I’m not particularly comfortable with, or good at, asking people for money. Last year, when I switched to batting left-handed and asked for sponsorship, the smart money was on a very small runs tally. The smart money doesn’t always win. It began unravelling for my various sponsors during my first innings, in which I scored 40 not out. Though the next few languished in single figures, the die was cast, and this, coupled with an insane quantity of games played, meant that the amount pledged racked up. Naturally, an amount failed to be given in, but this was due to my refusing to accept money until the season’s runs were scored. Continue reading
Andrew Bloxham wrote an interesting piece in the huffington post.
I refuse to post a comment because I won’t allow HuffPost to update my tweets. Plus I bet Andrew posted for free (for this issue see Press Gazette on interns).
I would have posted this:
There is a point here with regards what leads to success in the game itself. Whether a natural ability to work hard and eliminate the shots which lead to one’s downfall can be considered talent is difficult to judge.
I think that in this area talent is, and should remain, true to the dictionary definition, namely ‘natural aptitude or skill’, with emphasis on the natural. It’s same in music, where some sublimely gifted players never make it because the game of the music business starts with talent … but ends with hard work, grit, application and so forth.
In the examples you pick here, notably the current test captain, you are talking about Test cricket as specific game for which he seems preternaturally gifted … but that’s a different argument altogether (though you’re patently correct).
Well, now that I’m utterly bandaged up I can merely analyse video footage and cringe. These are highly selective bits of my second and third nets as a left-handed batsman. Second and third nets, I kid you not. Yes, the shots are clunky and there’s no fluidity, but my left shoulder is at this point knackered … now mending gently.
So. The countdown begins. I’d be lying if I were to suggest that I am not filled with trepidation at the prospect of holes being drilled into my flesh and long alien-type tubes within tubes inserted, inquisition style. The various ripped and tortured bits of ragged tissue that comprise my left shoulder joint will be cajoled, weedled and simply forced to knit with one another. I’ll be beslung for quite some time … my arm released into the wild sometime in the middle of January, to be gently nursed back to full operational fitness. Finally I will be able to reach to my left to pick up a cup of tea without wincing. To lift my arm above my head … it will be splendid. Eventually.
I write this in the newly cleaned and organised dining room, currently serving me well as an office. The house in which I will be stuck for the next week at least is slowly becoming a home. Even Ginger, the recalcitrant mog himself, is starting to treat it like one. It’s starting to make sense. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to prepare it for a less-than-sinister future, though with regards the tools of my trade, letters stuck on pieces of plastic tip-tapped by my little fingers, well … I mostly type one-handed anyway, my left hand merely providing the odd index finger to the equation.
This morning I woke secure in the knowledge that, sometime on thursday, I would walk groggily into a car, be driven bumpily and painfully down the A23, and I’ll be strapped into my bed … hang on, that’s wrong … I’ll be gently wedged in so that I don’t lie down on my newly chopped rotator, the ginge will be locked out of my room, and I shall sleep the sleep of a man expecting trouble. Naturally, the best laid plans of the marvellous mechanical mouse party rarely run smooth. They moved it to Sunday.
It will be for the best.
In the meantime, several quests remain to be fulfilled; several dragons slain. Left-handed. If you recall, I’d had a couple of nets, completed a couple of supported practice sessions, and generally not got on too badly. I was feeling increasingly comfortable with my new style, though most everyone was amazed I could do it, and confident that I’d pull it off next season. Then reality bit. Perhaps because I was’t concentrating, or I wasn’t with it, or perhaps I was having a bad PD day. Whatever it was, I sucked. I felt awful, had no poise or balance, no foot movement, bat wafting airily (thou sadly not Goweresquely) and flinging across the line, a gate the size of the gates of Hercules between bat and pad …
Reader, I videoed it. At least I can watch it over and over again. Relive every painful, flat-footed swipe, every stiff swivel pull, every ‘defensive’ prod … ah, what days I shall have. Seriously, however, it says an awful lot to me. Apart from ‘you have no natural gift for this game’, it reminds me how important it is to concentrated on every aspect of your game. When I was a guitar player, I used to spend hours fine-tuning my picking technique, getting it ‘just so’. I was one of the fastest, cleanest players you could have found back in 90s England. And it was hard, hard work. Hours of graft. This is what I now need to do … while I’m slung. Get my technique absolutely perfect. The stance, the step and swing, the shot, the follow-through … each is currently flawed.
