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Gareth Batty is as spry as a rabbit, bright eyes glancing about, absorbing everything. He has a round face with fair eyebrows and a small, pointy chin. His hair, auburny in spring, is blond by the end of even a wet summer. His hands, surprisingly little for an offspinner, are boyish with square, clean nails. And they keep jumping around as he talks, Yorkshire-straight but with a grin. He is very competitive.
He joined Yorkshire as a schoolboy, was in their academy for two years and on the full staff for a couple more before leaving for Surrey, when they were becoming untouchable, as a 20-year-old. But, unable to secure a place, he moved again in 2002, this time to Worcestershire, where he caught the eyes of the England selectors after taking 56 wickets in his first year.
He played seven Tests and seven one-day internationals between 2002 and 2006, and toured Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and West Indies in 2003-04 as Ashley Giles's understudy. Batty thinks of himself as an allrounder, not an offspinner who bats. And he is desperate to regain his England place.
He grew up in Cullingworth, a mile from Haworth in West Yorkshire. The village lies between two hills, with a quarry at one end and a football field and a cricket pitch at the other. There were a few pubs, a cenotaph, and two village schools - "a proper village". And for all his voluble self-belief and sideline as a property developer, he is really a country boy. He now lives in Alfrick Pound, a village five miles out of Worcester, next to a nature reserve where otters and kingfishers thrive. His girlfriend Sarah lives in London and they commute to see each other; they celebrated his 30th birthday at the end of the season by watching Leeds Rhinos win the rugby league grand final at Old Trafford.
In 2006 he had made 744 runs and took 43 first-class wickets, and had worked in the close season on the one that goes the other way, as promoted Worcestershire prepared for life back in the first division.
If you start badly in four-day cricket it just grinds you and grinds you. We were in a bit of a slough: we kept losing the toss, the quick bowlers weren't taking early wickets. But just before the Twenty20s we were trying to pull round as a team. And then the floods came.
The water was six feet deep everywhere, and up into the changing rooms, where a few shirts were floating around. And then because we tried to get playing again sooner than nature intended there were some soggy areas where once there was grass. And an interesting smell - the boys had a few views on that.
We got a net at a club ground, but then that went. We played a game at the grammar school against Sri Lanka A, but then their ground was under water. I felt like going into a shop and building an ark; it was end-of-the-world stuff. It wouldn't have surprised me if the Malvern Hills had erupted.
We were coming to the ground waiting for something to happen for three weeks. There was just constant rain, and it got to the point when the groundstaff were on 24-hour rotation sat on the super-sopper.
The hardest thing was preparing to play every day when you knew deep down there wouldn't be any, but you didn't want to be caught on the hop. It was difficult to get prepared physically, because there were no nets. I think we are the only county without an indoor school, and that has to be addressed. We had such long periods without a net that we would play away games and people were running to them, and to have a go at the bowling machine. But the biggest thing was getting prepared mentally.
The decision to relocate was made very early after the second flood, which was really horrendous. When the water is on the ground it actually looks quite picturesque; then the water goes and it looks like the toilet after your worst-ever Friday night out. The silt and excrement were disgusting. We moaned, but there were people a heck of a lot worse off than just some cricketers who couldn't play.
We hadn't had a great start to the season anyway. Even before the floods, the practice facilities were quite wet and slow, and no one was able to find their rhythm - the batters were getting out six times a net and depressed, and the bowlers perhaps thought they were bowling better than they were, so were going into a game underprepared. I just kept trying to say to people, look, we haven't become a bad team overnight.
Against Warwickshire I bowled at about two an over for 40 overs and did okay, but I didn't bowl as well as I'd hoped against Yorkshire. There was a massive breeze coming into my face, which I didn't cope with very well. In the one-day stuff my wickets were classical, pitching off and taking leg. I felt pretty positive, but there was a little budgie saying you should be getting a few more runs while you are in form.
