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.


Chris said...

Thrilling, fun and nostalgic. Your piece complements the video so well. Thanks.

Brian Carpenter said...

Appreciated, Chris. As I said, it's one of the central cricketing memories of my childhood.

Another thing which stands out which I didn't mention is the way in which Tom Spencer triggers Richards and Jesty. I can't think of a single umpire today who fires them out like that.

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