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Indian Net Bowling

Comment and Analysis | 27th May 2010

Prior to my recent move down south, I was required to take stock of my worldly belongings – nearly twenty years of accumulated tat (in some people’s eyes) and paraphernalia. It existed everywhere:  at my parents’ home; at my lodgings and even (as my former colleagues at Trent Bridge will testify) in my office.

Some of the items, however, brought a surge of memories flooding back from my formative years and experiences at Trent Bridge.

I first started attending the ground as an eleven year old but did not watch my first Test Match until the following summer, when in 1994, England took on New Zealand in the first Test Match at the start of June. On the first morning, whilst loitering around the pavilion waiting for the players to arrive, I was approached by a middle-aged man with a huge camera in his hand. He asked if I wouldn’t mind having my photo taken for the Evening Post with the bearded man who was standing a couple of feet away. As a fairly camera-shy, dentally challenged (I had braces) twelve year old, I had some initial misgivings but finally relented. The man in question was a cross between Captain Birdseye and Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses – he was huge with a ridiculously festive white beard.

“Can you sign an autograph for the young man?” directed the photographer.

Captain Albert grabbed my biro and proceeded to deface my pristine England team sheet with his scrawl. My face dropped. The old fool had just ruined my previous hour and a half’s efforts undermining the fluent and legible signatures of Alec Stewart, Graeme Hick etc (although his was a clear improvement of that of Graham Gooch’s spider-like scribble). I cast a derisory stare at the photographer – this was his fault. He didn’t really pick up on my annoyance:

“Can we try that again? Can you smile this time please son?”

I feigned a smile (exposing my train-tracks) and then asked the photographer when the picture would be being published. He said that afternoon. I wandered off to find Dad and tell him what had just happened. He asked to look at the signature. “That’s Godfrey Evans!” he exclaimed.

“Who?” I replied, genuinely baffled that anybody with a pulse could possess such a stupid name. It was the nineties, after all.

Dad proceeded to tell me about his exploits as one of England’s most famous post-war wicket-keepers, playing nearly a hundred Test Matches. “He’s still ruined my sheet”, I argued.

That afternoon, I went and bought a copy of the Post to find my ugly mug and to my horror found that instead of being hidden away on page 23 as I had expected to be, the picture was emblazoned across the front page (this was back in the day when it was broadsheet format). I was mortified that the whole of Nottingham (by which I primarily meant my mates at school) would see my braces, my appalling hair and my confusion at having to stand next to a man who clearly should have been off selling fish fingers. The mocking only lasted a week so I got off fairly lightly. Just to make it worse, Dad bought the original and had it framed for my bedroom. Great!

Stuart Williams was genuinely bemused by my efforts to bowl a medium-paced leg-spinner that nearly ended up on the roof of the net.

The following summer, the West Indies were the tourists and along with a group of mates, we spent the two practice days watching Lara, Ambrose and Walsh all training in the nets down by the William Clarke Stand. The first morning set the relaxed tone of the proceedings when the Windies arrived at the Dixon Gates and Brian Lara asked me if I could carry his coffin up to the changing room for him. This was crazy! Of course I would.

He probably soon regretted asking a teenager of lamentable build to carry out such a task when I dropped the coffin down the dressing room stairs and nearly took out a couple of his team-mates at the bottom in the process. Trust me, if you want the definition of fear (at any age) it is daunting prospect of having to apologise to Curtly Ambrose (a man whose height alone can cause palpitations) for nearly crippling them. He merely uttered some strong language in my direction and then, sensing my vulnerability, just discharged that famous smile as if to say ‘just playing with you, man!’

We even got the chance to have a bowl at them at one point (anybody who’s ever seen my attempts to turn my arm over will be able to appreciate the absurdity of that situation, the action once described by Eddie Burke as possessing ‘too many variables’), with opener Stuart Williams genuinely bemused by my efforts to bowl a medium-paced leg-spinner that nearly ended up on the roof of the said net. Oh well, at least I’ve remained consistent over the last fifteen years.

The whole team were happy to sign items for us and I still remember that summer fondly even now. Similar experiences would be rare in today’s culture of enhanced security and more professional training regimes (although with people like me around to bowl at you, tourists should count their blessings!).

Space (and girlfriend) has dictated that some of my less important items be shown the door, but I have to say that as ruthless as I have tried to be, I am still a sentimental type at heart. The prospect of being deprived the privilege of boring my grandkids with countless stories similar to these is just too much to give up in return for selling the lot at this fairly early stage of my life.

Alex Picker is a freelance author and blogger.

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