Friday, 27 September 2013

THE NAME OF THE ROSE


Moddershall 1st XI’s narrow failure to win promotion this year – just eight points from second place, following a campaign of 10 wins and numerous winning draws; eight points behind a team who they might have bowled out for 30 in a game ended by inclement weather – got me thinking about the mid-1990s and the club’s previously most recent effort to haul itself from the second tier to the first.

In 1992, only our third season in the North Staffs and South Cheshire League, we were promoted when we perhaps weren’t quite ready for the standard in the top division and were promptly relegated at the first attempt (thus my feeling that, given the age profile of the current team, it may not be all that bad a thing to have missed out this time). In 1994 we signed Jon Addison as pro – arguably the decisive moment in the modern history of the club – and in 1995 we were the best team in what was then Division B, but came third, pipped on the final weekend. In 1996 it was not so much a case of ‘third time lucky’ as ‘third time, just desserts’: with any trace of complacency expunged, we were promoted at a canter. Indeed, on the final afternoon, away at Kidsgrove, we set what was then a league record by scoring 370 for 6 (Addo blitzed 168 and was dismissed in the 35th over). However, our captain for the day, the ex-‘Grove player Dave Wellings, rather charitably declared when we still had nine overs (and some quality batsmen in a shuffled order) to bat. I was at the crease at the time and almost refused to walk off. 450 was there for the taking.

Anyway, the Saturday before that, having all but guaranteed promotion with three games to go, we ventured to Burslem’s brand new Festival Heights ground for the first match of a league double-header (there were fourteen teams per division then). Our opponents were locked in a tussle for the second automatic promotion slot with Newcastle and Hartshill, so were sure to be as fiercely competitive as they always were (needle locked at ‘radge’ on the Aggro Scale). As Addo and I pulled on to the car park, the first thing we noticed, a vision that threw something of a damp towel on our excited chatter, was a six feet, five inch West Indian standing on the square, as unmissable as a wind turbine on a nearby hilltop. “Who the eff is that?!”, we both either thought quietly or said out loud, assuming he was there to play the game and not, y’know, shoot some hoops.

It was an overcast September day, none too warm, and with a fresh breeze blowing across a ground not quite as exposed as Barnfields to the elements, but still not the best protected from an ill wind. And this guy was sure to bowl like an ill wind. Burslem’s regular professional that year was Steven Lowndes, a bustling phantom seamer and gutsy, resourceful, if ultimately limited batsman. Where was he?!?! Not perusing the track, that was certain.

After a length of time, we discovered that the guy’s name was Franklyn Rose, then in the early stages of a career that would bring him 19 Test appearances, 27 in ODIs, and an overall first-class record of 296 wickets at 26.51, with PBs of 7 for 39 and 96 with the willow. He would be subbing for the day. Those of a conspiratorial bent among us suggested that Lowndes had gone to Alton Towers with a broken nail, sprained earlobe, or whatever injury he was deemed to have. Rose was still a few months from his Test debut at this stage, and had been playing the summer for Enfield in the Lancashire League. Today, he would be bringing unexpected menace – beyond the usual, expected menace you got in that neck of the woods – for Burslem.

The precise nature of that menace became a whole lot clearer, and yet a whole lot darker, when we took the customary stroll out to the square – a square I had never before set foot on. This was an era before play-cricket, before The Sentinel were printing scorecards, so I don’t think the season’s scores at Burslem – whether they had been lower than at other grounds – had registered with us, particularly. Who cared? We felt we were the best team in the division and would cope better with any conditions than our opponents. Unless, of course, they brought in beanpole Jamaicans to whack it into a dry and crumbling surface such as this (I ought to go on record here as saying the square is 100 per cent better now than it was back then, and that Burslem is an enjoyable ground to play at). In fact, as we now walked over it, it became apparent that there were large cracks – canyons, crevices, ravines! – where the turf hadn’t bound together. And visible down those cracks was the highly tensile plastic orange mesh that you see on the side of mountains to stop skiers falling to their death. Or around roadworks. Orange mesh! On (well, just under) the square!! Addo and I exchanged a rueful smile at what lay in store (the sort that visiting batsmen often made at Barnfields during the Immy years), a fate that was deferred by a few hours when he called correctly at the toss.

The details of the game are, understandably, quite sketchy. We took a couple of early wickets – probably courtesy of John Myatt and Iain Carr – and Mr Rose sauntered out to the crease at No4 or No5 with next to nothing on the board. This can be deduced from the fact that, using a method that by and large involved planting his foot on off stump and swinging violently to the legside, he proceeded to make around 80 from a total of around 115 all out.

As well as being not the most graceful innings (although, strangely, his agriculturalism did not lead to him being sledged all that much, as I recall), it was also far from chanceless. Indeed, he was dropped at mid-wicket by Wellings while still in single figures, one of the easiest catches you’ll ever see, the ball’s slow arc evading his jerking hands altogether and hitting him plush on the stomach before coming to rest somewhere on that geological wonder of a square. Undoubtedly, Welly’s dropped clanger was the result of him (an opening batsman) contemplating this giant figure who would soon be propelling the ball at him quite briskly. He was daydreaming, then he was panicking. It happens.

The bowler, John Myatt, was not best pleased. His mood darkened even further when a pair of vociferous lbw appeals were rejected after he’d hit Rose plush on the foot, one of which looked very adjacent. And so, reprieved, on the big guy swiped and smeared – I recall dropping him myself, out at long off, off Addo, when he had 60-odd – eventually taking them to what was certainly going to be a competitive score – unattainable, we probably felt, although no-one admits these things.

