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Deep Cover: ‘He would go berserk’ – our secret cricketer on temperamental stars

by Deep Cover 4 minute read

Our secret cricketer on how to deal with the most tempestuous talents in the game

In my early days I played with an overseas bowler who was coming to the end of his career and it was pretty obvious that he didn’t like playing cricket. If the pitch was flat or the game was going nowhere he’d shout up to the balcony, “Bring me my flats!”, and the 12th man would have to run down with the bowler’s trainers, and he’d change into them there and then. It was a message to our captain that he’d had enough, that he wasn’t bowling again for the rest of the day. I remember thinking, ‘This is top-level cricket – do people get away with this?’. The answer is yes, they do.

There are all sorts of tensions bubbling away in cricket clubs, and never more so than out in the middle, when sledges threaten to turn into something worse. There’s one lad on the circuit, a former England player who’s still plying his trade in the game, who just can’t stop dishing it out. It’s pretty incessant, and it’s weird, because he’s so genial off the field. He was good mates with a former teammate of mine – and I remember once that it all went off in a big way between them. They had a massive blow-up in the middle of the pitch, finger-stabbing, screaming the place down, and at one point we had to separate them. But then by that evening they’re sitting in the bar chatting away, asking after each other’s girlfriends.

That teammate of mine who stood up to him was fiery enough. He was a top-order batter and a senior pro, and I remember he got out once, staggered back into the changing room, took all of his kit off and frogmarched his pads, gloves and bat across the room and chucked them all in the big bin by the door. Then he stood there in the middle of the room, fully naked, and declared that if anyone went and touched his ****ing kit, there’d be ****ing hell to pay. He sat down, chuntering away to himself. Then about 10 minutes later after he’d calmed down, he went over to the bin and sheepishly removed his kit! Obviously as soon as he did that everyone started cracking up.

It’s a good story because it shows on the one hand how uptight county cricketers can be, and how close to failure they often feel that they are; but on the other hand, it shows how your teammates protect you from taking it too seriously and letting it get on top of you. It’s a serious business, and you need to give people space to offload their emotions, but then once it’s settled down, you take the mickey out of them all the more. We call them ‘gorillas’, those players who try to tear the walls down when they’ve got out.

In that team we had a few youngsters, a few Kolpaks, and a bunch of guys who were never going to go anywhere with their career and were treating it just as a job. So it was a weird mix of people. A lot of strong and fiery characters. But it was also great fun. We had a group of about a dozen people that was as close as any team I’ve ever known. We had a couple of players who could have left to go on to bigger things, but they were just happy being good people and mixing in a close-knit group.

I remember being in a changing room at another club, and two of our senior players were very close friends. They’d grown up together, their families were close, they lived near each other, and one day they went at each other in the dressing room. They were squaring up to each other, it was all about a bowling plan to a certain batter, but it got well out of hand. Finally it died down, and the coach said, ‘OK, are you done?’ Then of course they carried it on, just for the hell of it. Shouting and swearing, questioning the other one’s right to wear the shirt. Eventually we get on the team bus, and they always sit next to each other, and this time I’m opposite them, dreading what’s coming next. And one of them turns to the other and says, “So, what time are you and the family coming over on Sunday?”

It’s not always funny though. I once played with an opening bowler who was hard work. If a fielder dropped a catch off him he would go berserk at them, which of course increases the chances of them dropping another. But he would take it personally, and he wouldn’t talk to them for the rest of the game. He believed that they were dropping them on purpose. He was on a bonus per wicket, so as he saw it, he was losing out on money for every dropped catch. It’s pretty desperate to be so motivated by money that you start thinking that people are deliberately dropping catches off you. But this is the game. It’s made up of all different kinds of characters, with their own motivations and insecurities.

Read the previous instalments of Deep Cover

First published in issue 24 of Wisden Cricket Monthly. Subscribe here

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