One of the most unappealing aspects of those to whom ball sports and cricket come rather easily is the lack of appreciation and understanding of the struggles that are faced by those to whom the game does not come easily - and whose efforts are all too easily dismissed with humour and sometimes derision.
In a recent Sky Sports Cricket master-class Rob Key said that the most important thing a coach had to deliver was having the player enjoying the session and wanting to come back the next time. If that applies to coaches it certainly applies to captains and it was heart-warming to see how Lee Kenyon handled his young and slightly not so young team – on and off the field – last weekend.
It was not always so. At the start of one match sometime ago a young cricketer stood with mounting despair and diminishing feeling of self-worth and belonging and rapidly disappearing confidence as the captain set his field. After each placement the captain looked at him with rolling eyes and barely concealed desperation not needing to articulate the thought clearly passing through his mind – “ what the ***** am I expected to do with you” The young man should have said just put me down to third man at both ends and be done with it – but desire just to be picked and play prevented it. Then there was an occasion when a bowler of bowled both a bit of pace and some off-spin was asked when thrown the ball – “what are you going to bowl today – your fast **** or your slow ****“- without any sense of mirth or gentle ribbing.
Of course, it was not always a question of derision and contempt – there were some heartfelt attempts at player development. Two come to mind quite easily both hilarious in their outcome at the time.
The first was an away match in which we were bowling last and the opposition needed 4 to win of the last ball to be bowled by a young bowler. The captain was keeping wicket and as the bowler got to his mark he stood at least a yard down the leg side waving his arms in the manner of one of those chaos who direct jumbo jets to their parking spot at Manchester airport – all he was missing was those luminescent paddles they use! It might have been a direction to the bowler not to give the batter any width to swing his arms at if, as he started into his run-up the captain did not move even wider down the leg side (in those days leg side wides had not been invented! The young bowler sent a perfectly directed ball on or around the off stump which swung away and beat the bat unfortunately the captain /keeper had not moved, and the ball sailed away for 4 byes All that was heard from behind the stumps was a loud “Harrumph!!”.
A few weeks later, this time at Acrebottom, the situation was reversed. The same young bowler this time found himself going at 11 in the last over with 3 balls left– a draw was an available result. The writer had already been in and out for his usual negligible score and as dispiriting has that was at least could console himself has not having the final weight of saving the game on his shoulders. The captain gave the following instructions straight out of the MCC coaching handbook – if it is missing the stumps leave it and if it is hitting stop it with your bat.
In those days we tended to sit outside the dressing room whatever the weather – as did the captain. Down came the first of the last three balls. the young bowler shuffled across the crease to a ball clearly outside the off stump and played and missed. All that could be heard was “Harrumph” The second last ball was not dissimilar and received the same treatment – another close played at and missed – “Haaaruuumph” – louder and more explosive emanated from the depths of the captions throat. We were playing right on the edge of the square nearest the pavilion so eye contact between batter and captain was not difficulty. It was tie for another piece of miming from the captain – who thrusting a leg forward and with hands in the air sought to demonstrate the most dramatic of leaves.
No prizes for guessing what happened next – with his last ball the bowler sent down a perfectly straight but not challenging ball. The young batter shouldered arms and his middle stump went flying.
It is hard to describe the dressing room afterwards. The captain sat head down his face covered by his handkerchief from time to time looking up and shaking his head at the young player who sat petrified, unable to take of his pads let alone speak – while the rest of us sat their trying not to laugh.
Happy days?? The sad thing is that not many if any of the young players in the team continued playing much beyond their mid-twenties. Call up Robert Key!