Arguably the greatest ever (unsuccessful) hat-trick ball was that bowled by Ottis Gibson in the Friends Provident Trophy final at Lord's in August 2007, his last year as a professional cricketer. Durham, still trophy-less 16 years after moving up from the minor counties, had posted a daunting 312, though Hampshire would no doubt have fancied their chances, if only because they were captained by Shane Warne. And Warnie, as we know, believes anything is possible.
First ball of Hampshire's reply, the 38-year-old Gibson, eschewing the traditional loosener, is bang on the money, pitching on off, angling across Michael Lumb, who nicks to second slip: 0 for 1. In comes another leftie, Sean Ervine. Gibson bowls the same ball, gets the same result. 0 for 2 off 0.2 overs. Sensational.
Into the swelling catastrophe bounds Kevin Pietersen, barely having had time to neck his Red Bull. Lord's is abuzz. Hat-trick ball! Having waited for KP to attend to his rituals, Ottis steams in and bowls… a bouncer! And not even a straight bouncer. A high bouncer, two feet outside off! An ego-ball. A ball for KP, who, being KP, takes it on, mistiming a pull wide of mid-on. Just. A delivery of genius.
Gibson nailed Pietersen lbw in his fifth over, and at 17 for 3, that was pretty much that. He was voted Man of the Match and a few weeks later retired. Hampshire were probably sick of the sight of him, too. Four weeks earlier he had taken 10 for 47 in an innings, en route to 80 first-class wickets - second only to Mushtaq Ahmed, soon to be a colleague in Peter Moores' backroom team with England - and the PCA Player-of-the-Year award.
My first scoring shot, off Ottis, was a jab off my kidney to wide long leg. There were two, but as I turned back I involuntarily swung the bat violently a-starboard, cracking Ottis on the kneecap
I watched that opening over with my team-mates at Wollaton. I'd joined the previous year and, in idle pub chatter, while attempting to talk up my previous league, had named Ottis as the best seamer I'd faced. "Sharp, too." Seeing the old boy roar in and wang it through at 89-point-something mph was smugly gratifying.
Ottis arrived at Leek midway through the 1999 season, replacing a very ordinary leggie who went home with "a finger injury". My old club won a quadruple that year - yes, we partied like it was 1999 - although I had fractured my elbow in July. It's a long story, the moral of which appears to be: if you're going to try and break into your parents' house by jumping onto a wheelie bin, then over the roof and in through the back window because you've lost your keys after drunkenly celebrating 70-odd in a final and are too frightened to wake your father at 2am on a weeknight, despite being 26 years old, make sure said wheelie bin isn't totally empty. The Lord giveth…
First game back after injury was Leek, and my first scoring shot, off Ottis, a jab off my kidney to wide long leg. There were two, but as I turned back my flat studs didn't take and, involuntarily, I swung the bat violently a-starboard to stop myself doing the splits, cracking Ottis on the kneecap. He didn't look amused. I apologised ostentatiously - I think he nodded; I think in acknowledgement - then steeled myself for a retaliatory bouncer. It was a slowie. Of course. Still, I made 52, we won, and later I sought out Ottis in the bar. He was warm, generous and understanding about the knee-job. Next game, he bounced me first ball of the match then uprooted my off pole with the next.
Former team-mates at Leek laud his bowling nous. "He was a different bowler every week, depending on the wicket" recalls Jon Tweats. He was also a more than handy batsman, too, as chairman and captain Brian Mellor says. "When trying to hit sixes he actually used to aim for a tree 20 yards over the boundary. Nothing ever affected his confidence. He'd have a game plan, and if he got out for a duck, so what? He was still the same player with the same talent."
That confidence rubbed off on his team-mates, and after winning the County Cup in 2000 they did a treble in 2001. Although living in Lancashire and unable to practise, Ottis threw himself into the club's life. "He would often stay over in Leek to make sure we got off-the-pitch time with him," says Tweats. "Various lads put him up in our spare rooms. Despite having spent many nights in the best nightclubs and restaurants around the world, he still claims to this day that the best night of his life was spent in the Blue Mugge pub in Leek listening to town clown Kenny Scragg's stories."
And it was that down-to-earth approachability that Tweats remembers most fondly. "He played with many of the game's greats, but he didn't namedrop once and never spoke out of turn about anyone. The guy was a true gent." This humility was evident when speaking to Sky TV on the Chester-le-Street outfield in the aftermath of his ten-for. "The fella interviewing said, 'I bet you've never been involved in a game in which someone's taken all ten, let alone done it yourself.' He replied, 'I have, actually. I played with Ian Pearson at Leek CC and bowled my heart out at one end whilst he took all ten at the other!'"
Ottis clearly had a lot of cricket left in him, and after leaving Leek enjoyed two good years at Leicestershire - finishing leading wicket-taker both seasons - before two final, glorious summers up in Durham. I next chanced on him round the back of the old Trent Bridge pavilion in 2007, as he packed away his kit after a routine win. I said hello but he struggled to place me (the spread of midriff, desertification of scalp) until I mentioned playing against him at Leek. "Oh yeah," he said. "Moddershall. How are things up there?"
Five years later I bumped into him in the exact same place, only now he was West Indies head coach. I was writing, and that beaming smile had long since disappeared. Ground down by the politics, under fire from former greats in the punditariat and, without his IPL stars, he wore only an air of vexation and a thousand-yard stare. Buttonholing him for an interview seemed both cruel and futile.
It has been pleasing, then, to see that avuncular smile back on his face. Since his return to Team England last April, the fast-bowling group has looked potent, certainly in red-ball cricket: James Anderson has become England's all-time leading wicket-taker; Stuart Broad has reached No. 1 in the rankings; Ben Stokes' bowling is developing nicely, his Durham colleague Mark Wood has enjoyed a gallop, and Steve Finn is fast becoming the real deal.
Doubtless all are benefiting from Gibson's old-school streetwise knowledge. Indeed, it's tempting to use the post hoc, ergo propter hoc logic beloved of football pundits upon witnessing an unexpected second-half turnaround in fortunes and lay credit for England's fast-bowling transformation at the feet of the unassuming Bajan. "I don't know what he's said to them in there, but it's obviously worked…"