It’s quite common for bowlers of the Fast, Fast Medium or Medium Pace variety to turn to spin in the latter years of their cricketing careers. Their bodies can no longer take the rigours of a long run in and the stress on the front knee before hurling the ball 22 yards as quick as they can after doing it for so many years. Think Colin ‘Funky’ Miller, who after a successful Sheffield Shield career as a fast medium swing bowler achieved Test selection when he took up off-spin bowling. He was just before my time but I think Bruce Yardley may have done the same. Not many go the other way. I have. Not by choice.
Since debuting for the Pomborneit Under 16’s as a 12 year old in 1991, I had always been an off-spinner. I love bowling spin. While accuracy has never been my biggest asset as a bowler, the ability to turn the ball has been. This has resulted in many wickets but not the best run rate. The first Test match I can clearly remember sitting down and watching most of was the 1986/87 5th Test between Australia and England at the SCG. While delighting in the efforts of my first cricketing hero, D.M. Jones, as he made 184 not out in the first innings, it was the bowling of debutante Peter Taylor who claimed 6/78 in England’s first innings, bowling with flight, drift and turn in a memorable performance. Despite a brilliant (and underrated) One Day International career that followed, Taylor never replicated that type of performance at Test level. But I was hooked. I would bowl for hours. Firstly at a gate in the garden that had a concrete path leading up to it. Then on a pitch in a paddock on the farm that I grew up on that was formerly the ground of the defunct Koallah Cricket Club (Koallah is a tiny place 7 KMS South West of Pomborneit). Then we had a concrete pitch poured closer to the house. Hundreds of hours of my teenage years were spent bowling on this pitch. Along came the Arm-Ball and the Top-Spinner. Could still turn a massive off-break. But accuracy was still not my friend. The big turning ball that would bite back and hit the top of off-stump would be followed by a big turning long-hop down leg-side. AKA a four ball.
While still good for a wicket or two my batting developed. By the age of 18 I was opening the batting in Division 1. Not many shots, but could occupy the crease. The bigger scores came in my early 20’s when I learnt to play the hook and pull shots. As every short man needs to. The more runs I made, the less overs I bowled. The next few years saw very little bowling. That’s fine when you get to open every week. A poor run of form saw me dropped to the two’s in my late twenties. The runs flowed at the lower level and I was bowling plenty of overs again. Bowling slightly quicker, sacrificing some spin for extra accuracy. I was soon back in the ones. All was going well until the fateful season of 2011/12. Since my senior debut in 1993/94, I had missed two games. For bloody family weddings. But a work related back injury saw a 6 week stint on the sidelines. I was brought straight back into a struggling Division 1 team in early 2012 despite not being fully recovered. There was no bowling. I batted at number 7 and hobbled around the field.
Since 2007 I have played Indoor Cricket in a good competition in Colac. Summer and Winter comps. 7 Premierships. From the start I bowled as fast as I could. Indoor was for fun, my off-spinners were for serious outdoor cricket. It’s probably just as well I’m married. Can’t imagine many conversations at bars with girls go well when you mention that one of your hobbies is Indoor Cricket.
Sarge was appointed Pomborneit Division 1 captain for the 2012/13 season. Sarge had played in a few Indoor Cricket Premierships with me. During the pre-season he made it clear to me that if I wanted to bowl in the ones in season 2012/13 I’d be bowling medium pace. Like I did at Indoor. And batting in the middle order. My cricketing world was being turned upside down.
A shoulder injury at work saw a delayed start to the bowling crease in 2012/13. I was in good form with the bat, making an unbeaten 39 to get the team over the line against Noorat and a half century against Camperdown in the traditional Graham Hillman Shield match. Was enjoying batting against spin instead of ducking the new ball. In the round 7 match against Heytesbury at Pomborneit, the visitors were 4/124 after 35 overs chasing our target of 212. 88 off 15 overs required. I’m thrown the ball for the first time this season. Nervous, and feeling guilty. I’m an off-spinner, not a medium pacer. 5 overs for 17. I can’t do this. Medium pace is not for me. As I come on to bowl the 46th over, Heytesbury are 4/173. I bowl their captain for 62 with an Indoor Cricket type yorker. My first wicket as a medium pacer. I jump into the arms of our 6’2″ keeper, who throws me a foot higher. Two more wickets and we bowl the visitors out for 202 in the 49th over. 3/32 off 7.5 overs. Maybe I can do this.
It got better. 5/39 the next week in a narrow win against Boorcan. Only 8 more wickets for the season but bowled tightly. We went on to lose the Grand Final to Mortlake.
Have started the 2013/14 season in reasonable form. We are undefeated in Division 1, have made a few 20’s and taken a couple of wickets most weeks. Huge game on Saturday against the reigning premiers Mortlake. I’m not comfortable being a Medium pacer. But we have two spinners who are far more talented than me. At nearly 35 I’m just happy to bowl and contribute in any way I can. Like Punter and Sachin, I will cling to my place in Division 1 for as long as I can. Even if that means bowling medium pace. But once the inevitable slide down to Division 2 & 3 occurs, I will be back bowling offies. Really don’t want to be a 40 year old medium pacer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.