Lightly armed

Physical strength masters nothing in cricket. It is a delightfully unmacho sport. Big hitters may scatter the field, but controlled, dextrous batting wins many more games. A charging bull of a fast bowler may make some batsmen hop about, but the ability to coax a ball to move from the straight is needed to dismiss the best batsmen.

There is an exception where power trumps in cricket: throwing. Bowling slow and manoeuvring the ball between fielders are essential skills within a team. An inability to project the ball the short distance to the keeper from in front of the square leg umpire is a failure, not part of cricket’s diverse talent pool. When the ball has to be returned from the outfield only velocity and accuracy will do. The metaphors reinforce this macho side of the game. Good throws are ‘bullets’, ‘shells’ and the fielder ‘guns it’. The simile for the player without ammunition is that they throw like a.. well, you know, you’ve heard it said and it’s probably disrespectful to the women’s game.

I was reminded of the manly virtues of throwing, and their dreaded opposite, on a family walk along the Dee. We came to a stony beach by the river and no. 1 son and I picked stones and tossed them across the river. His throws carried further than mine. I turned and received from my wife a look of sympathy, even pity, completely out of character, such is her indifference to my cricket. She had seen me upstaged by my ten year old son.

Throwing, as with other aspects of fielding has only had the full attention of cricket coaches in recent decades. Drawing on baseball, some good practices have been established. One, that the elbow should be above the shoulder was flouted by one of the best fielders I saw as a child. Hallam Moseley, West Indies bowler, threw side-arm, with his release at about waist level. I remember seeing him on television, playing in one day matches for Somerset, swooping on a ball and fizzing it into the keeper from the Taunton boundary.

Wisden records that, “the definitive record [for throwing] is still awaited.” It lists a handful of long throws that it considers authentic, topped by Robert Percival on the Durham Sands Racecourse (c1882), with 140 yards, 2 feet. Of more modern players, Colin Bland and Ian Pont, the Essex all-rounder, are mentioned. The latter’s throwing prowess saw him all the way to the USA, where he had some limited success in Major League Baseball.

More recently, the throwing skills most celebrated are the abilities of in-fielders to throw down the stumps, even with ‘only one stump to aim at’, off-balance, on the run and even on the ground having sprawled to make a stop. Relay throws have had a fashion, where the ball is returned hard and low to an infielder to then distribute. The aim is to optimise the throwing strength of two fielders to save milliseconds, not to compensate for a deep square leg with a dodgy shoulder. The most refined throwing art is to flight a throw so that it bounces the ball on one of its sides in front of the keeper, once the new ball has lost its juice and swing. The bounce of the ball roughens up the allotted hemisphere to speed up the process that can bring about reverse swing.

I bear, courtesy of an accident ten years ago that left my shoulder dislocated for 16 hours, a feeble throw, and a deficit of manliness. It grates at me. When preparing to field with new teammates, I’ll introduce the subject of my injury so they know that I know I can’t throw before they get to see the sorry evidence. Daily dynamic stretches and press-ups have made no difference. Andrew Leipus’ cricinfo article, Shouldering the pain of throwing, where I understood it, gave me some succour, not that I could improve, but that I probably have something wrong in my shoulder. Just as David Gower had. In his last few playing years his nonchalantly athletic fielding was compromised by a shot shoulder. He would run in with the ball from the outfield, or underarm it to a teammate.

Last month at Lord’s, I caught an early season session of macho cricket. The Middlesex seamers were giving the Surrey batsmen a working over. A succession of quicks was getting seam movement and lift, striking the batsmen and beating the edge. It felt more like a combat sport than a ball-sport as the batsmen sustained blows, dodged other strikes and ventured occasional counter-punches. Truly a different sport to the one I play and I realised, for all my passion for the game, not one I would ever have wanted to play.

In this atmosphere of balls thudding into protective gear and the fielders’ menacing gasps, there was a incongruous moment: I spotted a fellow sufferer. Corey Colleymore, as sharp and thrusting as any of the Middlesex bowlers, was fielding in front of where I sat in the Grandstand. A ball was clipped out to him on the boundary from the pitch set on the Grandstand side of the square. Colleymore collected the ball, skipped and sent a looping return back. It died well before completing the flight from the short boundary, making the keeper scuttle forward to take it on the second bounce. As I began to think how brave it was of the West Indian seamer to endure this deficiency I replayed the throw in my mind and realised he had thrown it left-handed.

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About chrisps

TouchlineDad to three sporty kids; cricket blogger and coach; and the alpha male in our pride.

6 responses to “Lightly armed”

  1. Douglas Duckworth says :

    It’s such a relief to hear from a fellow sufferer. I hated cricket at school because I was so rubbish at throwing. To me it felt like there was something that other kids “got” that simply eluded me, like dancing and chatting-up girls at parties. Is there a self help group I wonder? “Blokes that can’t throw”, if not someone should start one.

    • chrisps says :

      Doug, glad to provide some relief, but worried you may think that cricket is associated with an ability to dance or chat-up girls at parties. Not so!

      • Douglas Duckworth says :

        No, it’s just the throwing thing. Maybe it’s connected to our hunter-gathering past. I’d have been the type that could never hit the wild boar with the big rock or the spear and thus never brought home the bacon. Come to think of it, it’s surprising that any of us rubbish throwers ever made it into the Stone Age. So much for natural selection.

  2. Brian Carpenter says :

    Fellow sufferer here, Chris.

    My playing history has been pretty up and down, and I hadn’t played at all for nine years before taking the game up again at the age of thirty. During the ‘lost years’ I’d watched tons of top level cricket and so had subconciously formed the idea that throwing the ball in from the boundary was easy and I’d forgotten that I couldn’t do it.

    It was a bit diminishing to discover very soon that the nine year-old son of a team-mate could throw the ball further than I could.

    Well remembered about Gower. His throwing arm was shot from around his mid-twenties, I think, although he had a beautiful arm before that. I well remember watching him throw the ball in from the (old) Mound Stand boundary at Lord’s (probably during the 1979 World Cup Final) with incredible ease. I was sitting with my Dad right behind him and I couldn’t believe how someone could throw the ball so far with so little apparent effort.

    I’ve never forgotten it but I’ve certainly never emulated it either.

    • chrisps says :

      Brian, I remember Gower and Randall prowling that day at Lord’s. Didn’t Randall run out one of the West Indian openers? They had to fetch a lot back from the boundary too.
      You are making me feel better about my limitation. My teammate who. this week, ran out a batsman with a direct hit from deep midwicket is the exception in the Over 40s cricket I now play.

  3. Brian Carpenter says :

    A bit late returning to this, Chris, but yes, Randall ran out Gordon Greenidge with a direct hit (I’ve just checked the batsman’s identity in Wisden).

    Randall rarely gets a mention these days but he was a very useful batsman – gifted, in fact, if you look at the runs he scored with the type of technique that would be coached out of him at an early age now – and a brilliant fielder.

    England didn’t have a fielder of similar class until Paul Collingwood came along, and now Jimmy Anderson.

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