I really wanted to be a professional cricketer...
Cricketing talent crept slowly upon on me at first. I was introduced to the game by the neighbours across the back fence, a group of three brothers, the youngest of whom was a full four years older than myself. Never hesitant in reminding me of the fact that I was more than useless at pretty much everything, he left me at the still tender age of five under no illusions as to the inadequacy of my embryonic cricketing talent.
It stayed with me for a while, this sense of mediocrity, and was further encouraged by my first coach who branded me a "chucker". Cricket, my dear American friends, is played with not only a stiff upper lip but a straight arm—bend from that norm and you are a definitely a "chucker". Please don’t come back next week...
Vision’s of future greatness began to tentatively form during a year spent in Canada at age eleven Probably simpler in spirit than some of my peers, I gained immense pleasure just throwing a baseball—bent arm and (to a cricketer) "sissy" catching mit inclusive—over and over against my father’s garage door. A practise made a degree more difficult but not stopped by dents and a broken window. Where there is a stubborn will there is surely a way.
Gaining in strength although not yet in size, my return to New Zealand was delayed via a month spent in the British West Midlands, nestled sleepily amongst castles and sheep on the border between England and Wales.
There I was invited one evening to the Oswestry cricket oval to join a new-found friends’ mid-summer cricket practise. Despite having neither size 15 feet, a rakish but-best-left-in-the-70s handle-bar mostaccio, starched and half-unbuttoned white shirt or silver swinging neck medallion, this undersized Kiwi with a strong Canadian accent was immediately pronounced "the new Richard Hadlee", a moniker earned by dispatching the resident tea and scone eaters to all parts of the ground and beyond.
In the parlance of the time, it was all rather "choice" actually—even though in truth there was some similarity to the disturbing visual metaphor of shooting fish in a barrel. Forty some years since the War and loss of Empire, it was embarrassingly apparent that these pasty young Brits had seen very little quality sporting activity.
This may have been a judgement too soon. Unlike the nocturnal flightless bird that is the national namesake of New Zealand, the British are made of sterner stuff, or at least a species more cunning than a weasel, for despite the lighter shade of the marmite in these parts I was soon floored by the easiest, slowest moving cricket delivery still capable of sustaining forward motion, breaking my jaw at the hinge.
What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger as they say. While the mutant extra tooth discovered by the full-head x-ray at the Royal Shrewsbury Medical College is another story (actually it wasn’t "mutant", but it makes my story sound a little better), back in New Zealand the following cricket season saw a dramatic rise in my form and achievement.
Now an opening bowler at the local cricket club, or first pitcher as in baseball, my speed increased and my tally of wickets grew. An invitation to a regional representative eleven for their last game of the season soon followed, and with high school around the corner, a highly anticipated sporting destiny seemed almost a reality...
To be continued