Ditch the ball and grab a bat
I'm not normally one to criticise other people's parental skills, but I'm tempted to call social services whenever I meet someone irresponsible enough to nurture their child's dream of becoming a bowler. Haven't these people watched Twenty20? It's a massacre out there.
Edges flying to the boundary through a vacant slip cordon. Miscued shots disappearing into the crowd. Skied balls falling safely between converging fielders. All followed by grinning batsmen posing knowingly for the cameras, exchanging mid-pitch fist bumps as if their ugly hoick to cow corner had landed in the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Meanwhile, at the blurred edge of vision, the dispirited bowler, trudging back to third man with an economy rate in double figures, and a conviction that all sporting justice has been lost. Is that the future you want for your child?
Do yourself a favour, if you find them in the backyard trying to perfect an unplayable yorker, knock the ball out of their hand and give them a bat instead. And if their cover drive turns out to have all the co-ordination of a unicyclist who's been tasered, you can always find them other interests. Buy them a box set of the Saw movies. Let them play with the kid at the end of the street that enjoys killing rats. Encourage them to join a cult that worships fruit and only eats bees. Something, anything, which will cause less long-term psychological damage than being a bowler in the age of Twenty20.
And that goes for all variations of bowling: from the out-and-out quick expected to operate as a strike bowler with an ultra-defensive field, to the spinner who deceives a batsman in the air, only to see the ball fly off an edge of a modern bat, and disappear over backward point with a sonic boom that takes out every window in a two-mile radius.
But it's the guy who bowls medium-quick that I feel most sorry for. Stray from the perfect line and length and they really are Twenty20 cannon-fodder. A faster bowler can still beat the bat with pace. A part-time dibbly-dobbly merchant can be difficult to get away because of the lack of pace. But medium-quicks are just right. In pace terms, they're the baby bear's porridge to the Twenty20 batsman's Goldilocks.
When I first started watching county cricket, for every Marshall, Hadlee, Kapil or Imran, there were half a dozen medium-pace trundlers prowling the outfield. Bowlers with dodgy moustache and mullet combos, sponsored cars just this side of roadworthy, and the pained expression of someone struggling not to dip below 80mph in their third spell of the day.
Being a pace bowler has never been the easiest of tasks when you've got the fast twitch fibres of a koala, but somehow they managed it with a little movement of the ball, either through swing or off the seam, allied to an accuracy forged through repetition. It helped them build the third key component of their armoury: a reputation that demanded respect from a batsman, even in the hurly-burly of limited-overs cricket. A reputation that meant the thought of what they could do with the ball could overpower the reality of what they actually had done.
But not now. Not with Twenty20. There's no room to play the man, but rather the ball. Because the newest format of the game has stripped bowlers of respect quicker than displaying their internet browser history on the electronic scoreboard. Batsmen no longer get their eye in by leaving one that's slightly wide because they know this particular bowler can get a bit of away movement off the seam. No, if it's there, it's getting the treatment. An attitude that's seeping into the first-class game as well. When a Yorkshire opener like Joe Root plays a reverse sweep on his Test debut, you know the game has evolved.
Hell, even in Twenty20 you'll see that IPL 6 isn't the same as the first Twenty20 played in England a decade ago. Nine, ten, jack can now play the shots once pioneered by the specialists. Teenagers are using the Dilscoop within minutes of getting to the crease. A dot ball is a sign of failure rather than judgement. Welcome to modern cricket. May the Lord have mercy on your slower ball.
So if your child has dreams of becoming a bowler, make sure they watch IPL6. If that doesn't change their mind, you've got a few more precious years left to instill in them a mastery of line and length with a robust sense of self worth. They're going to need both if they want to survive in the Twenty20 era.
Dave Hawksworth has never sat in a press box or charged a match programme to expenses