I'd waited five games to bowl last, and when we won the toss against Surrey I bowled as well as I ever have. But it is my job to get a result on the last day, and I didn't manage it. I felt responsibility for that extra wicket - that's what I'm paid for, and for a man who is quite proud that was a difficult pill to swallow. I felt very flat that night.
The England Lions was disappointing too. It rained and we only managed a Twenty20-type thing, which was personally disappointing because I perform better in the longer form and I had been very pleased to be called up.
|I didn't let myself think about the England winter tour because I'd been bitten before when I didn't go. That knocked me for six. I thought I was right in the mix for the longer stuff, though, and I'll be fighting like hell to put my name in the hat next summer|
Winning the Pro40 was pretty special, having been so close in previous years. We had an enjoyable evening afterwards, a boozy affair. The thing was, we'd won a trophy for the first time in 13 years, but at the end of the season we almost felt we'd let ourselves down, which shows the hunger of the players. Had we not done so well in that, I'm quite sure it would have been difficult to keep team spirit up as relegation loomed. We were in a bad position before the floods, and then we had two games totally washed out - no excuses, we might not have got any points anyway. But you would look around the dressing room and think, there is no way we should be in this position. If any of the lads thought we shouldn't go straight back up, I'd be very disappointed.
I think I am nearing my peak as a bowler, and I learned a lot this season as I ended up leading the attack with Kabir Ali. It was not my best year in terms of wickets, but it is harder when you're on the back foot and only bowling once in a game. It didn't help either that we lost the toss in 11 out of the 14 games we actually managed to play, and that a lot of catches went down. If you watched Sky Sports you would have seen me yelling when I just couldn't believe the ball had been dropped. It's something I shouldn't do, but I've just got a bee in my bonnet about fielding, that it is a respect thing. The doosra was nearly there but I injured a tendon in my arm which made it difficult. At Guildford I did some work with Harbhajan Singh and ironed out a few things, trying to bowl it a tiny bit different, a tiny bit higher. I'm ready to unleash it.
The pinnacle of my year was at Guildford too - Jeremy Lloyds was umpiring and he said "Ramps has been stood next to me all this over and he's been saying how difficult it is facing you and how under pressure he feels." That'll do me.
With the bat, I think I tried to smash it when we were in trouble, and I should have farmed the strike more. I batted down the order when Abdul Razzaq came, which was extremely frustrating - potentially Razzaq is not going to play for Worcester past this year and I'm an English bloke desperately trying to get back in the England team ... and don't get me started on Kolpak. I'm a bit of a patriot like that.
I didn't let myself think about the England winter tour because I'd been bitten before when I didn't go. That knocked me for six. I thought I was right in the mix for the longer stuff, though, and I'll be fighting like hell to put my name in the hat next summer.
Anyone who says they play county cricket and never have a game where they can't get up for it is lying. Sometimes I do it by picking someone to row with, but I'm the first one to share a beer or isotonic drink afterwards. I'm quite a bloke's bloke, I suppose. People who know me say I get quite fired up, but I'm quite good fun off the field. Other guys think "He's an idiot", but I'm not out there to make friends.
Everyone thinks they can bowl spin. When we play on a turning pitch everyone walks into the nets and bowls spin, and I'm just standing there saying, "What is that rubbish?" But it is getting increasingly difficult, and two of the main reasons are Warne and Murali. People are judged on two of the best spinners who will ever walk the planet, and it becomes blooming hard to get that bit of mystery or pressure. Batsmen are prepared to take you on more, the wickets are getting easier, and the grounds are getting smaller. We're pulling the ropes in for Twenty20s, but on a 50-yard boundary my mum can hit a six.
My home pitch is more seamer-friendly, so you learn to be forgotten for a few games. You have to bowl your overs, and if that means I take a bag of balls over to the nets and bowl by myself for an hour, I'll happily do that. You've got to be ready for the turning pitches when they come. I'm a big believer that if I work incredibly hard on the training ground, the big lady up there, lady cricket, will look after me.