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“You are not a killer…”
Brian Cox’s Lear-esque Logan Roy is drawn to his son Kendall aboard a magnificent yacht somewhere off the south of France. The words come from his craggy, bullet-like features.
“You must be a killer.”
This passage from the end of series two of Succession, although central, prophetic and downright chilling for many reasons (no spoilers here) gnawed away by me after the first hour. Not because it revealed some latent patricidal feelings or because I could relate to being a blood sacrifice to cover up a corporate scandal, but in the cricketing sense.
Let me explain.
As a child I used to bowl with my left arm, an action that Paul Adams of South Africa, famously known as the “frog in a blender”, put at the height of orthodoxy. I looked strange, sure, but very important we could turn the ball, sometimes very much. To cut a long and painful story short, I had a growth spurt in my teenage years and my new height coupled with the aforementioned action led to a sort of adolescent mortification at my own bowling. This only got worse when I started to suffer from a version of the yips, which led to an anxious workout. To be able to “get out” was to escape without bowling into my own toes, dropping a pathetic beamer or (worst) physically not being able to drop the ball.
It wasn’t long before the ball stopped being thrown my way and I decided to “concentrate” on being a batter, but one embarrassment was to come at the end. I was asked to play in a tournament at the local club against a couple of touring sides in a spirited round-robin competition. In order to maximize time the format was 15 eight ball games.
It was the first day of the 2005 Edgbaston Test, when England scored 407 runs. I remember wanting to stay home and watch that instead of playing. Maybe my mind wasn’t right at first. A wine-drenched semi-pro New Zealand batsman put our seamers to the sword just as Strauss and Trescothick et al were doing the same in the Aussies 80 miles south. I was called.
The now familiar horror came to me while I was doing some cursory exercises. Eight balls are enough if things start to go wrong. The first ball came out fine, I didn’t give it a big rip but I remember a surge of relief when I saw the pitch. The New Zealand winemaker slapped it for a six over midwicket. Without difficulty. Worse than that, the ball went over the river that went around the ground, so someone else had to be found.
The second ball also went for a six, and the third, fourth, fifth and sixth. I went to get my cap from the umpire, planning to scoot out to the boundary to die as the call went round to see if at all more balls left to use. “You have two other boys” the referee did not come with the cap. Ah yes. Eight balls.
After an infinite delay, another ball was found. I decided on a wide and quick bowl, at least to make Mr. Chardonnay work for him. A “wide ball” called the umpire. Too wide. And again. At least the stream of six was stopped, although there were extras. I decided to bowl a seam-up. The batter went up for another almighty pull but it was clothed into the leg side for a single run. Mr. Chardonnay was now standing next to me and put his hand on my shoulder. I burned with anger and shame. Shrugging at him and trying in vain to see because I did not care. “You didn’t get to try that one you did…yet,” I said. The batter stopped me and smiled almost vaguely “Yeah, that was fun, buddy.” A killer, then.
A few years later, the bowling was well and truly gone, I was now a batter. I managed to get to 50 odd in a league game when a left-arm spinner came, a little younger than me but he didn’t care much. He fell short and I hit him for six. And again. Third ball he bowls a full toss and I bunted that for a six too. Three balls. Three six. The bowling wasn’t that good and I started to feel a bit ashamed, for the bowler but also for myself for enduring the six years. The next ball was bowled and instead of smearing it like the previous delivery I decided to hit it for a single and get out of the strike. Not a killer. I missed the ball and was bowled. Definitely not a killer.
That same year Yuvraj Singh hit Stuart Broad for a six in the first World T20. The clip resurfaced this month and Broad bowled the most expensive in Test history, Jasprit Bumrah, somewhat surprisingly, to be the man who inflicted the damage and plundered 35 runs from one over. Broad has recorded what the Singh has said since 2007 that he has no regrets or looks back on with negativity, adding that “I was probably the bowler today”. Although a little sloppy, Broad seemed to win the attack. He had just taken his 550th Test wicket before that, which probably helped.
Six,6,6,6,6,6. The ‘perfect’ over for a batsman but for a bowler it’s a double dose of the devil’s number. Only a handful of players in the game’s history have suffered that fate. Famously, Malcolm Nash was the first, at the hands of Garry Sobers at St Helen’s in Swansea. Ravi Shastri unleashed on Tilak Raj in 1985 and 22 years later he was in the commentary box to remove Yuvraj from Broad. It has yet to happen in Test Cricket but on the evidence of recent weeks it can only be a matter of time.
It’s a shame to be hit by so many runs from one run, of course, but there’s something about six-year-olds that binds batters and bowlers together, failure and glory forever proving them.
Sir Garfield Sobers eyes are misty, milk swirls in a glass of water. He is sitting, leaning a walking stick against his chair. He is impeccably dressed, suit, shirt, slacks. I scan his collar for any sign of the famous upward tilt, the cream-colored border antennae he famously sported, but today they are firmly starched in place.
Sir Garry is in his mid-80s. It is a challenge to reckon this small, gray man with the cricketing universe that Bradman called the greatest cricketer the world has ever seen. Maker of 8,032 Test runs, taker of 235 Test wickets, electric fielder with lightning arms. The kid who made his Test debut aged 17 and 21 turned his maiden Test century into a hat trick – breaking Len Hutton’s 20-year-old record for the highest score in a Test match, Sabina Park, venue 365 imperialist run against Pakistan i. 1958.
He is in London to promote a new charity – the Sir Garry Sobers Foundation. A few minutes of his time have been given to the media gathering in a hotel room before some formalities and speeches.
I want to ask him about the sixteen years. I mention this to another older and more experienced cricket writer as we wait to go in and they give me a bit of a pep talk, suggesting that he has all he has to say on that superb cameo at Swansea and his might be interfering with the subject, after all Sobers once said: “Sometimes I wish I didn’t do it … everywhere I go, all I hear is ‘tell us about the six years old.'”
Still, I won’t get the chance again. At the end of the questions and with everyone packing away, I go for it. In tears, doing it for the teenagers, me and any other bowler who was on the wrong side of a six shell.
“Mr Garry, I have one last question, if you don’t mind … as a bowler yourself I wonder if you ever felt sorry for Malcolm Nash at any time during the six years or so?”
He looks up at me with his eyes flickering, that iconic gap-toothed smile. “Not really, he wouldn’t be sorry if he knocked my stumps off the ground!”
He slaps his thigh and chuckles.
“Did you feel connected to him, like you were somehow brought together like that?”
His partner, Jackie White, follows in. She tells me that a few years ago when Nash published his book, Not Only, But Also, he wanted Sir Garry to sign a copy for him. He drove from Wales to London and the two men met up, shared a drink or two and made memories. Three months later Nash died.
“It’s a good memory” said Sir Garry, “But I never felt sorry for Malcolm, and he didn’t want me to.”
With thanks to the Sir Garry Sobers Foundation, which has changed the life paths of young people around the world. More information: https://sirgarrysobers.org