The Voice in your Community
February 3rd 2021, Issue 103
I have played for Stafford Cricket Club for 5 separate decades and at the age of 50 I was back as the leading wicket taker in Stafford’s First team last season. With 819 League wickets only Greg Willott and Dan Colclough have more wickets in the history of the North Staffordshire and South Cheshire League. This season will be my 36th season in a row playing first or second team cricket.
Now in my early days of second team and junior cricket, I had faced some good cricketers, but never really come across anyone with genuine pace. I should also explain in the late 1980’s, there were no helmets in club cricket, those were only used by Professional cricketers. We were lucky to just be able to afford a bat. To avoid being hit in the face, you had to duck or get your glove in front of your teeth and nose. If you did get hit in the face you would be brought out a glass of water and then you had to just get on with it.
My first experience of real frightening pace, came against Stone under 18’s. In their ranks they had a tall blond-haired bowler, called David Boden. Now Boden was no ordinary junior cricketer. At 17 he was tall and muscular, he looked like a man playing with a load of scrawny kids. A few years he was good enough to become a first-class cricketer for Essex and Gloucestershire. Now Boden was fast, graveyard fast, although unfortunately I was not aware of this when I first came across him. At 17 you have no respect for your mortality, and I remember Boden walking in with a huge cricket coffin with his name and Staffordshire emblazoned on it. Now at Stafford we had two small changing rooms for the away team, Boden took one to himself, although to be fair he probably had more kit individually than we had as a team. I looked at him and uttered the words that I would later regret, “Who does this big nosed joker think he is.” Saying this loud enough so that he could hear. He looked back at me menacingly, and something told me it was possibly a mistake.
We fielded first and Boden came in at 3, looking like a professional with all his sponsored matching gear. The first over he faced, he smashed one into midwicket where I was fielding. I ran in and dived taking a good one-handed catch. To say I was excited was an understatement. Now if Boden was unsure who it was that had caught him out, I may have said “On your way big nose.” Boden stopped and glared at me again before walking off. One of our players turned to me and said “Don’t worry I have heard he is not that quick.” We ended bowling out Stone for 90, we strode off with our heads held high, thinking an easy victory was on the cards.
In reply I was padded up at number 4 and I sat down to watch our two openers. Boden marked his run up, stopping just before the site screen. I thought he was dropping something off the pitch, but no he was actually starting his run up there. Our skipper Steve Richardson was taking the first ball and I had every confidence in him, he was by far our best batsman and had made it into the first team. Boden sprinted and unleashed what I can only describe as a thunderbolt. Steve tried to play a shot, but he was way too late, all you could see was the stump cartwheeling out of the ground. In unison we all gasped, this was something we had never seen before. Our number three batsman lasted a little longer, but soon I was in. As I walked slowly to the wicket, I hoped he wouldn’t remember that I had given him a send-off.
Boden greeted me with the welcome line “I am going to kill you fat boy.”. At this point I may have regretted calling him a big nose. Boden went back to his mark and sprinted in, it seemed to take an eternity for him to get to the crease, then boom. I saw the ball bounce, but it was too quick for me to react with my bat. I felt the wind of the ball, as it whizzed past my nose and then the sound of it thudding into the wicket keepers’ gloves. If the ball had been a couple of inches closer, my whole face would have been rearranged, with no grill or helmet to save me.
Boden strode down the wicket, no doubt noticing that my face had now become as white as my trousers. He smiled and then said “you’re a dead man” All the Stone players started laughing, I didn’t see the funny side, but there was nothing I could say, I had created my own nightmare. For the next ball I will be honest on that I was standing closer to the leg side umpire than the stumps.
The next ball was full, and the stumps went cartwheeling again. I turned and walked off quickly, words of abuse whistling in my ear. We were eventually bowled out for 43, with Boden getting 7 wickets. I shook his hand at the end, he smiled at me, knowing that he had taught me a valuable lesson. Abusing fast bowlers before they bowl at you, was probably not my finest idea.
Being a good fielder and having a sound defensive batting technique, meant I was soon playing some games in the first team. This was an incredible step up, as every team had at least one Professional player, supplemented by a few cash in hand players, who were supposedly Amateurs. All the Professionals were either current or ex First-class players, with the majority being young overseas players, looking to make a name in the game. In my first game we faced Burslem, they had a Pakistani pro called Sibtain Haider. Haider was fresh from playing one day international cricket for Pakistan, so as you can imagine he was seriously good. I came in at number 9, with Haider in his second spell and charging in. Batting at the other end was our Professional Nasir Chugtai. Now Chugtai was an ex first class player himself, but he was now in his early 40’s, overweight and someone not keen on overexerting himself. There was however no doubt that he was a seriously talented cricketer. He would never score at a quick pace, but inevitably would be 70 not out at the end. He would also bowl little in swingers from a two-yard run up, getting lots of wickets. He would not be one of the Professional’s that everyone would talk about, but come the end of the season, he would end up with over 800 runs and 50 wickets. Chugtai lived in London and got the train in every Saturday. He would play the game, have a glass of Coke and he was off to catch the train home. We had Chugtai for 5 years altogether, the last two of which we couldn’t afford to pay him. He ended up playing for nothing, the cricket Visa we got for him, allowed him to stay in the Country for 5 months and he could then work freely in London. This was a great coup for us, and I remember being excited when I walked into bat with our Pro for the first time. I expected some words of wisdom, but all I got was “I call the runs, you go when I say.” Luckily, I wasn’t facing Haider and I negotiated my first over with ease. I then went over to Chugtai, in between overs and said “I am not very good against Pace; you take the Pro and I will hang around the other end.” Chugtai nodded. Haider strolled in off a short run up which made you think he was a gentle medium pacer, however at the crease, he had a long slingy action that generated significant pace from the pitch, making his short ball extremely hard to pick up.