My stance is ok, but my eyes are not level enough, my bat is away from my body, and my legs aren’t flexed enough.
I barely have a step most of the time, and when I do, there’s no backswing. Which means I jab at the ball rather than swing through it … and I have no follow-through.
Apart from all these wee issues, I’m perfect! The fact that, in nets at least, I’m middling most balls and putting away a fair few makes me wonder what might happen if I practiced really hard, and intelligently … I think I might score a few runs. My plan, therefore, is to work on my top hand for the next six weeks. Then the sling’ll come off, and I can introduce the left hand to the party. The first net will be very tellling.
Already, my head’s in next year’s play.
Today I attended a ‘live’ net session, that is, one with three bowlers bowling rather than one machine repeating. This, I reckon, is a greater test of my newly sinister stance than the indoor school’s bowling machine, as the margin of error increases by, well, 500-1000% in terms of line, and a greater amount in terms of length. It also adds great variation in pace, flight, spin, swing and action – it’s a right pain in the arse moving the machine from over to round the wicket, a tactic many right-arm bowlers use against lefties.
Bowling right arm over to a sinister beast pushes the ball across the body of the batsman. LBW is very hard to get, and the wider delivery is at greater risk of a slashing drive. Yes, nicking off to slip is more likely, but that is generally the result of greed rather than need. Right arm round jambs the ball into the batsman’s body, making it harder to open the shoulders to any shot. Yes, tickles off the thigh pad are more common, but a shorter ball is more likely to catch the gloves and bounce up off the arm, shoulder or lid. As ever, it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.
I batted twice. The first session was a mixed bag, and I was cleaned up by Jim the leg spinner a couple of times, playing round the ball. I did play some nice drives, however.
Two weeks ago I could barely play the pull shot, my most productive shot when right-handed. Now it’s vicious, as I not only seem to be able to time the shot better, but the strength of my right arm really unleashes. Because bowlers tend to have trouble adjusting their line, the ball on leg or wider is more common. Meat and drink.
It wasn’t merely spin today, as Tim, leading wicket taker in the division for a second year, was also netting. He’s quite nippy, and good fun to bat against. He struggled with his line a little in the first session, allowing me to work on the cut shot. Again, the strength of my top hand really came into play here. Very satisfying.
It was, as usual, my straight play which let me down. I still seem to be whipping across the line. Too much bottom hand – ironic considering why I’m switching …
It was the second session which changed everything. If you ignore the two beauts which Tim bowled when he got his line spot on, and the fine delivery from Jim which went past my outside edge and cut back to take out my leg stump, then it was a different story. I even drove quite fluently … in relative terms!
But the real eye-opener for me was the state of my bat at the end of the session. The marks on the blade are predominantly in the chunky middle. One defensive prod (a shot I rarely played right-handed) fairly pinged off the middle. So I’m seeing the ball quite well, it seems. I’ll work out why they’re mostly on the inside half of the middle soon enough.
But it’s progressing well. I still look clumsy sometimes, but the drives are coming on, and the cut and pull are almost weapons. But when one of our most talented batsman says he’s not only amazed how quickly I’ve adapted, but couldn’t do it himself, and one bowler quips that maybe I was left-handed all along, I have right to feel pleased.
Furthermore, it doesn’t kill my back now, and it’s feeling more and more comfortable. There is hope, I feel.
Unfortunately, only one more net before the operation. Then, well … not really looking forward to that, not one little bit.
When you’re diagnosed with a condition such as Parkinson’s, it changes things. It’s not the disease, because your physical condition doesn’t change as soon as those words are uttered – though with medical intervention symptomatic a certain amount of relief may come almost immediately – it’s that there is a label which can be attached to all manner of things.
