Tom Hicks has had a life in cricket’s margins. No household name, he did however rub shoulders with cricketing royalty in a career that took in periods with Oxford University, Dorset, and the MCC as well as top-class league cricket in Surrey. In the second of three extracts from his book: Bowler’s Name: The Life of a Cricketing Also-Ran, the off spinner recalls twice coming up against a young Englishman destined for greatness
Bowling maidens [has become] increasingly difficult in all forms of the game. In my early days, I felt that if I could limit the batsman to a drive down the ground or a leg-side sweep shot, I was able to put some dots together.
This changed hugely with the development of sweep shots on both sides of the wicket, and very fine deflections and ramp shots also on both sides. Now you had to consider being hit in any one of 360 degrees, which always made me feel one fielder (or more) short. Stick powerplay fielding restrictions on to this and you can see why some felt it became ever more a ‘batsman’s game’.
One of the most effective proponents of [the] new explosive combination of incredible power hitting and deft invention is Lancashire and England’s Jos Buttler. Buttler’s ice-blue eyes and diffident demeanour belie the fact that he is one of the most destructive players of his generation, happily stooping into the line of 90mph deliveries to glance them past the keeper before whipping the next 30 rows back over extra cover with wrists as strong as iron and as flexible as wilting celery.
Buttler it was who played what I consider the best shot off my bowling. I played against him twice – the first a warm-up game for Dorset against Somerset’s second XI. We had done well to score around 280 from 50 overs, despite a collapse at the hands of a young lad named Jack Leach who became a team-mate at Dorset.
In chasing down the total, we ran into Zander de Bruyn – just off the plane from South Africa but not sufficiently jetlagged to be concerned by our amateur offerings on his way to a century. He was joined by some chap we had never come across – a schoolboy by the name of Buttler, who quickly demonstrated why he was destined for greatness, eclipsing his more experienced partner with a bewildering range of shots to the most outrageous and unorthodox areas. We had no answer then. It is just nice to know we were not the only ones to find him a tad more than tricky to bowl at.
The second time I came across the superstar-in-waiting was again for Dorset in a T20 friendly at Sherborne School when all the talk was of Craig Kieswetter, who had shot to stardom himself with some electric form in the recent T20 World Cup. Kieswetter got a few, as did England’s Ashes hero of 2005, Marcus Trescothick, and I even managed to pouch De Bruyn, albeit with the filthiest of full tosses clothed down cow corner’s throat (but the scorebook doesn’t lie, eh?). I was bowling downhill from the Pavilion End with the wind behind me and a boundary of around 75 metres – fair protection you would think, even when bowling at a proven hitter like Buttler. Following some typically wristy square drives and sweeps, I felt that he was winding up for a big hit, and so I aimed to bowl as full and straight as possible, yorker-length, to restrict his ability to get underneath the ball.
As it left my hand, I was relieved to have got it right, landing it around the popping crease on off stump. It was basically the best ball I could have bowled at that moment. To see it land amongst the silver and crockery of the committee marquee at extra cover left me entirely emasculated and under no illusion that I was up against a better player.
Not only was my best not good enough, it had been dismissed like an errant dog who had left an unwelcome gift on the outfield.
Tomorrow: Twenty-two fielders and no batsmen: mayhem in a Minor Counties final
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Yesterday: In every way John Emburey was a bigger a man than me: the perils of playing with your hero