The first ball of the over to Chugtai flew up towards his throat, but the old man made it look easy as he got behind the ball, dropping it down onto the pitch. As I was taking in just how quick that ball was, I saw Chugtai running down the wicket towards me. I couldn’t believe it, but he was too far up the wicket to turn back. For me to run out the Pro was a crime that was just not worth thinking about. I sprinted off and should have been out by 5 yards, but the fielder missed the stumps. The relief on not being out was suddenly replaced with the realisation that our Pro had given me the strike against their International fast bowler for 5 balls. The first ball was full, and I somehow managed to squirt it into the legside where there was no fielder. “One “I shouted. Chugtai though was sat on his bat saying “ no run”. If I thought this was a one off I was wrong, for the next few overs I was left facing the Fast Bowling pro, whilst Chugtai happily smashed the bowling at the other end. I remember gloving one ball off Haider in front of my face, it flew down to the legside boundary for 4. It nearly broke my hand, but at least I could say I had hit an international bowler for 4 runs. Haider eventually got me out, but my debut had heralded 11 runs, if this was to be my only first team appearance, I had not disgraced myself. I wasn’t so impressed with the protection and running of Nasir Chugtai, although he finished on 80 not out...
Sibtain Haider married a local girl from Stoke on Trent and at 56 years of age is still playing cricket in the same league. We cross paths every year, mainly in second team cricket now. I tell the younger players, here before you is an ex international fast bowler, a man who bowled like the wind and shared a dressing room with Imran Khan and Javid Miandad. That mainly goes over their heads, they are much more interested in his current day job as a master Pizza maker for Dominos. Sibtain always digs us out a few vouchers for us and everyone is happy. His old mate Imran is now President of Pakistan.
Now the first team captain when I made my debut was Andrew Dobson, he was in his mid-20’s, six foot four and a magnificent all-round athlete. He also played Football and Rugby to a high level and probably should have made a living out of sport. He would come in and smash 6 balls to the boundary and then get out, patience wasn’t his greatest asset and you would hear his bat being thrown across the dressing room. Dobson could also bowl quickly, although somewhat erratically. No-one was keen to face him in the nets as he loved bowling bouncers.
Andrew was a Mental Health Nurse and I think this came in useful for dealing with some of the very diverse personalities at the club. We all loved playing for “Dobbo as we called him, I even remember getting a call from him the day before one of my GCSE exams. “Billy, we need you tonight for a cup game. “No can do I replied. “I have my History exam tomorrow. Dobbo replied. “History - what a rubbish subject that is - don’t worry about that.” History was my favourite and best subject, so I again declined. Dobbo had one more card to play. “You can bat 5 and open the bowling, how does that sound. “I thought for a moment and then said. “Okay see you in 20 minutes.” I still blame him for only getting a C in History. Also, in the team was his brother Malcolm, height wise he was only 5ft 5 inches, but was very aggressive and ultra-competitive. Malcolm did not need much provocation to lose his temper and Andrew was always having to calm him down. We called him Little Dobbo, but never to his face. Playing Sunday league football with both Dobson’s in the winter was again always entertaining. A number of matches would have an interlude of a 10-man brawl, mostly started by little Dobbo and ended by big Dobbo. He was a strong of an ox and not someone you wanted to fight.
Our star young batsman was Jason Revill, he had spent his formative years in South Africa, and he had a classical coached technique that we were all jealous off. He was soon racking up runs in our first team and he got selected to play for Staffordshire Under 19’s. I didn’t enjoy batting with Jason, simply because you were very lucky to ever face a ball, he was the master at farming the strike. The 5th or 6th ball of the over was always a 1 and then Jason would be back on strike for the next over. Jason though was very funny, and we enjoyed travelling round to watch him in various county matches. Jason also had trials with a number of first-class counties, his downfall however was his liking for Benson and Hedges and Lager. Fitness was not his strongpoint, and this probably stopped him becoming a full-time player. He did however become a paid club player and was part of the all-conquering Cannock team that won the Birmingham Premier league. Kevin Peterson the Cannock Overseas player at the time was another one who would moan about Revill nicking the strike.
As his day job Jason ended up as a Painter and Decorator for a local firm. He occasionally would do work for members of the cricket club. Simon Bonney one of our second team players, commissioned Jason to paint his downstairs living room. They agreed a price and Jason arranged to meet Simon at his house at 8am the next morning. Jason turned up on time, however looking worse for wear from the previous night’s heavy drinking session. Simon showed Jason around and said he would be back at Lunchtime to see how he was getting on. A few hours later Simon returned, but there was no sign of Jason and the living room wall had barely been touched; his van however was still outside. Simon wondered what had happened, he went upstairs and there he found Jason, fast asleep in his bed. After he woke up, he apparently did a great job on Simon’s living room. Jason went grey when he was 25, this didn’t seem to affect his pulling power as he always seemed to have a good-looking girlfriend in tow. Jason never owned a house and was happy being a nomad. Any girl that got too serious with Jason would get their marching orders. At 45 he lived the same life as he had at 25. He would still play cricket and occasionally roll back the years with a brilliant century. At 48 he had one last great night out at the local pub, regaling everyone with his stories and funny tales. Then during the night, he slipped away without a fuss, an undetected heart condition that could have taken him at any time. His funeral was packed with people who had shared much fun with him over the years. We raised a glass and reminisced about the boy who always made us smile. If there is a game up in Heaven, he will be there with Big Dobbo, who we also lost way to early. Jason of course will be nicking the strike.