In some ways, this is a great, great thing, because no longer do you blame yourself for certain idiocies that happen (my current difficulties with swallowing, or that ‘damn, everyone thinks I’m drunk because my left foot isn’t co-operating today’, for example), but can attach a label to it. Taking the reason out of the self does help.
Conversely, there is a tendency to begin to think of yourself in terms of disease. Certainly, the system sees you as a set of symptoms to be treated, or ignored, depending on circumstances. The modern world just loves putting you into a box, even though you’re never really going to fit into one. We’re far more complex than that, naturally, and resemble quite silly Venn diagrams more than boxes. Here, for example, is a (crap) Venn diagram of my physical self:
Pete exists in the tiny overlap in the middle, between cricketer, martial artist, PD sufferer, lover, shoulder, and gym goer …
this is obviously rather truncated, and will change as soon as my shoulder is operated on. The ratios will change, and, for example, cricketer, martial artist and gym goer will move from physical to potential or intellectual. Hopefully fucked shoulder will go too. I’ll probably add invalid to the mix. That leaves me as PD sufferer and lover. Oh. Er, moving swiftly on …
We don’t fit into the boxes that modern society wants. This is fine until we get a big box to be put in. No-one worries about the boxes until one thing turns up that effectively defines you to most everyone. PD becomes one of these things.
This may seem obvious, or perhaps irrelevant, but when it happens, you know about it. This is because we want to put ourselves in boxes too. It helps. But also it hinders, and any way that we can break out becomes very, very tempting.
During my last net at Hove, I was batting left-handed. Naturally. I was batting quite well, considering. I decided to play a switch-hit, that is, changing from left to right-handed as the bowler runs up. I did so. I bashed the ball mightily. I went back to left-handed. The coach taking the session next to my net remarked to the coach feeding the bowling machine that I batted pretty well right-handed for a lefty. He was quite surprised when told I was right-handed.
Now. Someone who didn’t know me naturally placed me in a box. Incorrectly, yes, but actually quite flattering. Were I to explain, I may or may not have to say, ‘I’ve got PD’ – it just depends on whether I was being falsely boxed.
Do I feel it’s better that someone puts me in the PD box, or the box they’ve chosen. If the former, I tell.
And telling somebody changes things.
I’ve been rather unsure what to write today. If to write. Last night this happened:
I was particularly touched when a relation of mine indicated his suspicion that my sanity had recently become, well, compromised. It really is not the case. What’s happened is that certain great big gobs of reality have nestled themselves firmly in my bosom. I am not best pleased. I ought not be here, is the simple truth of the matter.aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
Now. That’s what you get for trying to write at 2.30am when your entire system is shutting down. The combination of insomnia and exhaustion makes sleep occur without happening – a slap around the face rather than the gentle caress of morpheus.
It’s tough to know how to follow so many consecutive vowels, though had they been the letter ‘e’ I might have made some quip about being all the vowels James Joyce was left with after finishing Ulysses.
What I really wanted to say was that yesterday, in some small, strange fashion, I managed a volte face of a rather interesting complexion.
One of the ‘things’ about this progressive, degenerative brain cock-up with which I am seemingly saddled is that it makes things change. Unexpected things change. Some of it’s the drugs, some the disease. Often these unexpected things are small things. But small things often have an impact disproportionate to their size, as well as quite regularly turning into big things while you’re not looking.
Shazam! Where the fuck did that elephant come from … and how the hell did it get into the bathroom?
All of this year I’ve struggled with two physical problems: my fucked shoulder; and my piteous left-hand grip. These problems have had many repercussions but have made my batting performances rather impressive, if you factor in the handicap. The top hand controls the shot, and the elbow should be high, the grip firm. The top hand is usually the left hand, so … a low elbow extension because of the exercise, and a feeble grip because of the PD. So most shots become rather weak, ill-directed. Concentration at a premium …
I am to have an operation on my shoulder in December to fix this type six slap tear. Minutes of fun. The rehab will pretty much end when the season begins. My grip will just become progressively worse.
