November 10, 2013

How to prepare to bowl in village cricket

No net practice required since your time umpiring while your team bats will tell you everything you need. Then just pray the ball leaves your hand

If you bust your shoulder while bowling, you can spend the rest of the season moaning about the burden of being a fast bowler © Getty Images

With this occasional series probing the lichen-filled pond of village cricket having previously offered guidance on how to set the field and insight into preparing to bat, we shall continue on down the food chain and examine how the village cricketer readies himself to bowl.

Where to begin?

Funnily enough, this is the precise question pondered by the village bowler every single match, for nothing is more quintessentially village than a bowler actually running out his run-up to mark it each time he has a chuck.

What it lacks in precision, it doesn't make up for in style. Indeed, there is a level of the game, and not a very high level at that, beyond which such a procedure is taboo, absolutely verboten. So, wherever you see this ungainly spectacle you know you're in the presence of true village cricket, and not a league match being played in the sticks.

Having said that, getting ready to bowl certainly doesn't start with marking out a run-up. So, again, where to begin?

The beginning of the villager's run-up may be unscientific, but scientists - and there's a large dollop of science in this analysis - are themselves forever looking for beginnings. The Big Bang. The Origin of Species. And when it comes to bowlers, the origin of the species is definitely a big bang - on the head, early in life. If the child spends long afternoons torturing small insects, he's a spinner. If he spends short afternoons burning down buildings, he'll be a paceman. (If he does both, and wets the bed, have him immediately sectioned under the Mental Health Act.)

Bowling may be psychologically easier. It is the bastion, after all, of the big-hearted simpleton (apropos of nothing, sociologists tell us that the North officially begins where a majority of ten-year-olds prefer bowling to batting). Yet it is physically more exacting. So preparation requires a strict fitness regimen to keep yourself limber. However, once you've worked out that fasting doesn't make you faster, you dust off the Gregg's loyalty card while the wife does some midweek cake-baking practice (your selection and meal ticket).

Next, head down to your own practice, eschewing nets for a spot of gaseous visualisation on the square, refusing to flog yourself into the ground on account of Trueman's First Law: "Tha only get tha'sen fit bah bowlin' in matches."

Next up, The Shouldering Arms for psychological and tactical preparation. Talking Saucy Shirley through the various grips - "This one's the inner. And this one's the outer." "What about the shake-it-all-about-er?" - the orange squirts from your quivering grip and knocks a pint of Bamboozled Badger off the bar. Your clumsy attempt to catch said orange takes care of the other three, as well as any chance you had with Shirley. More importantly, before you know it you've paid £30-odd for four ales. Then skipper looks over, concerned. "There goes your new-ball slot," he says (not that there's an actual new ball, of course), while someone shouts, for Shirley's benefit: "Finally, he's lost the cherry!"

Match day. Delve into your stash of unguents, potions, lotions and lubricants, then out for the stretching. Hamstrings, intercostals, quads, credulity ("Fancy a hatful today, me").

You're batting first. This means you can be both literally and metaphorically well-oiled. It also means having to umpire until the fall of the seventh wicket (which, to be fair, is often only a dozen overs or so; less if it's T20). Fortunately this gives you a good long look at the vagaries of the pitch. Unfortunately that will not help you land it.

Tea is spent eating (duh), then out you limp, superfluous ball-tampering accoutrements in pocket. There's also a beer towel dangling from your waistband, despite there having been a hosepipe ban in operation for over three weeks (leading to a £1500 fixed penalty for a seam-bowling comrade spotted taking a watering can to a good length).

Eventually, you get the call: "Get loose."

"I am, but in all the wrong places!" Nobody laughs. (At some point in your career the skipper will ask: "Are you stiff yet?" "I haven't been stiff for 15 years", you'll reply.)

You mark out your run in the aforementioned fashion, barrelling away into the yonder before stopping arbitrarily. (You had tried the aerosol spray but started to hallucinate and spent the afternoon in the neighbouring field, giggling at wheat.)

The skipper asks some completely fatuous questions about where you want the field, how you'd like to attack. They join the swimming shoal of words, the self-admonishment, the unconvincing gee-ups, and you gasp for breath, hoping only that you can let go of the ball.

You try a practice run-up, complete with non-existent follow-through, born of the belief that the "danger area" was four feet, but covered the entire width of the cut strip, as the umpire asks, belatedly, what you're bowling.

"Right-arm filth," you say, earnestly.

The batsman, no Viv Richards himself, smells weakness. He also smells your nervous, dyspeptic belching and beery flatulence (which, given a favourable wind, might be harnessed for propulsion).

Everything hereafter, in that vast, throbbing, cranial silence, is half-DK Lillee homage, half-prayer. Polyester shirt duly unbuttoned to the navel - you, stoically undeterred by sleeves rolling down on the approach - thus reveals a St Christopher (advisable, given the length of your run-up).

Arms start to pump in loco-motion. You feel like a storm-chaser, all adrenaline and streaming eyes bobbing like hard-boiled eggs in a saucepan, then leap up blind, all your hopes and dreams compressed into this moment, before whirling over your arms and leaving the rest, as always, to your imagination.

Scott Oliver tweets here