Sean McPartlin - Don’t know much about Algebra…
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A P.E. colleague has invited me to help introduce cricket in her secondary school. Though lacking formal coaching qualifications, I’ll be delighted to turn up, share my enthusiasm, and fly the flag for Cricket Scotland.
As a teacher, I sometimes regret my failure to gain cricket coaching badges, but suspect I’m now well ensconced in the ‘old dog and new tricks category’. For all that, coaching and me go back a long way!
In my schooldays there was a rather odd approach to education – in and out of the classroom. If you were supremely talented, you received the lion’s share of the teachers’ time and no effort was spared to make you even better. If you were hopeless, you were given up as a bad job and more or less ignored. My particular failings were Maths – where I had a congenital inability to ‘get’ it, and Woodwork and Art. This led to a small bookshelf which took eighteen months to complete – and had to be glued together despite my well chewed dovetail joints - and stick figure drawings which may have qualified for the surrealist gallery in the Museum of Modern Art. At sports I was generally good enough to make the team but not talented enough to deserve elite treatment – presumably on the grounds that they doubted I could be improved.
So my only cricket coaching came from our local club. The guy charged with running the schoolboy sides was a Lecturer in Further Education, and the committee must have prevailed upon him to utilize his teaching skills on the tyros of the junior sides. Fair play to him, he stuck to his task without revealing too much frustration.
In the absence of formal coaching, I was self taught, I developed my cricket ‘skills’ from watching Lancashire, and seeking to emulate my favourite players. At that point, my chosen bowler was the ‘leggie’, Tommy Greenhough. Had it been Brian Statham, as it was later, my career may have taken a different turn. As it was, I practised till I had Greenhough’s action down to a tee. Only years later did I discover that Tommy had been a miner and broken both ankles in a pit accident; as a result, his approach to the wicket was idiosyncratic to say the least. In my version, I headed for the wicket wringing my hands together like a man in the early stages of the Hokey Cokey. On reaching the crease I suddenly jumped a couple of feet in the air, arms windmilling, and released the ball at some point as I descended to terra firma. It caused equal consternation amongst batsmen and colleagues, neither of whom could understand quite how the ball emerged heading, roughly, in the right direction.
The coach’s first task was to iron out the giant leap, which he did with much patience. Thereafter, as teammates would tell you, my action remained ‘memorable’ for all the wrong reasons, but at least I reached the wicket looking less distressed.
After watching me bat in the nets, he called me over, and I waited on some gem of instruction. All he said was: “Do you play golf?”
When I shook my head, he said: “Well, you should do!”
Then he turned to my fielding. I was a fast runner and a decent catcher, so he concentrated on my throwing technique. These days the psychology of coaching is all important – memorable mottos and phrases are encouraged. Well, my coach was well ahead of his time. I don’t have what they call ‘a strong throwing arm’ – in those days I didn’t even know that some can throw and some can’t. Under his instruction I gave it my best, over and over again on an empty field in the twilight. He watched with arms folded and pursed lips. Finally, he called me over and gave me the verdict:
“Do you know, when you throw the ball, you wiggle your backside like Marilyn Monroe?”
From that moment on, whenever I fielded in the deep, I returned the ball with an overarm bowling action. Thankfully, it seemed to work, and at least I didn’t have to worry about who was standing behind me.
Years later when my Edinburgh team, Holy Cross, went on tour to West Lancashire, we played at my old club and the coach was umpiring. The wickets were hard and my bowling was short, and to use a technical term, I was being tanked.
As he handed me my cap at the end of yet another eventful over, he shook his head mournfully and muttered, “Dear me!”
I protested: “Well, it was you who taught me how to bowl!”
With the awful patience of a man who has been coaching for all his life, he sighed as he answered
“Yes, but I didn’t tell you to do it with your eyes shut!”
As Crosby, Stills and Nash had it: “Teach your children well!”