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Backwords: In Love With Cricket

As a lad, passionately in love with cricket, Mike Shaw used to practice by hitting a tennis ball with a cricket stump againt the garden wall. (And Mike went on to become a very handy batsman, let me tell you. - Editor, Open Writing).

If it was good enough for Don Bradman, it was good enough for me.

That was how -- as an 11-year-old passionately in love with cricket --I came to start hitting a tennis ball with a cricket stump against our garden wall.

It was all there in the book on Bradman which I read every night in bed. The secret behind the amazing success of the game’s greatest run-maker.

So when I found out that Bradman had spent hour after hour as a boy thumping a ball with a single stump, I decided to follow suit.

It certainly did wonders for my batting. But unfortunately it didn’t go down well with my parents and next-door neighbours. The sound of stump striking ball every few seconds for hours on end nearly drove them round the bend.

I half-expected a total ban. But they were all very tolerant.

They let me carry on so long as I cut down my solo practice sessions.

Cricket was to bring me enormous pleasure at various levels over the next 20 or 30 years. But my fondest memories are of the makeshift games we played in those schoolboy days.

Most of our evening and holiday-time cricket was played on what used to be a textile mill’s sports ground. It had long been abandoned as such, however, and parts of it used as a tip.

The pitch was also grassless, making the phrase “variable bounce”, commonly used by cricket commentators these days, into a gross understatement. Some deliveries bounced way over the batsman’s head, others shot along the ground like a snake.

At first we couldn’t afford a proper cricket ball and had to make do with a “weftie” made from old textile yarn. Then we graduated to a “corkie” and eventually came the great day when we had the real thing.

I remember that one of the biggest handicaps of our tiny ground was the presence of a mill dam next door to it. Even the deterrent of “six and out” failed to stop exuberant young batsmen yielding to temptation and slogging the ball into the dam’s murky waters. The hold-ups were lengthy while we employed a variety of ingenious methods to recover the ball before it slipped down a waterfall into impenetrable depths inside the mill.

Because it was wartime there was no county cricket. But charity matches were often star-studded affairs and I was lucky enough to see quite a few.
I remember being taken to Bradford Park Avenue on Saturday. We had presumed the match would start at half-past two but in fact it was an all-day affair. So when we arrived the game was already three hours old.

My one and only glimpse of the great Wally Hammond at the crease was restricted to a single ball. Just as we were settling in our seats Hammond hit a colossal on-drive, only to be brilliantly caught in front of the pavilion.

My disappointment was keen. But compensation was not long in coming. I shall never forget the sight of Maurice Leyland striking a succession of mighty sixes back over the bowler’s head into the football stand.

And equally unforgettable was the incredible fielding of Learie Constantine in a match at Fartown when he took one almost unbelievable catch and threw down the stumps with amazing regularity.

I had always thought that collections at cricket matches were reserved for fifties and remarkable bowling feats. Until I was on the receiving end of probably the kindest gesture I ever encountered in the whole of my cricketing days.

At the time I had just started going to practice sessions at Marsden Cricket Club. I had been picked as reserve for a few junior matches. Then the team found themselves a man short at the last minute, so I was drafted in.

Batting second against Paddock Juniors, our wickets tumbled like ninepins and I went in as last man with several overs left.

To save a point my partner and I had to play out the overs. We survived. And I walked into the dressing room to a round of applause and a handful of coppers, which were pushed into my pocket.

To my utter astonishment it turned out that my team-mates had held a spontaneous collection among themselves in appreciation of my stonewalling success. I was completely overcome.

Another kindly gesture came my way not long afterwards. By then I was playing in the second team and it was during a match at Primrose Hill. While I was batting I met the ball with the face of the bat, close up to a pad.

Somebody appealed and up went the umpire’s finger. I had started the long walk back to the pavilion when the opposing captain apologised for what he said was a ridiculous appeal and brought me back. Such is -- or was, at any rate -- the true sporting nature of cricket.

I don’t recall the name of the Primrose Hill skipper, but he was a large, benevolent figure of advancing years. I do remember that their top scorer was a lad called Ken Taylor, later of Yorkshire and England.

While I was still in my early teens, we played a second eleven match at Paddock during the local holidays. Like most sides we had a job to scrape together 11 men. In fact there was only one man, the skipper, and 10 boys. So that when our leader took us all for a celebratory drink after the match his order was a half-pint of mild and 10 shandies. He was the only one old enough to sup beer.

Not that a few of us didn’t make up for it in later years. Many a bad result on the field was followed by a good night in the bar. But that’s another story.


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