Force of Nature

There is an orthodoxy of thought about modern cricket which often seems stultifying. Academies, bio-mechanical analysis and legions of support staff with rigid views on how the game should be played, right down to when and how much nutrition should be taken, have robbed the game of much of its eccentricity and individualism and tempo.

My earliest memory of cricket is watching John Price running in to bowl for England against Australia at Lord's in 1972. For those who don't remember him (and in truth, I barely do), John Price was a Middlesex fast bowler whose run had such a curve in it that he approached the wicket as though he was running round a sharp corner. While batting eccentricities are still tolerated (you only have to watch Shiv Chanderpaul assume his stance to know that), you'd never see an international bowler run in like that now. Such tendencies are coached out of bowlers long before they reach the first-class game.

Another bowler who did his own thing back in those days was Mike Procter. When his vulnerable knees allowed him to slip himself, he was a force of nature. After charging to the wicket with his buttoned shirt practically bursting off his chest, he used, in the vernacular of the time, to 'bowl off the wrong foot'. Back then, Procter wasn't alone. Max Walker and Lance Cairns hit the crease in similar fashion but nobody does that now. If anyone tried it, the average professional bowling coach would have a seizure.

Procter, like many of his compatriots denied the ultimate stage by politics, was a colossus of the seventies game. Most of his best work was done in the colours of Gloucestershire, and thirty-five years ago today, he did the best of his best work: 6 for 13, a hat-trick and four wickets in five balls on the old Northlands Road ground as Gloucestershire laid waste to the Hampshire of Richards, Greenidge and Roberts in the semi-finals of the Benson and Hedges Cup.

Anyone who saw it remembers it. I walked home from school on a sunny afternoon and turned on the TV. I can't remember whether I knew there was cricket on or not, but I probably did. I was that kind of kid.

When the set 'warmed up' (pictures didn't appear instantaneously in those days and there was always a period of pregnant, impatient anticipation) I realised that something remarkable was happening. The packed ground was in ferment, Hampshire were 18 for 3, and John Rice, a man whom I knew as a county stalwart of reliability but little distinction, was walking to the wicket like a man on his way to the gallows.

I was young. I really liked cricket but I didn't know it or love it in the way I later came to. But I instantly knew that Rice was in trouble. Procter was going to have him.

And he did.

Richie Benaud was never as excited again.

It's on YouTube here.


Tom Maynard and the Common Humanity of Cricket

It's a horribly over-used word these days but Tom Maynard's father Matthew was, without doubt, a Glamorgan icon. If you have anything to do with anyone who supported the Welsh county between 1985 and the early years of this century, it's a fair bet that their favourite player, and in many cases a real idol, will have been Matthew Maynard.

A bloke I once worked with who'd served in the St.Helens bar in the days when the big summer crowds still used to pack the ground would talk in reverential terms about Matthew Maynard coming down the fabled Swansea steps and punishing county bowlers till they dropped. The Manic Street Preachers even wrote a song (the dreadful 'Mr.Carbohydrate') which featured him.

He was, of course, Nicky Wire's 'favourite cricketer'.

For all the competing qualities of Hugh Morris, and Steve Watkin, and Steve James, and 'Basil' Barwick, and of course Robert Croft, Matthew Maynard was, in Glamorgan terms, the man.

Which is one of the reasons why so many of those he worked and played with over those years spoke and wrote so feelingly yesterday when his son died at the age of just twenty-three. In most cases they'd seen him grow up and were waiting with anticipation for him to really blossom. He was part of the Glamorgan family.

I can offer no personal recollections of Tom Maynard. I never saw him play in the flesh; only bits and pieces on TV where he stood out as a young, muscular, virile strokeplayer in the modern idiom who, in the world of T20, would probably have gone far. The recollections and memories are left to those who knew him and watched him; as has been said, through his childhood and adolescence and early adulthood at Glamorgan, and, more recently, at Surrey, a club which has had more than its fair share of crosses to bear.

This is the common humanity of cricket. It is trite, but true, to say that cricket reveals character in ways that other games can't approach, with the result that it is possible to feel that you know people more deeply than you really do. And you care.

As George Dobell wrote in his finely balanced obituary of Maynard on Cricinfo yesterday, 'the cricket community is not large'. The point might seem oblique when the game is followed by millions, but in modern Britain, with the more garish charms of football always apparently in the ascendant, you know exactly what he means. Those of us who are part of that community - players, officials, journalists, bloggers - instinctively stick together.

When one of us dies tragically young, we bleed.

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