Necessity is the mother of invention, or so they say. There is a way around it: switch to batting left-handed. Let’s face it, the switch-hit will be a breeze.
So, yesterday, I had my first net batting left-handed. And boy, was it ever weird. I played pretty straight.
As I packed up, smiling faces which had gently laughed at my less-than-fluid batting looked on in admiration as I explained.
I shall persevere … I just hope I can score runs …
At last, the great debate of modern music returns. In a recent Prospect, Kate Mossman bemoaned the lack of technical aptitude and its concomitant boundary-shaking in British music. Similarly, in the Observer, Nigel Kennedy railed against the passionless exposition of Bach by modern practitioners.
Mossman notes that the Americans, with their love for demonstrating the work they put into things, have no problem with learning an instrument, practising, getting bloody good at it, and then playing it. They have contemporary music schools like the Musician’s Institute in Los Angeles (of which, I must point out, I am an alumnus), which are directly vocational in approach – they give you the tools to be a professional musician. They wear their learning like a badge. We Englanders have always tended towards Castliglione’s concept of Sprezzatura: effortless brilliance. We are never happier than when a natural talent such as David Gower throws his wicket away wafting outside off stump because it is proof that he doesn’t practise, simply turn up and plays – when he got it right, no more elegant player. We love Cook because he scores runs aplenty, but he isn’t elegant, he works too hard. This is why we are so conflicted about Kevin Peterson. When at his peak he plays like Gower – all instinct, effortless grace and simple perfection. He takes risks and when it’s his day, they pay off. But KP works as hard if not harder than any other batsman. And we resent that. His hard work ought to make him a machine – admirable but dull.
The analogy of cricket and music may seem rather odd, but they share certain important characteristics. Well, mainly one. That’s timing.
I’m an avid, if not too skilled, cricketer – top score 78, which says it all. When I’m ‘in the zone’, I’m actually not a bad batsman. I was, when active, a bloody good guitar player. When I was in the zone, I could terrify people.
In cricket, the ball is like the note – when you’re in the zone, you know exactly where the centre is, and you can do whatever you want with it. The muscle memory from hours of practise pays dividends. You think sound, it comes out of your guitar – you think boundary, and that’s where the ball goes. If you think about the plectrum, or the fingering, or the note or chord, it may work, but it’s in spite of you – if you think of the shot, you run the risk of playing everything beautifully, but missing the ball.
Technique allows your knowledge to become real – your feeling to be made concrete.
Technique in itself is only one part of the battle, but it’s a vital part. And it ought not be forgotten that great technique allows for ‘simple’ music to be played beautifully, too. The astonishing album that Robert Plant and Alison Krause released a few years ago is a case in point. The musicians were utterly top-drawer. Not one of them was trying to prove anything to anyone. All the album consisted of was some great songs played by musicians who really appreciated both songs and band-mates. They were having a great time, simply being perfect. Effortlessly. All the effort had long since been expended, and all they were left with was music. And how.
Nigel is right about one thing (at least). Being too prescriptive about music is just dumb. The ‘authentic’ brigade may well produce good stuff, but to suggest that they know how the composer intended the music to sound is as daft as the ‘new bibliographers’ who sought to reconstruct the author’s intentions. Chances are the author didn’t know, either. I won’t even get onto Shakespeare.
Bach is, I feel, a special case. His music is so pure that it transcends instrumentalisation – it’s all about the player’s interpretation. For all Nigel’s efforts, Jimi Hendrix only really works on the electric guitar – and even then only when played by Hendrix himself. Hendrix played the instrument, his music came from his resources.
With Bach, it’s all about the music – the true instrument that Bach is played with is mankind.
Were Mister Macawber a cricketer, he would have summed the game up thus: Home team 240, visitors 239 – result, happiness; Home team 240, visitors 241 – result, misery.
