Nicholas Hogg

Got a good arm?

Enjoy it while it lasts. Once you're past 40, you'll be down to all kinds of subterfuge to make up for its loss of prowess

Nicholas Hogg
Nicholas Hogg
Graham Onions throws, running out Jeetan Patel, Warwickshire v Durham, County Championship, Division One, Edgbaston, May 18, 2015

Go on, then  •  Getty Images

Okay. You're the wrong side of 40, but you can still bat, as the wisdom of the willow blade is greater than the dumb speed of that teenage opening bowler, the unthinking tearaway who roars in and tries to knock your head off - which is fine, as you repeatedly glide him to the rope. Even your flighted twirlers, interspersed with a well-disguised quicker, flatter ball, can draw that same impetuous youth out of his crease. Perhaps your fielding skills aren't what they used to be, and it's been years since anyone called you "the panther", but if the ball is airborne and within your reach (non-diving, of course, because there's a silent pact among golden-club players that has decreed that diving beyond the age of 40 is both unnecessary and undignified) a steady eye and a safe pair of hands will take the catch. All in all, you're pretty good cricketer for your age.
Except you can't throw.
Having a "good arm" is just nostalgia. I can cope with the adjustments of no longer trying to bowl fast, and look forward to learning the craft of spin as my body slows down and I rely more on brain than brawn. But how I'd love to throw a screamer in to the wicket just one more time. Hear again that crack of ball on leather as the keeper pouches a perfect rocket that zeroed on target. Or better still, that one-bounce direct hit that lifts a stump clean out of the pitch, when the flailing batsman doesn't even turn around to watch the umpire raise his finger because he knows the cool marksmanship of your throw has taken his wicket.
As a boy I loved throwing. Not just cricket balls at stumps but pretty much anything at anything - stones into lakes, rivers and canals; snowballs at other kids; sticks into chestnut trees in autumn to knock down the best conker; and yes, I confess, occasionally the odd rock through a factory window.
Boys throwing stones is a natural state of being. Launching a missile at something is a primal skill. No sabre-toothed tiger within your throwing range will attack while you have a spear in your hand. And so the batsman, at any level of cricket, eyes the elasticity and power of the cocked arm when the decision for that run must be made.
In the gentle village cricket I now play, when I'm at the crease and scanning the field, I'm looking at those withered biceps and triceps that don't look like they'll fire a red tracer round into my stumps. The batter with nous will quickly identify the weak arm, and that gentle push through the ring for a single turns into a two, even though you start the second when the ball is in the hand.
And also be cautious of the West Indian "bowl in" to the stumps, a la Curtly Ambrose or Courtney Walsh, from fine leg
However, beware the old codger who has somehow kept his throw. Perhaps these ancient warhorses, men in their sixties who can still lob a ball from boundary rope to bail, have bargained with the devil. A good arm at 60 defies biology, and logic, hence the stranded batsman who gambled that extra run, thinking he could safely amble into the crease as the pensioner-powered ball was rolling onto the square.
And also be cautious of the West Indian "bowl in" to the stumps, a la Curtly Ambrose or Courtney Walsh, from fine leg, which although it doesn't have the swift agility of a pick-up-and-whip back to the wicket, does have distance. Last season I "bowled" a runner out when fielding at square leg; even though my return started wide, my natural outswing action brought it miraculously back in line and clipped the timbers.
For those with underpowered arms, who don't want to embarrass themselves with the underarm return, there is another option: the bluff. The key to this is to never let the opposition know that you can't throw any further than your five-year-old son. The bluff works by faking you still have a bullet left in your arm. When the ball rolls your way, simply pick up and load, and never actually fire. Wait with the ball in hand and threaten to throw down the stumps at any moment. Your fellow fielders are integral actors in the bluff as their shouts of "Not on your arm" enhance the decoy performance of muscular posturing. Once the batsmen have backed out of the run, you then nonchalantly toss the cherry round the field and back to the bowler, never revealing that your gun is loaded with blanks.
At our best we can beat our bodily failings with creativity and intellect. And perhaps the "boundary relay", whereby a line of non-throwers ferries the ball along a chain of lobs back to the wicket, is an example of adaption, as well as a little comedy. Still, a powerful throw is a symbol of raw masculinity, of the providing hunter, and when the kit manufacturers develop a bionic limb for fading fielders, I might trade in my old throw for an all-new bullet arm.

Nicholas Hogg is a co-founder of the Authors Cricket Club. His third novel, TOKYO, is out now. @nicholas_hogg