In this down-under summer cricket season culminating in the current World Cup, I want to share some cricket anecdotes. Some are family memoirs and others I have collected while being chaplain of the Australian cricket team for 17 years (ret 2000) and later my "Life after Cricket" ministry.
I trust all of you will enjoy the stories, despite the necessary idiosyncratic terms associated with the game of cricket.
Family sporting history
In my youth, I played various sports. My first love was field hockey, I have written 5 books and numerous national newspaper articles on that subject (The Australian hockey 'stringer' writer for 24 years to 1994). We also always had table tennis at home; my older brother recalls that when we played together, the score would often be something like 40-41 games before we got a resolution – and it could go either way.
We were both very determined never to relinquish a match! In 1981 I won the Australia Shell Table Tennis competition, due perhaps to all that practice. Our mother loved her table tennis too, and was a quick and quirky player, often beating me, even when I was at my most energetic and she was "getting on in years".
But at school, and with the family in the backyard or park, we played cricket in the summer. All summer. I represented Narrabundah High School in cricket, and later captained the Baptist Theological College team in the Sydney Saturday competition. I have been fortunate to inherit the ability to be a medium paced leg-spin bowler from my mother, and I also had a natural and totally unconscious wrist action that made my bowling somewhat effective. My best ACT inters-school high school result was 4 for 3. (There will be more about bowling technicalities in Part II).
This "flick of the wrist" also helped me put the ball anywhere on a hockey field, particularly when shooting the ball to the right and this same wrist movement enabled me to win those table tennis matches without "having to do anything extra."
Yes, continuing the reference to my late mother for as a teenager Joan Wynne before the War, played both cricket and field hockey for the NSW Women's State Teams. She made no fuss about this – she just seemed to think it a very ordinary thing for her to have done, and we have photos and records to show these achievements.
I think she liked this verse: 1 Timothy 4:8 "For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come."
While living in Moruya, where I initiated the Well-Being Australia respite mission, I met the local paster Syd Miller whose mother also played cricket for NSW and captained the Australian team at one stage. And in the late 1980s, as Chaplain to the Australian Cricket Team, I invited my parents to come to a game at the GABBA (Brisbane). I introduced them to the CEO of Qld Cricket, Grantly Evans, and he and my mother discovered they were both at a test match soon after the War, when English batsman Len Hutton scored a century. Having been born in the Old Dart, my mother barracked for England all her life!
Brisbane proved a good hunting ground for me in sports winning the triple title for NSW way back in the early 70s. On the way home to Port Kembla I called in to visit my parents at Maclean NSW, attended the Baptist youth group where I first met Delma who became my wife in 1977. Sports have many happy memories for me.
Observations at cricket team training
As Chaplain, I was at one practice when Greg Matthews (a spin bowler) was bowling in the nets. He said "Chaplain, tell me when my foot goes past the line". I observed that there were two lines, and he has two feet, so I calculated there could be a myriad of possibilities. After two bowls he said to me "Chaplain, please go away". (The coach didn't want a second coach on board disguised as the chaplain).
One time, at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) cricket training, my friend Ian Carlson (who has since died of cancer) was accompanying me. He loved cricket and was an inspirational school teacher who also coached many junior teams. He pointed out to me that he could tell who would be a top-order batsman by the speed they reacted to the ball in the nets. Once he said that, it became obvious. Their eye connected with the ball much quicker than the rest of their fellow team members.
So therefore, an effective bowler is one who can give a surprise delivery to the batsman, to give him (or her) as little time as possible to set up his bat to hit the ball. Each famous bowler has a different strategy.
Individual bowling actions
Cricket's most dangerous bowled ball is not the ball that moves a long way off the pitch, as the batsman can easily see that movement. Rather it's the ball that moves maybe 0.1 of a centimetre off-course. Because the ball travels at such a high speed, that fraction of movement has the ball hitting the bat at a slight angle and then the ball, when hit, races off in an unexpected direction – for example to be caught in the slips or elsewhere.
It is often said that it was too-good-a-ball to get the batsman out as it moved just that little - that unless you were a very good batsman who would not more than likely snick that bowl. As strange as it seems, the better the batsman the more likely they will snick the ball if it moves off the crease just that fraction, rather than hit it square.
Wikipedia says of the legendary Shane Warne "In 2000, he was selected by a panel of cricket experts as one of the five Wisden Cricketers of the Century, in Wisden's Cricket Almanac - the only specialist bowler selected in the quintet and the only one still playing at the time." His first ball in the 1993 Ashes series in England, which dismissed experienced English batsman Mike Gatting, has been labelled "the ball of the century": it turned and hit the bail off the stumps. During the commentary of a Big Bash match in January, I heard that Warne had been advised not to try anything tricky for that first ball!
Warne's trickery was that the batsman could not determine what sort of spin was on the ball, as the position of his hand as the ball left his fingers looked much the same, whatever his finger action was. His masterplay was actually to spin the ball so that it spun straight on, as if to jump off the crease and thus increase the speed of the ball. Batsmen would be expecting such a spinning ball to turn. He also had an uncanny knack of turning the ball either way minimally or at a strikingly large angle - all seemingly with the same finger movement.
Another strange bowling action was that of Allan Thompson who played for Victoria and one Australian series. He wound his arm up around and around as he came to the wicket and then let fly, like a cartwheel action. One story that did the media rounds was that when Victoria played the MCC (Marleybone Cricket Club, by which the England team is sometimes known) in Melbourne in the lead up match the Test series, he got a haul of 10 wickets. The media was all rejoicing.
It was not the same story in the Test match where he was hit all over the paddock. Why was this? There is a lot of psychology in cricket. Perhaps the batsmen had worked out how to counter his unique technique, perhaps the event was overwhelming ... whatever, the media have a field day with 'people's lives'. Cricketers learn to face these media onslaughts as a matter of course.
I have many more anecdotes about individual bowlers and their strategies – as a bowler myself, I have taken an interest in these techniques over the years. But they involve more technical details, so I will talk about those in Part II of this series tomorrow, where I will also comment about the physics involved in how that ball is propelled down the wicket towards the batsman.
A recent cricket dad-joke
One our young writer ministry's West Indies new young people is Stacy-Ann Smith responding to a dead-line reminder regarding 'time-zones' wrote: "I did not realise tomorrow is today or today is tomorrow!
In reply, my dad joke: "That's why the West Indies are such great cricketers, our batsman find that the ball was bowled yesterday." I was very pleased as Stacy-Ann sent me 6 ha's....
The hundreds and thousands of wicked-as bumper-quick bowls sent down the wicket in the modern cricket era, only a hand-full, if that, ever did any serious injury, so it was such a heart break and astonishingly almost unbelievable, when Phillip Hughes was hit (and subsequently died) as he was hit in such an uncanny spot.
There were so many contingencies – he was young, so much talent, the cricket world before him, a national sporting identity, loving mum and dad, terrific close family, so full of fun and light. Yet, it could have just as easily been, any one of the cricketers on the world stage.
In my Life After Cricket ministry after 17 years as the chaplain to the Australian team (Ret Nov 2000) chatting with a number of them, the impact of Phillip Hughes death, has been chastening in many different ways.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html