Freitas, but in a 50-over game those are going to be wide if they don’t turn or even if they do and don’t hit the stumps or the batsman.
Not bad control, for a legspinner bowling after a 26 year break, eh!
Or maybe because I bowled so slowly, the bastmen had enough time to get to the ball…