Saturday, March 31, 2007

Action Men

I've mentioned here before that, having recently had shoulder surgery, the sight of Malinga bowling makes me wince. The thought that a generation of Sri Lankan kids are going to be mimicking that action is something that should have Colombo orthopaedic surgeons rubbing their hands with glee at all the extra shoulder reconstruction work they'll be picking up - Lord knows that must be in clover already with the number of arms they've had to 'straighten' since Murali hit the big time.

As kids growing up in the Seventies, we had a whole range of actions to imitate in our games of park cricket. We'd sit in front of the television committing various actions to memory and then spend hours demonstrating our powers of mimicry.

As the only southpaw in the gang that used to meet over at Kings Georges Recreation Ground, I had the left handers field to myself. I could do a very passable 'Underwood', a pretty good 'Sobers' (the longer run up) as well as a fair 'Bishen Bedi' (no run up whatsoever and a permanent enigmatic smile on the face.)

The right handed version of Bedi was normally described as the 'Illingworth' - the only difference being the facial expression which became 'thoughtful' - probably because none of us knew how to do a 'bloody minded git' at that age.

Everyone had their own specialities - some were very esoteric. Remember Inshan Ali? Big Keith was the first to perfect his wristy toss of the ball from one hand to the other before he started his run up. It became his party trick until he reached puberty and found better things to do with his wrist.

The elder Wheeler brother could do a very good Kerry O'Keefe - and could probably turn the ball just as far as O'Keefe ever did, whilst his younger brother Peter could produce an extraordinary Tony Greig, striding to the crease in huge bounds like a high-jumper - and even managed to adapt his act when Greig suddenly took up off-spin on the 1973/74 tour of the West Indies.

We all struggled with the 'Mike Procter' - ending up sprawled on the wicket through trying to bowl off the wrong leg, and we nearly tore our arms out of our sockets perfecting the whippy 'John Snow' - and then compounded the shoulder problems with the 'Jeff Thomson' - which was adapted by subsequent generations into the 'Fatima Whitbread'.

Dennis Lillee wasn't too difficult - added points given for doing the trademark flicking away sweat with the index finger. The 'Willis' was easy too - run in like a total lunatic with limbs going in all directions and then propel the ball as hard as possible towards the batsman.

Another favourite was the 'Chris Old' - an orthodox straight run up culminating in a blur of activity in the bowling stride. Graham Gooch later entertained fifth day crowds at dead test matches with a run through of his repertoire. His 'Old' used to end up clutching an imaginary strain in his thigh!

We went to great lengths to get our replaca actions as near to reality as possible. When John Arlott described Asif Masood's run up as being like 'Groucho Marx chasing a pretty waitress' Stevie Jones went to the local library to check out who this 'Groucho' was. He reported back, somewhat baffled, that it was 'some American guy with glasses and a big cigar'. Clive, whose Dad was a millitant trade unionist suggested that Arlott had meant Karl Marx - but that just deepened our confusion.

Around the same time Clive fell out of a tree and broke his right arm. In the period it was in plaster, he not only perfected a superb 'Phil Edmonds', but was also told by his doctor that when the plaster came off his arm would be temporarily slightly withered, so he - rather tastelessly I feel, assured us that he'd be doing a 'Chandrasekar' before too long.

Some we never perfected, and some were just too boring to bother with. We found Max Walker's tangle of arms and legs impossible. It resembled someone doing the butterfly stroke standing up - and none of us could do the butterfly either. In the boring category were Indian seamers Madan Lal & Abid Ali, and two off-spinners Pat Pocock and Ashley Mallet.

Sometimes a simple prop could tip the balance between an also-ran action and something clearly recognisable, and admired by the rest of the gang. A weeks pocket money was spent on a couple of white towelling wrist bands from the local sports shop - and hey presto, I was a left-handed Richard Hadlee.

Mention of Hadlee brings me to the serious point of this post. For the best part of the 70's and 80's, the New Zealand bowling attack was effectively Hadlee, plus four others. A whole generation of Kiwi youngsters, therefore, grew up with only one homegrown bowling action worth copying. Luckily for the future of New Zealand cricket, Hadlee's action was as close to near to perfection as makes no difference, which has resulted in a seemingly endless supply of New Zealand bowlers with excellent 'repeatable' actions - side on delivery, left arm up high, good follow through.

Might England's 'lack of fast bowling' woes in the 80's and 90's have anything to do witb the lack of decent role models? After all, the 'Willis' was fun to do, but eventually you'd give up and go and do something less taxing on the human frame like prop forward, or linebacker.

While you think on that - I'm off out into the back garden to perfect my 'Monty'...

1 comment:

Tony.T said...

I remember a Test match at Adelaide back in the seventies or early eighties where Australia only needed a couple to win so Javed Miandad bowled the last over and bowled each ball imitating a different bowler. He did a superb Bob Willis, Thommo and Max Walker.