The pressure of the big occasion affects cricketers of all standards, from the Test to the village player. For some, the extra adrenalin leads to performances that are above normal. For others, it can shred confidence and leave the victim almost paralysed in fear. In the case of Scott Boswell, his nerves caused him to fall apart in spectacular style, in front of a full house at Lord's and millions more watching on TV.
Boswell's nightmare came at the start of the 2001 C&G Trophy final between Leicestershire and Somerset. A tall fast-medium bowler, he had struggled to make his mark in county cricket with Northamptonshire, moved to Grace Road in 1999, and in 2001 he was an ever-present in the county's one-day side, although he failed to make much impression in the first-class game.
However, in the semi-final he all but booked Leicestershire a place at Lord's when he grabbed a career-best 4 for 44 to reduce Lancashire to 60 for 6, and all four victims were England players - Michael Atherton, Neil Fairbrother, Andrew Flintoff and Graham Lloyd. Ominously, The Times noted despite his success "he could not control his line or his away swing".
The main question in the build-up to the game was whether Boswell or the veteran Devon Malcolm would be Jimmy Ormond's new-ball partner. "It's a very difficult decision because Scott has played in just about every match," Jack Birkenshaw, Leicestershire's manager, admitted on the eve of the final. "He did exceptionally well in the semi-final and has done a good job for us." However, in the four one-day games since then, Boswell had been unimpressive, and six days earlier his five overs in a National League match, also against Somerset, had gone for 35.
"When it comes to the big games, though, you just think about Devon and Lord's on the big stage and he might be able to give us an important couple of wickets with the new ball," Birkenshaw added. "Devon can still bowl magic balls even now and it's going to be a very important decision to make." In the end, Malcolm lost out.
Boswell's action was chest-on with a hint of a round-arm delivery. From a coaching perspective it was not ideal. When his nerves got the better of him, he had, The Cricketer observed, "little in the way of technique to fall back on."
On a sunny September morning, Somerset won the toss and chose to bat. Ormond's first over was uneventful, but Boswell, opening from the Pavilion End, struggled for any kind of rhythm and appeared unable to adjust to the Lord's slope. Nine runs, including one wide and two sumptuous cover-driven fours, hinted all was not well.
The wheels really came off in his second over, a nightmare which lasted 14 balls as Boswell, sweat flooding from his forehead, lost even the basics of line and length in the biggest game of his life.
Six of the first eight balls, including five in a row, were wides. "However hard he tried he could not get the damn thing to land on the cut strip," wrote Vic Marks in The Guardian, while as early as the fifth ball, Ian Botham, commentating for Sky Sports dryly noted that "this could be a very long over". He didn't know the half of it.
In a desperate attempt to change his luck, Boswell switched to round the wicket, but in doing so he lost his run-up as well. His walk back to his mark grew ever quicker as he seemed to just want his humiliation to end, but George Sharp, the umpire, was in no mood for charity. Had Marcus Trescothick not stretched to crack a four off a full-toss that Sharp would not have passed, then the over would have been even longer. As it was, each wide was cruelly greeted with cheers from the crowd who had not expected such fun so early on.
Nor were Boswell's team-mates quick to come forward to offer support. Vince Wells, Leicestershire's captain, eventually chugged up to mid-off to try to offer some advice, while Phil Defreitas, the most experienced player in the side, could barely hide his guffaws. "Even if someone had suggested he aim at the square-leg umpire, it might have helped," quipped The Cricketer.
The over finally finished and Boswell retired to third man and more jeers. He had figures of 0 for 23 from two overs including no fewer than nine wides. Unsurprisingly, Wells took him out of the attack.
But Boswell's wretched day was not over. His confidence seemingly shot, he misfired a number of times on the boundary. "The Somerset batsmen sensed blood and started stealing twos to him down at third man," Marks said. "Once he dived despairingly in an attempt to prevent a boundary. All he did was gouge out a huge chunk of turf, leaving a hole that was not quite big enough to swallow him up." Had the ground done so , The Cricketer concluded, "he would probably have been belched back up again shortly afterwards".
Leicestershire went on to lose the final by 41 runs, and it was almost inevitable that the final act of the game was when Boswell lost his off stump. And what of Malcolm, the man who missed out? He picked up £7500 at the Nursery End for winning the a challenge for the fastest delivery in the trophy. Malcolm, 38, recorded a speed of 89.5mph.
Boswell's season was not quite finished. Two weeks later, Leicestershire played their final National League game of the year and he was recalled. A month earlier, the county had seemed destined to win the competition at a canter, but their form had fallen away dramatically. A win against Nottinghamshire would have been enough, but they lost by five wickets. And Boswell? He bowled one over before breaking down with a calf strain. It went for 18 runs and included two wides. He hobbled off Trent Bridge and out of professional cricket.
Nine days later, Birkinshaw announced that Boswell's contract would not be renewed, but he denied that the Lord's final had anything to do with the decision. "Scott became a fairly important member of our one-day side," he said. "But it was felt he would not break into the four-day side and he's accepted that. He's a nice lad and he will do well wherever he goes."
No other offer came and he returned to league cricket and a career in teaching.
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The Cricketer October 2001
Wisden Cricket Monthly October 2001
The Cricketer October 2001
Wisden Cricket Monthly October 2001