Our collective failure to observe the equation of Dickens’ most glorious N’erdowell may have led to the credit crunch, but the game of cricket resists such simple blandishments. I spent over an hour wondering about how to sum up a game with so many variables, and came up with this equation:
240 (xa x yb x zc) = μ
And this for a simple 40 over game in which the possible values attributable to each letter range between four and around thirty, making the ways of reaching μ unfathomably great. And μ can be a wicket or anything between 0 and 7 runs (inclusive). Rinse. Repeat.
It is truly the most perverse of games. The best of games the worst of games. A game which frustrates, cajoles, annoys, teases and sulks like a lover and still can happily provide no apparent joy to any of the players.
The platonic ideal of cricket is thirteen players on the field, a bright, warm Sunday afternoon with two teams indulging in good-natured competition watched by a smattering of people drinking beer and not really paying too much attention.
And yet sometimes the best games are played in the most inclement of conditions, where an astonishing and very English sense of togetherness can obtain from playing this most sunny of sports in the wet … united in chilly, clammy misery, unable to grip the ball, impossible to catch it, pretty difficult to hit it as it doesn’t so much bounce as skid. The water drips from your helmet visor, down your back, and you look at the rather expensive stick in your hand that is far better an implement than you deserve, wondering whether the water will ruin it. Then you walk back to the pavilion. Willingly.
And let’s not even think about gentlemanly play. So often the game is beset by miserable, sniping, insulting players who will happily berate the umpire with a spiky ‘how can you give me out for that, you c**t’, even though the umpire is from their own team. Like the old lag, the batsman in never out leg before wicket.
Naturally, all cricketers are scrupulously honest, play hard but fair, and never, ever cheat. There are always warm handshakes after a game, no matter what the result. Mostly, this is true, and many a tea interval has been spent discussing how ‘that team’ from Oxington Smythe are a bunch of lying, cheatin, miserable gits with an ex-pro they pay to play who treats the game as his own personal workout, who stare at the batsman when they bowl a wide, berate the umpire … we all have these tales.
The truth is that no other game is as complex a mix of teamwork and individual contests as cricket. It is a great leveller.
In no other sport can you spend five hours in the game and not touch the ball. In no other sport can you wait for an hour and a half to play your part, have it be over in seconds, then spend an hour waiting for tea before standing about for another two and a half hours without the ball coming near you. And still feel utterly fantastic because you’ve won.
In no other sport can you play brilliantly for the first half, then brilliantly for the second half, and still feel utterly miserable because you’ve lost.
In cricket, every ball can prove to be your last. If batting, you can get the unplayable delivery. If fielding, you candrop the catch that loses the match, and be banished to fine leg. Or break a digit. Game over.
It’s ultimately a game built on paradox. A game played on a field often larger than an acre, and yet the difference between the ball coming off the middle of the bat and taking the edge is a matter of inches. A game which thrives on elegance and yet which is so often agricultural. A game which ebbs and flows and can so rarely be predicted.
I play cricket the way many of my age play the guitar. I played as a kid and was pretty crap. Now I know how to apply myself and work hard. My eye for the ball and quick hands developed through several years of martial arts gets me out of several sticky situations. But I’m still no more than average, but I can afford a bat that is practically all middle. Can I find it? Only when I’m attempting a delicate dink and it simply flies … invariably into the hands of some fielder who will not drop it. If I could play cricket the way I used to play the guitar, I wouldn’t be languishing at the bottom of the East Sussex League.
In cricket, it’s so often the case that the talent of being lucky wins out against the luck of being talented. Your opposite number swishes and misses, almost plays on, edges the ball over and over again into empty space, spoons it to just where there is no fielder, makes your average cat look frankly unfortunate and you? you get one edge and you’re gone. The fielder takes an astonishing catch. Half an hour later, you watch him drop the most embarrassing of chances. Typical.
This year, I have had no luck … at least, until Sunday, when I batted for something like an hour and a half, and shared the winning partnership of 100 runs … of which the other batsman, a brutally efficient hitter of the ball, scored 78. I probably scored 15 runs in the fifteen overs we batted for. And yet, while I was gently ribbed for my slowness, I actually batted very well, making sure that whenever possible my partner was on strike. I spent much of it watching him demoralise the opposition.
