My Cricket Memories 5
I was lucky to grow up in the Aylestone area, have a dad who played and encouraged me to take up the game, and have a headmaster at Granby School - Mr Ross - who was one of the few teachers I had who loved sport more than textbooks. I remember going to the then brand new indoor school at Grace Road as a schoolboy when Russell Cobb managed the facility and there was a shop full of cricket equipment in what is now the cricket office. It was the stuff that dreams were made of.
Facing fast bowling in those quick nets was never an exciting proposition for a 9-year-old, and given I was fairly small at that stage, I didn’t have much going for me! However, my dad was a batsman who bowled leg-spin, and I learnt how to bowl out of the back of my hand, including a googly. Shane Warne was my idol and he later put his arm around me at Grace Road when Australia toured. I still have his autograph in a copy of the Cricketer, that he carefully signed in black marker pen.
As I got older and more wiser, I found a technique that could chisel out some runs and turned to the age-old classic form of local bowling - deceptive slow bowling in the sense that batsmen would anticipate some turn that was never there.
My abiding memory of playing cricket was that a winter rarely defined a summer. One particularly cold, long winter saw me religiously turn up to nets, regularly middle the ball and finding bounce and turn that saw batsmen struggle to work me out. Maybe I’d cracked it for once. In the first game of that season I faced a hostile spell from an Australian quick and couldn’t get off strike, probably because the batsman at the other end was thinking like I was thinking. I scrapped it out for a bit but was ultimately run out for nought - I almost completed two while my partner stood at the non-striker’s end with a look to say ‘not likely Dan, I’m quite happy sitting on my bat thanks’ - and then bowl a tidy allocation of 12 overs with no joy in the magic ‘W’ column as we lost.
A couple of years later, I had developed two shots in the nets - the inside edge and outside edge - and couldn’t bowl a hoop downhill. In the first game of that year, I went in at 20 for five and ground out a half-century to help put a respectable total on the board, and in the second I bowled a load of rubbish and took four for not many and a couple of catches that helped to win the game. Silly game, cricket.
I grew up watching the brilliant Leicestershire side that was coached so well by Jack Birkenshaw, led by James Whitaker on the field, and had one Paul Nixon in the line-up as a constant. My hero was David Millns, because as a young lad watching he could do everything I couldn’t; be big and strong and have the ball on a string, bowl at the speed of light, and hit the ball hard. How he didn’t play for England I’ll never know. Now I work with all four of those people in their various roles within the game. It is a genuine privilege to do that.
I guess I was spoilt because watching those sides in the early to mid 90s, the ones that would demolish an opposition with bat and ball, as they appeared to be the norm. I’d think nothing of Yorkshire being bowled out before lunch, every slip catch being taken as if the fielder was plucking an apple out of a tree, and Vince Wells casually racking up double centuries. We would go to the test match grounds and hammer teams - or be disappointed if we didn’t.
I was at Grace Road when we beat a Middlesex side full of test stars to clinch the title in 1996. I vividly remember Phil Simmons hitting the four that registered maximum batting bonus points on the Friday afternoon (I ran straight from Granby School when the bell went) and the roar that accompanied it was like a goal in football. It was caressed off the front foot through the covers, and landed almost where I was sitting in the stand next to the Meet. Who can forget the ’98 Championship win at the Oval, that epitomised everything great about that era?
Little did I know at that point would I go on to help operate the electronic scoreboard at Grace Road during later school and university summers, and then come back to work in many different roles, including my current one of Cricket Operations Manager.
The great thing about cricket for me is the contest, the camaraderie and the stories that it provides. In what other team sport does it rely so heavily on how an individual performs? In football, my other great passion, you can have a terrible game and get away with it in a 1-0 win. There is no such hiding place in cricket; you are remembered for your numbers carefully or otherwise jotted down on a page, that get transferred into a record book somewhere.
‘How did you get on Dan?’
‘No, how did YOU get on?’
‘Got 4 runs off an inside edge and 0 wickets, and dropped the fella who went on to get a ton’
My favourite story in cricket, although a little before my time, somehow manages to combine the two professional clubs that I love – Leicestershire County Cricket Club and Doncaster Rovers Football Club. The late, great Chris Balderstone played two professional sports for both clubs on the same day, batting until the end of the day in the first of the club’s Championship wins at Chesterfield before representing Donny in a 1-1 draw against Brentford at dear old Belle Vue. Legend has it that the Donny manager of the time went personally to collect Chris. Although used to multi-tasking in South Yorkshire, this was taking it to another level given the risk of missing kick off! Chris then went back to Derbyshire to complete his century the following day. What a man!
Still to this day, if I mention that I support Rovers on the circuit while wearing a Leicestershire fox, people smile and recollect that story like I’ve never heard it before. I listen to it as if I haven’t too. These are the things I am missing about cricket at the moment; the conversations you have in the office, the press box or around the lunch table. It’s the power of sport.
Cricket Operations Manager
* Thanks to Getty Images for the accompanying image.