I left England for Perth on New Year's Day to join the Neil `Noddy' Holder Professional Cricketers Training Programme and to play the second half of the season for local Grade I club, Hammersley. Also in attendance is Nicky Peng of Durham and, recently, Pete Trego, ex-Somerset and now with Kent.
I have daily, for an hour, one-to-one batting coaching sessions with Noddy Holder, who is the main batting coach for Western Australia and the personal coach of Justin Langer. I have bowling coaching from Matt Nicholson, the Western Australia and ex-Australian Test fast bowler, who is looking into every aspect of my bowling action with a view to helping me to bowl quicker without losing the ability to move the ball. I am also having fielding training with Stewart Kerpennen, who also plays for Western Australia and is the `local Jonty Rhodes'. Therefore, I am working with people who are at the very top of the game.
Often, nets start at 7.30 am because, by lunchtime, it is too hot for there to be any meaningful training. Last week, the temperature peaked at 42 degrees, which is ridiculous! I am also doing daily fitness workout with Matt Nicholson, who is a qualified sports trainer with, like myself, a degree in Sports Science. This consists of 3km runs along the beach, sprinting up sand dunes, 2 km swims and gym work. Also, sometimes we go to the local Scarborough Cricket Club where Mat will layout a `circuit' or to do repetitive 400m runs. One day when he was feeling particularly mean, he took us to a local landmark known as `The Stairs' which are 120 concrete steps going up a hillside. We had to sprint up the stairs and be timed. Ever since Noddy has had his academy, the record has been 18 seconds and, although it may be hard to believe, I actually returned 17 seconds on my first attempt. With us on that day was an Australian challenged me to a re-run. Again, I clocked 17 seconds while she returned 17.1 seconds and so some of this training must be working!
Recently, I also did some schoolboy coaching at a local public school with Messrs Justin Langer, Doug Walters, Barry Richards, Rodney Hogg and Bob Massey! In such company, whoever was in my group drew the short straw! The coaching was over three days and it was a wonderful experience to be with such cricket legends. In fact, I had met Justin Langer about a week earlier at Scarborough Cricket Club when he told me that he was "looking forward" to doing the coaching with me. At the time, he had consumed a couple of beers, been fielding in around 38 degrees and so I had no way of knowing whether or not he was serious.
When I first came out here, I had a stiff back courtesy of falling over while on a training run across Painswick Beacon just before departure. This meant that my early bowling was off no more than 10 yards by order. Happily, this has now cleared up and last Saturday I wound it up for the first time, much to the delight of my team-mates as there was a good carry on the pitch and the wicket keeper was taking most of the balls head-high. It now remains to be seen how it goes in the remaining weeks while I am out here.
Grade I cricket is a good standard and played in a fiercely competitive way. However, there is no `sledging' as everyone can play at that standard and so everyone has respect for the ability of the other players. There are a considerable number of `Grades' to cricket out here so that, more or less, everyone can find a level to play at. This is in marked contrast to most Club cricket in England where virtually every side will contain one or more players who are not at the standard of the rest. The grounds are very large but often used for Aussie Rules in the winter and so the outfields are uneven. Some of the wickets have left a great deal to be desired and so batting has not been easy. The Australians do not complain and they simply get on with it. A sight screen is also a rarity and in our first game, there was no pavilion either! In fact, that game remains in the memory for a number of reasons. First, both sides bring three stumps and a ball. I wish someone had told our skipper, as we turned up with two stumps and no ball!
Secondly, because there was no pavilion, we had to change under the trees where I left my kit bag containing the sandwiches I was also asked to bring to contribute towards the tea. At tea time, I discovered that my kit bag was FULL of ants who had invaded all my kit and had my sandwiches away. Thirdly, my first three balls in Australia. The opposition had a well-known local batsman who was already averaging above 60 for the season so far. My first ball hit him full amidships and we all stood around for five minutes while he recovered! My second ball saw him glove it to the keeper, where a large appeal was rejected by the umpire only for the batsman to claim, "Jeez, I gloved that" and he proceeded to walk. I did not know there was such a thing as a walking Australian opener. My third ball saw their next best batsman play all round a straight one and depart lbw. Their two best batsmen were in the pavilion, or at least they would have been had there been one.
Unfortunately, my team were bottom of the league on arrival and we have stayed there. A promotion to Grade I from Grade II has coincided with the departure of about half the team and so they are in the process of rebuilding. Have batted in three matches and so far have scored 22, 24 and 10 & 40. The third game was played on a `shocker' of a pitch that had not been rolled due to mechanical breakdown and the ball was moving everywhere. We scored 80 and 124 and the opposition scored 83 and 126-9. My 40 in the second innings took 3.5 hours and I took 18 overs to get off the mark! Part of my recent batting coaching with Noddy has focussed on concentration at the wicket and selling one's wickets dearly. I thought I would put the theory to practice and I can assure you that that particular innings bored everybody rigid. However, in the context of the game, it nearly won the match because my team proceeded to drop four catches (two in the last over before the winning run was scored) and so we should have won.
The only other thing of note was, the other week, I was asked for $20 on entering my club on the grounds that a 100 Club Draw was no good with 99 balls. I paid the money happily, thinking I was contributing towards Club funds, only to find that my last-minute purchase scooped the top prize of $600. I love taking money from Australians.