In no other sport can one have so much influence simply by being there. It is a game of which Milton would be proud: They also serve who only stand and wait.
A delightful article in The Times (by the delightfully named Tara Parker-Pope) this morning suggests that rather than pushing ourselves ever harder, we ought to be nicer to ourselves – http://nyti.ms/dOMoU9. This, it insists, may well be good for our health – ‘Preliminary data suggest that self-compassion can even influence how much we eat and may help some people lose weight.’ Ignoring the fact that it’s nice to see data accepted as a plural, it is interesting that the focus here is on eating and weight, quite the modern obsession.
Those of us who admit and, quite possibly, embrace our Englishness may well find the idea of writing ourselves a letter of support somewhat odd. After all, we probably wince when anyone compliments us at the best of times – almost as much as when someone complements us.
One-size-fits-all is always a strange thing to read, and the implication is that this one size doesn’t fit anyone quite right. Will ‘self-compassion’ work in other areas of life, such as sports, or work? Well, it seems to depend on the area. How is the area in which you wish to improve your performance assessed? Is it objective, or subjective? It matters not how much self-compassion one has in a sport dominated by statistics … the numbers simply don’t lie. They also fail to tell the whole story, but they are a pretty good indicator. In areas where one’s status is reliant on the perceptions of others – and there are many, many of these – it may just work. Simply presenting oneself as comfortable with one’s performance can give the impression of competence. No matter whether it is displaced or not.
The attitude with which a task is undertaken is something which is vitally important. And it must be relative to the task at hand. As with anything, it’s a question of balance. And one size most certainly doesn’t fit all. There is a time for self-compassion, for accepting that there are some things which one cannot quite control, and which one cannot quite manage. There is also a time for self-criticism, for accepting that one was an utter idiot, that one made the wrong decision, took the wrong path, put too much chilli in … and using that experience as an impetus to ensure it never happens again.
It’s almost time for the cricket to start again. Six weeks or so of nets and we’ll be off. Last year, I batted rather well in nets, in training, but out in the middle, I froze. Both literally and figuratively. A couple of small misjudgements, coupled with a bit of bad luck, and suddenly I was stuck in a run of ‘bad form’. Bad form in cricket is a self-fuelling bandwagon, with each mistake chipping way at the self-confidence … and the confidence leaks to the fielding side. It’s as if there’s a share available, and the true battle is less between bat and ball as it is for the pot of luck available. The body follows the head, and when on a bad run, the batsman clams up, rooted to the spot, and doesn’t survive long.
The body language encourages sledging, and the sledging, while not necessarily in itself effective, tells the batsman he looks vulnerable. One doesn’t sledge a player who’s taking control of the field. There’s a fine line at the crease between confidence and bullishness, between not wishing to get out and being so scared of it that one cannot bat, between thinking about one’s technique and knowing that it’s too late to worry about it.
The batsman’s first epiphany is realising that it is impossible to score runs from the pavilion – don’t get out, and runs will come. The second movement is when the thought process changes from ‘don’t get out’ to ‘what shall I do with this ball’.
Technique is what one hones off the field. Being coached by your partner in the middle drains your confidence and hands it to the opposition. In the middle, it’s about bat and ball – the shot, the technique, the style, simply doesn’t matter. It is making the ball hit the middle of the bat. That’s really all that counts.
When the ball hits the middle of the bat, whether this is literally in the game, or metaphorically in the other world, you may still lose your wicket. You have not meekly surrendered your wicket, but thrown down the gauntlet, and told the fielder that it’s up to him (or her) to get you out. Then it’s a question of how good they are, and how much they believe in themselves.
If you are still caught, then that is the time for self-compassion. You did everything right, and lost that particular battle. That’s the game. What you didn’t do was do something which infuriates. Which, in my case, once infuriated me so much I subsequently punched a (very neat) hole in the dressing-room wall. As the opposition captain remarked, ‘if only you batted the way you punch’.
The next week, that was exactly what I did.