Sunday 18 November 2012

Pete's dream

It's one of the great beauties of cricket that a team game can sustain mad, glorious and destructive personal ambition. This thought came back to me when Chris Gayle hit the first ball of a Test match for six, because I once played with a man whose desire was to hit the first ball of a match for six, too. That simple dream had gripped his soul and would not let go. 

This was back in the days when bats were slim and sixes were rare currency. I was 13 or 14, just starting to play senior cricket along with age-group games. We'll call him Pete, because that was his name, a lovely man in love with the game. After thirty-odd years at the crease, he was still to make a fifty, in part due to the relentless pursuit of his goal. 

He opened the batting because he'd been at the club for as long as anyone, and because there was no man there who wanted to deny him his chance. It was made tougher because it was dependent on us batting first, so sometimes he would go weeks without getting the opportunity. But when it came, well... Pete died often, but he never died wondering. He heaved at every first ball he ever received, short or full, wide or straight, good or bad. I would imagine he got more first-ball ducks than any other opener in the country, but he never adjusted his game, never thought, 'I'll just bat and try and get that fifty,' never allowed reason to crush that pure and perfect vision of a bowler running in as the clock hit one, all heads turned upwards as a new red ball sailed up and out into the endless sky. 

He never did it, or at least not to my knowledge. But he did get his fifty. It came in an in-house game, when our U17 side played the first XI one hazy sunday afternoon. We had some good players in that U17 team, including a couple of very decent opening bowlers. They batted. Pete carved at the first ball, which missed everything. Then he carved at all the others, and miraculously it came off. Balls fell wide of fielders, edges went for four. He even middled a few, and he was a big, strong guy. Finally he swung, connected once again and the applause came up from the pavilion.
"Twenty-five years I've waited for that," he yelled, his bat held high above his head, his face split by a grin that said every moment of the wait had been worthwhile. He was out next ball. 


John Halliwell said...

This lovely post and the recent post on Mark Cosgrove immediately had me thinking about the late Colin Milburn; massive of bulk and of talent. I can quite easily imagine that but for a disastrous road accident and the loss of his left eye, he would have been the first player to smash the first ball of a Test match for six; dependent, of course, on Geoffrey allowing him to take first ball. He clearly unnerved Boycott; in Geoffrey's autobiography he recalls the prospect of opening with 'Ollie': 'I was terrified in case I played a maiden over and was accused of not trying to get on with it - and the fact that I was opening with Colin Milburn wasn't likely to help! The way he bats can make anybody look stolid by comparison. Instead of batting properly, taking the shine off the new ball and filling the role of an opening batsman in a Test match, I was going to ping the ball about like nobody's business. And that feller Milburn wasn't going to outscore me.....I made a conscious effort to keep up with Milburn. It was the most elementary nonsense and, not surprisingly, I didn't last long. Milburn was 40 not out when I sallied down the pitch to Bedi and was stumped by Engineer. Stumped - I was so far down it could have counted as a run out! And fancy a Test opener, especially me, being stumped before lunch. Still, I had made 25, a significant blow for 'brighter cricket'.

Another outstanding talent possessed of great bulk in his younger days was the subject of another recent OB post: Andrew Flintoff. In the nineties I was, along with my cricket-mad youngest daughter, a member of Lancashire CCC. On one occasion we were standing in the pavilion opposite the stairs leading from the home dressing room. The Lanky team came down the stairs; some tall, some short, some lithe, some on the flabby side, and then appeared a very tall and very wide A flintoff. The gap on either side of the door surround had all but disappeared when Freddie stood in that space. I was astonished by the sight. Surely this fellow should be challenging for and winning the British Heavyweight Championship? My daughter was open-mouthed. Every now and then we recall that day and the colossus stood before us. If he'd been an opening batsman, surely he would have hit the first ball of a Test match for six. It would probably have been at Old Trafford and I can see in my mind's eye Glenn McGrath with a look of incredulity peering back over his shoulder to see the ball making its way to the centre of Manchester.

The Old Batsman said...

Tremendous quote from Boycott, John! I've only seen the smallest snippets of film of Milburn so find it hard to picture him, but he must have been some player to get Geoffrey running down the wicket...

John Halliwell said...

He was a great talent, OB, and it felt like a hammer blow when he was lost to the English game. Who better than John Arlott to capture that loss:

‘So,when news came, in May 1969, that he had lost the sight of an eye, many who had never met him felt the cruel wastefulness of that accident as a personal hurt. He made an instant impact on everyone who saw him play. There he stood, vastly rotund, apparently - though not actually - relaxed; left toe cocked in the manner of W G Grace; and unmoving. When the ball came, if he liked it - and he had a wide range of acceptance - he hit it. Sometimes he seemed to do no more than twitch his forearms to send a short ball from his leg stump to the square-leg boundary; but when he punched his weight, as they say of boxers, his blows were often of amazing force. His legside strokes are frequently recalled - three times he hooked Wes Hall for six, which must be some kind of record - but his square cutting, cover and straight driving were also of crushing power. Figures began to emphasise the power of his attack: three times he scored the fastest century of the season: he hit seven sixes and fourteen fours in 123 against Yorkshire: seven sixes and fifteen fours in 152 not out (two-thirds of the side’s total) against Gloucestershire: in an opening partnership of 157 against Notts he made 113 in thirty-eight scoring strokes: for MCC v Kenya Kongonis on the 1963 tour of East Africa he took an over from N G Shuttleworth, hit each of the first five balls for six and was caught on the long-off boundary from the last.’

He was a wonderful player, but as Arlott observed: ‘Cricketing authority could never bring itself to forgive his fatness, and undoubtedly his weight cost him a number of Test caps.