EACH day thousands of cricket fans all around the world write millions of words about the twists and turns of Test match cricket. Other than a select few who have made the transition from the crease to the press box, most are speaking from a position of relative ignorance. You can watch all the cricket you like, but you will never really feel what it’s like to play at the highest level.
On the first day of the final Test at The Oval, this merry band of naive bloggers – myself included – found themselves in a rare position of empathy as Simon Kerrigan and Chris Woakes took the field. Having watched England cultivate such a successful, settled side over the last few years, it was quite a shock to the system to see two young, untried bowlers making their debut in an Ashes Test. There will have been a few red faces among the aforementioned player-turned pundit corp on Wednesday as the team was revealed – not least those who had confidently written in that morning’s paper that Chris Tremlett was set for a return to the fold. Beware the leaking source.
Kerrigan’s platter of head-high full tosses and slow long hops were brutally taken apart by Shane Watson, suddenly transformed from walking wicket to playground bully. The crowd winced and looked on with pity. If you have ever bowled a spell at any level of cricket in which things have gone horribly wrong, you will know exactly what Kerrigan was going through. Particularly if, like yours truly, you specialise in spin.
Every new match starts full of hope. The captain throws you the ball and you have a blank sheet. Anything could happen. You try to land it in the right spot, just to find your rhythm. But before you can settle you’re craning your neck to watch another six sailing into the trees. You try to fire in a quicker ball, but it pitches halfway down, maybe bouncing twice on the way. You give the next one some air, but overcompensate and send down an airborne missile. In my first over of this season with a new club, having not bowled since the previous year, I launched a floating beamer towards the batsman’s head. No harm done, no ball called, sheepish apology offered. Did I mention the batsman was a girl?
It is difficult to understand or explain the mechanics of this peculiar phenomenon known as “the yips”. The one thing that can’t cure it is trying harder. Your grip tightens on the ball, your release point changes, you start modifying your run-up, never a good idea when you’re in the thick of the action.
One of the most famous examples of the chronic yips is Steve Harmison’s delivery to kick off the 2006-07 Ashes. The delivery went straight from Harmison’s hand to his captain, Andrew Flintoff, at second slip. Looking back on the moment that many believe defined that entire series, Harmison said as he stood at the top of his mark he didn’t want to let the ball go, and had no idea where on earth it might land. In the final of the 2001 C&G Trophy, Leicestershire’s Scott Boswell suffered an outbreak of the raging yips. He sent down a 14-ball over. Six of the first eight balls, including five in a row, were wides. Boswell was reduced to a YouTube footnote.
When the yips get you, time slows down. Your action feels alien, like you are a newborn baby learning how to walk. When you do let go of the ball, you automatically take a step back, just in case the batsman should choose to send the ball hurtling back in your direction.
Each boundary is met with silence from your team mates. There might be the odd “keep your head up” or “back on it now”. But there is nothing anyone can say. You turn crimson. You feel like you’ve turned solid.
Getting out for a duck, an area in which I also have plenty of experience, is unpleasant and embarrassing. But at least you can walk off the field and bury your shame in your kitbag. In the midst of attack of the yips, the bowling crease is probably the loneliest place a cricketer can be.
Simon Kerrigan is, by all accounts, a quality bowler, and may well go on to have a long and successful career. If there is a positive side to his first day on the job, it’s that it gives hope to club cricketers all around the world who have ever stood at the end of their mark thinking “what next?”
Chin up, Kegs. It happens to the worst of us.