Saturday, 29 November 2008

The Day of the Pig

For a man who averages 3.8, Iain O'Brien works at his batting. 'I hate bouncers' he wrote in his now world-famous blog, thus guaranteeing one first up from Mitch Johnson (which he ducked rather suavely). He also wrote a nice piece about batting in the nets before the Adelaide Test. 'The bowlers always feel a little quicker,' he said.

That's a lovely observation, and true I think. The quickest spell I ever faced was in the nets at the old county ground in Southampton, way back in the mists of time circa 1980 or so. Me and a bunch of other 16 year-olds full of piss and vinegar were there for a day under the watch of Peter Sainsbury, then Hampshire's coach, and a man whose rheumy eye and still-steady arm were informed by the wisdom of 1300-odd first class wickets. 

We were pecking away on a hot afternoon when Steve Malone turned up in the neighbouring net, to bowl at one of the second XI players. Steve, known to one and all as 'Piggy' after a character in a Two Ronnies sketch, wasn't with the first team for some reason and he wasn't happy. With Sainsbury watching out of the corner of his eye, Piggy worked up a real head of steam, fast and hostile. 

I had a ringside seat, batting in the next-door net. I could hear the ball cleave the air with a high-frequency buzz. The weather was good, the wickets were hard and Piggy was getting some bounce as well as pace. When he got past the bat, the ball sounded like it was hitting a chain-link fence rather than the netting. My dad, in the grip of misplaced ambition, suggested to Sainsbury that we swap nets. Sainsbury, with a slim smile, agreed. 

We changed nets. Piggy was unamused. He ran in, breathing fire and grunting as he let it go. He probably bowled a couple of overs, but it seemed like a lot more. He pinned me. The balls I couldn't leave, I played from about an inch in front of the stumps. The front foot seemed like another country, a distant memory from a happier time. His pace had an actual physical effect on the nervous system, not unlike jumping into very cold water, sharp and breathless. 

That day I learned about the gap that separated us from the real game. The real game was a different one to the one we played. It was like being in the foothills of a mountain and catching sight of its shimmering face still some distance away, hazardous and sheer. 

When IOB's blog triggered the memory, I looked up Steve at cricinfo. They described him as 'fast-medium'. Wonder what he thinks of that. 


Jrod said...

I totally agree about net bowlers seeming faster than real bowlers.

Although, the fastest spell i ever faced was from a guy who is now incarcerated, if he ever stays out of jail long enough, Victoria will have a proper quick to use.

I remember taking guard for the first ball of the innings, turning around and thinking how will the ball even make it to the keeper. He took the first one above his head.

Ofcourse i went out at the other end.

The Old Batsman said...

Another classic of club cricket - trying to work out how quick the first ball's going to be from where the keeper's standing. Spot on.

Damith S. said...

I once faced a spell so severe that I ended up looking like I had been in the bodyline series.

We dint actually practice on proper wickets but rather on those matting wickets.

They were quite tricky.

It helped that I wasnt that good a batsmen too.