Bowling in the National Club Knockout semi-final at Chorley in 1995
Last Friday, I paid my first visit to a counsellor to whom I had been referred by my GP.
In fairness, the appointment was made several weeks ago and I am really pleased with the progress that I have made since my original visit to the doctor’s surgery. Being able to talk about how I was feeling, even if the cause was not immediately apparent, has made a huge difference but I think that joining a gym has really helped as well... actually it’s more the visiting and using rather than the joining, but you know what I mean. Getting started with a new book is a positive distraction too and hopefully (even though I’m not holding my breath... because it can be quite a dangerous thing to do...) I am definitely heading in the right direction.
After listening to me talk for the best part of an hour – and to her credit she only yawned twice – the counsellor’s opinion was that I had low self-esteem and a need for self-justification... She would talk to her supervisor (not just any old visor...) and let me know what, if any, suitable support might be available.
Low self-esteem eh? Probably pretty commonly used works these days, but I would definitely accept that I had/have a strong fear of failure that sometimes brings out the best in me, yet at times has caused me to crumble mentally and consequently physically.
Back in 1981, I had a trial for the North of England under 19 cricket squad... I was quite a confident bowler at school and club level, but suddenly (and for no apparent reason), when confronted with a group of quality players that included future test quickie Devon Malcolm, any ability I had completely deserted me and just when it mattered and I bowled a heap of... (insert your own word for rubbish).
A few years later and I had drifted out of the game, but started playing again after I moved to Gateshead in the late eighties. In 1994 however, the “yips” returned, just as I was invited to play for the Durham Senior League XI in an inter-league game (and yes, all the other left-armers were either injured or unavailable). The easy thing would have been to turn down the offer; after all, I could barely propel the ball twenty-two yards without it bouncing three times... or not at all.
But I accepted, joined my new team mates on the field and soon enough, was handed the ball. It’s so hard to describe the thought process when you’re finding a seemingly simple skill so mentally challenging. I wasn’t trying to
drop my opening delivery on a decent length on or around off stump; first and foremost, I was hoping to actually let go of the ball. If it reached the other end of the pitch, that was an achievement and if it bounced just the once, that
was a real bonus.
Pleasingly, I managed to get through my first over without too many problems, but in my second, I dropped a skied caught and bowled. In fairness, I didn’t drop it... I didn’t touch it... the ball just smacked me in the chest... The reaction from one of my team mates was a real turning point... there was no sympathy... just a string of expletives the gist of which is you’re playing because you’re good enough... now bloody prove it...
My feeling of dread turned to anger... not at my team mate, but at myself. I felt a surge of renewed purpose... almost belief... and the next ball clean bowled the batsman I’d just dropped. I ended up with 2-38 in my ten-over spell... by no means earth-shattering, but a very real personal achievement.
In truth, the fear of failure... or making a fool of myself in front of spectators... never fully left me and there were several times I felt like walking away from the game I loved... I persevered though... and had taken over a thousand wickets by the time my hips finally waved the white flag.
Self-belief... low self-esteem... I’m not sure how grey the boundaries are, but I certainly crossed them a number of times (I also got hit over a lot of boundaries too, but that’s another story...), but despite many people having little or no idea of my inner turmoil as I trotted in to bowl, I think I can say that I gave it my best shot and didn’t give up... like bowling like life... there’s light at the end of the tunnel...
All my own work... almost.