Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

Return to cricket…

This week I did something a bit silly. Naturally with an opening like that (and imagining for a second that you’d started reading while also simultaneously circumventing this blog’s title) you’re thinking it’s probably drink related, or maybe you gigged in Preston or even tried to write a play.  In fact, none of these, instead I pretended to be 16 again.

I’ve had a few conversations about cricket recently, in particular village cricket. It started with a few conversations of shared anecdotes and then, when my mate Chris visited a few weeks ago, got back into my head. To give a little context, from the age of 9 to 16 I was obsessed with playing cricket. I wasn’t good, I wasn’t bad, but, like all cricket mad Yorkshire kids I was definitely the next Darren Gough.

I started, as all tall, skinny lad do, as a “fast bowler”, with a middling pace and a tendency to drift, far too often down the leg side. I then learnt to bat a bit and opened the batting from time to time, scoring fluke edges at a glacial rate while better players implored me to step on my wickets. I was not a great fielder, not a great tactician and not that keen on the exercise element. But I loved it nevertheless. I hurt my back and ended up bowling leg spin, the type of brutal leg spin that’s all wrist, rarely on target but would get ludicrous movement and for some obscure reason scare the shit out of batsmen who thought the good deliveries were deliberate. I was a strong junior player, then made the jump and was an incredibly average and often borderline poor senior player.

I stopped playing when I broke both my legs and walking wasn’t an option (a long story) and never really played again. I’d occasionally dabble, the odd nets session, but that was it. I focused on badminton for the next 15 years (until my shoulder finally packed in). So on an impulse  (Tues) I decided I buy a cricket ball and go to some quiet nets near where I live and see how I got on.

The first ball was tentative. What do you bowl to mark your great return? Is it a fast paced bouncer? Maybe an off break, or maybe underarm. I decided to go for a leg break – pick up where I left off and… and… well, it was actually pretty good. I swung an arm and dropped it 3ft in front of the crease on off stump (corridor of uncertainty), it gripped the astroturf and spun away 8 inches. Great I thought, let’s do a few more of them and then get in the England team.

The next half an hour was the most painful bowling experience ever. I tried spin, pace, even an optimistic attempt at swinging it. My head was all over the shot, arm started painfully then dropped with every delivery and knee hurt. One delivery I let go of so early that I’d have killed anyone stood behind me. If hawkeye had been involved it’d look like Devon Malcolm on acid, imagine that legendary Steve Harmison delivery at the start of his final ashes, but for every ball. It was as if my mind had focused on hitting, literally anything, but the wicket.

But then after 40 deliveries i started getting more consistency, hitting the mark more, going for line and length and as much speed as a 5 step run up can allow. I’d estimate from my point of view around 80 – 85mph. A batsman/casual observer might judge that to be around 18 – 22mph.

But did I enjoy it?

I kind of loved it. Sure my shoulder feels immensely tender right now and it’s smothered with deep heat that went out of date in 2013 (true), and yes I tried to put frozen peas on it and the result is a kitchen floor covered with frozen peas, and yes, clearly, I’m not good. But it was mind numbing, freeing and relaxing. Each one on target felt warm. Every bad delivery invoked a smile and shake of the head rather than anger or frustration. Non-pressurized cricket. Bliss.

I’ll be going again as soon as I lift my arm over head height again.