Between 1969 and 2012 my father ran the 1st XI cricket at St Peter’s School in York. I did once ask if he was to rank the players from four and a bit decades into some sort of order, where would I come. Apparently he had given it some thought and I wasn’t in the top two hundred or so. Maybe I should have a bit more specific... bowlers... left-arm... slow... called Kirby?
Ah... that’s better. At least, I’m now in the top twenty!
Right at the very top of the list however is Jonny Bairstow, and it is perhaps fitting that the school’s first future post-war test debutant (Norman Yardley having made his England debut in 1938) came towards the end of Dad’s tenure. Jonny’s ability and potential were obvious from a very young age, and I know how thrilled Dad was when Jonny came through the county ranks to become a full international.
My own cricket “career” never reached such heights – although plenty of batsman hit me fairly high... and far... and often, but I made plenty of friends and had some great times during my twenty-five years playing club cricket. I retired in 2004 due to a combination of a painful hip problem and public demand, and apart from a handful of overs a couple of years later, I basically hadn’t bowled in almost a decade...
Until yesterday, when the 1981 St Peter’s captain (me) met his 2007-8 counterpart (Jonny) at York Cricket Club in order that I could complete charity challenge no.6 – that of bowling at a county (or more accurately, test) cricketer. Jonny was playing for Yorkshire in a T20 game against a Yorkshire League side in aid of Tim Bresnan’s benefit, and it was slightly unnerving to try and propel a ball from one end of the net to the other (preferably bouncing just once, and hitting the back of the net and not the side or top) with the cream of local cricketing talent warming up next to me.
That said the first ball not only pitched, but turned: from memory that had last happened in 1995 – and even then it was only the once. Anyway, I practised for about a quarter of an hour, before Jonny arrived, and it was time to bowl the “proper” over.
All six pitched (once each), the first four were slightly short of a length, but there was nothing wrong with the last two, which were very respectfully defended (please see video for proof!). I was pleasantly surprised with how I bowled, although I was far less impressed by how much my back was hurting... and still is if you’re interested.
The customary photo was taken – and Jonny also signed another picture (which he duly pierced with one of his spikes for authenticity!). It was over in a matter of minutes, but they were the last deliveries I will ever bowl and it was a privilege to bowl them at arguably the finest player to have ever graduated from the St Peter’s cricket field.
Dad and I watched the Yorkshire innings when the game eventually got underway. The New Zealand test batsman Kane Williamson played some truly wonderful shots in a quickfire 95, before Jonny came to the crease and made some decent bowlers look very ordinary indeed, as he reached 48 not out from probably no more than twenty deliveries. They included two sixes over long-on (one was a towering blow) off York slow left-armer Dan Woods. Dan is a class act, one of the best bowlers you’ll find in league cricket, but he went the proverbial journey last night... in stark contrast may I add to yours truly!!!
Anyway, in saying a huge thank you to Jonny for taking the time to let me complete my nineteenth challenge, I also want to mention Nick Kay, a quality cricketer in his own right, another former St Peter’s pupil – and, incidentally, another significantly higher than me in Dad’s list – who had both organised last night’s fixture, and agreed for me to use the club’s facilities. Thanks Nick... although you should be aware that I’m holding you indirectly responsible for the fact that I can barely walk today!!