My Cricket Memories 7
Main Image | Thanks to Neville Chadwick for the accompanying photo, taken with the Benson and Hedges Cup, won in 1972.
Back row; Martin Schepens, George Knew, Chris Balderstone, Brian Davison, Robin Matthews, Graham Mackenzie, Ken Higgs, John Steele, Brian Booth, Paul Haywood, Jeff Tolchard.
Front Row: Micky Norman. Jack Birkenshaw, Charles Palmer (Chairman), Ray Illingworth (Captain), Bill Bentley (President), Roger Tolchard, Mike Turner (Secretary/Manager), Terry Spencer, Barry Dudleston.
Chapter 1: How to become a professional cricketer c 1970
I was playing for minor county cricketing minnow Oxfordshire against mighty Worcestershire - Tom Graveney, Basil D’Oliveira, Vanburn Holder, Glenn Turner, Ron Headley et al - in the 1970 Gillette Cup. I was having a decent day (2 for 15 off 12 overs) and nearly beating the big boys.
Then came of an offer of a trial with Worcestershire. I had just started working for British Leyland in Oxford and was about to be transferred to its Rearsby subsidiary in Leicestershire.
In those very polite days, permission had to be obtained from the county of residence to approach one of its players.
This alerted Leicestershire resulting in an invitation to a Saturday morning Indoor net in the Charles Palmer Indoor School - now the Club’s main restaurant!
Bernie Cromack was the batsman selected to test me and Mike Turner and a couple of committee members watched the action from the batting end.
In those days the Club didn’t have a coach, just two backroom staff - a physio and dressing room attendant. More about them later.
Late away swing managed to beat Bernie’s outside edge a couple of times which was a good result for me. Contract offered and accepted from mid-April to mid-September for £750. A childhood dream fulfilled.
Just one final hurdle to overcome-asking my new winter employer for 5 months off ! Managed to successfully negotiate that, so all set for a new and exciting career. Or so I thought!
Chapter 2: Pre-season training
Two weeks before the first game of the season those of the playing squad who were in the UK met at the University Sports Hall, now the John Sandford Centre. John Sandford himself took the sessions (remember LCCC did not have any coaching staff in those days) which comprised general fitness routines in the mornings and squash and volleyball games in the afternoons.
Bleep tests, done in pairs, were the killers. Better to be paired with Barry Dudleston, Ken Higgs or Terry Spencer than Roger Tolchard.
Squash sessions usually meant playing John Sandford, who stood centre court on the T and manoeuvred opponents around the back of the court until the rally ended usually due to player exhaustion.
The challenge was not to beat John but to get a point off him. Never being any good at Squash, I couldn’t understand how he always knew which side of the back court to place the ball. Heavy breathing from the rear may have given him a clue
Week two was mainly spent at Grace Road: Outdoor nets, a bit of fielding practice, a few photo calls. Nothing like the brutal warm-up sessions preceding every day’s play by today’s pros.
There were certainly no energy drinks and shakes - just the occasional cup of tea. In spite of the vastly differing pre-season schedules we were, in the main, cricket fit ready for the first game of the season.
I say in the main with reservation. Yours truly managed to fracture a fibula making a swooping outfield pick up and throw under the old scorebox.
Not wanting to appear too soft as the new boy on the staff I hid my discomfort until the next morning, which ended in Leicester Infirmary, four weeks in plaster plus two weeks rehab. Welcome to the sometimes harsh world of professional sport!
Chapter 3: My word…
So not such a promising start to my new career. At least six weeks recovery and the accompanying boredom and frustrations.
Not much general fitness training to be done with a leg in plaster. Unlike today when I would have ended up with an upper torso to challenge Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In spite of the enforced lay off I did manage to get a sore back which resulted in a visit to the new LCCC physio, John Thomas, who came to the Club from Kent CCC.
John was blind from birth, very independent by nature and a tough, but delightful, man. My maiden visit to his treatment room at Grace Road was not without incident.
‘Hi John, we haven’t met, I’ve just joined the staff and have a bit of a lower back niggle. If I had a tail that’s where the pain is.’
’Take your top off and drop your trousers, face the door and put your hands as far up the wall as possible.’
First contact between John T and his patient was not good. Being rather taller than average there was a misjudgement of height and two strong thumbs were placed firmly in the offending region, albeit a few painful inches too low resulting in a sharp intake of breath from me and memorable words from John.
‘My word, you’re a tall boy aren’t you?’
I’d have preferred a more conventional first acquaintance handshake. Nevertheless we had a similar sense of humour and became good buddies over the next few years.
Chapter 4: Back to cricket
First game to look forward to after early season injury setback. Second XI against Leicester University at its ground next to the Stage Hotel on Welford Road. I was a bit rusty in spite of plenty of outside net practice.
First ball of the game, a bit of away swing and their opening batsman goes, plumb LBW. Nice to be back.
Next challenge is to get myself in the frame for selection of the LCCC team to play the touring Indian side in early July.
Great names in the India squad Wadekar, Bedi, Venkat, Chandra, and Gavaskar. Sunil won’t remember me but I certainly remember the part he played in my relatively short professional cricket career.
My maiden first-class wicket - caught Roger Tolchard (snared down the leg side). Without doubt done for pace - must have expected something quicker or was feeling a bit fatigued.
He had amassed 165 chanceless runs, although, as my dear wife frequently says: ‘he didn’t score them all off Robin’. Lovely lady.
We lost the game inside three days and with my reputation as a number 11 batsman not yet fully established, I have to point out that I was the not out batter in both our innings. Tougher days at the office were yet to come.