Yours truly had the task of opening. I forget who with. Probably Welly, although I wouldn’t actually make it to a mid-wicket conference. On the way out – a journey akin to the First World War Tommies charging helplessly, haplessly, hopelessly into No Man’s Land – I was given some words of sarcastic encouragement by a former Burslem paceman, Dave ‘Foll’ Follett, then enjoying a stint in first-class cricket with Middlesex. He wasn’t the brightest button in the proverbial box, but he did have a booming voice, a choice vocabulary, and a sharp understanding of the psychology of facing quick bowling. I felt like a dead man walking. The End Is Nigh.

I asked for my guard, taking care not to notice how far back the cordon was stood (and in any case, they would soon be moving up a few yards…). Rose stood at the top of his run, obligatory gold chain visible through dishwater light, perhaps ruminating over a cash incentive to dismiss or maim as many of our team as possible. The sightscreen looked like a matchbox. It wasn’t very often in my playing days that I walked out to bat with the feeling that I didn’t really stand any chance whatsoever, but this day I did (by which I mean I didn’t ... stand a chance). However, like the bull in the corrida, we still had to go through the inevitable ritual death.

He began his run: long, loping strides, a slightly stiff, upright posture, and a lean away to the offside as he hit the crease. The first ball slammed into the pitch just short of a length and bounced two or three times on the way through to the keeper. I did a spot of gardening, half-expecting to find wildlife down those cracks – those ravines. You could get your bat stuck down them.

The second ball was an attempted bouncer that reacted off the wicket in something like the way a slightly stale muffin would respond if hurled violently at a mattress, the red cherry looping slowly over my head and again failing to reach the keeper’s mitts. They say it is a skill of opening batsmen, or ought to be one, to be able read the conditions and adapt your game quickly to them. Well, yes, but you cannot de-program a decade of learning in the time it takes a West Indian paceman to get to the top of his run – which, admittedly, is quite a long time given the general disregard for over-rates (or perhaps, in this instance, the certain knowledge that we’d be lucky to bat much more than 20 overs). It’s a bit like getting into the water with a crocodile someone’s told you has been domesticated and saying to yourself: “oh, lovely cutie-wootie kwokodile just want to have a cuddle” rather than “Oh my f****** God, get me out of here, this is one of nature’s ultimate killing machines”.  

Eventually, Rose barrelled in for the third ball, again slammed uncomplicatedly into the pitch, this time well short of back-of-a-length. Instinctively, I jumped to play a back-foot defence, but the ball scuttled along the ground like ... like a crocodile after a baby piglet (it seemed to go under my feet, almost), and then crashed into the off-stump what can only have been a third of the way up at most. At Moddershall in 1996, the same delivery would have probably had the ‘keeper jumping to take it.

Off I trudged toward the dressing room at deep point, stopping out of morbid curiosity to peer over my shoulder – as you would when passing a car accident – and see how far back the stump had been sent cavorting. Pretty far, to be fair, certainly further than the previous delivery had travelled before its second bounce. As I got to the edge of the pitch, Foll guffawed, then drawled: “fuuuckiiin elll

Addo passed me on the way out, sporting the same sort of resigned grin as I wore, the difference being that my ordeal was over. The collective mood might have been considerably more perturbed had we not been playing Haslington the following day and Kidsgrove a week later with only a few points required (assuming, that is, we failed to chase down these runs).

Addo was soon out, and then another man, and another – a procession reminiscent of England’s 46 all out in Trinidad a couple of years earlier. It was carnage. Yet bestriding the disarray was Iain Carr, who played one of the gutsiest, not to mention most highly skilled innings that it was my privilege to watch as a Moddershall player. Batting about four feet down the pitch (at least) and getting a large stride in, he grafted his way to 30 out of our 52 all out, cudgelling a couple of defiant, almost miraculous straight-driven fours off Rose, who finished with 6 for 20, figures that did not flatter him. Burslem had been lucky to make 50; we were lucky to get 30.

As it turned out, our opponents would narrowly fail to secure promotion. As for Rose, despite not seeing him in the bar after the game – yes, he was the longest in the shower – a couple of our stragglers told us that, with the blood no longer pumping through his limbs (by which I think they meant his adrenaline had worn off), it was apparent that he was limping badly. It turned out that he was unable to play his Lancashire League club’s game the following day with a very badly bruised toe, a pyrrhic victory that Mauler enjoyed greatly. Too greatly.

That gloomy day at Festival Heights wasn’t the last we’d see of Mr Rose. The following March he would debut for West Indies on his home ground, Sabina Park in Kingston. Any thoughts that this was a token homer to appease the crowd – and there is a history of boycotting matches in the Caribbean, as for instance when a Bridgetown crowd responded to the controversial omission of local bowler Anderson Cummins with the banner, ‘No Cummins, No Goings’ – were rebuffed by a man-of-the-match performance in a bat-dominated draw, the first five of his 6 for 100 being Laxman, Dravid, Tendulkar, Azharuddin and Ganguly. Steady effort, that. Slightly shades Oliver, Addison, Hawkins, Myatt, Stones, et al…  

He ended up taking 53 wickets at 30.88 in his 19 Tests, the most memorable of which – not from his perspective, mind – came at Lord’s in 2000, a crazy game in which, with England conceding a first-innings lead of 133, Caddick (5 for 16) then skittled Windies for 54, before Dominic Cork bundled England over the line for a famous two-wicket victory, in large part due to Rose bowling with his ego and continually slapping it in halfway down. I don't believe there was any orange mesh visible below the Lords turf...

Rose was a fiery fellow, and no mistake. Reputed to have pulled a knife on Brian Lara on the plane en route to the ill-fated South African tour of 1998-99, in 2002 the guy who stood cradling the new ball on that minefield at Burslem was convicted of assaulting a Canadian woman in Ocho Rios.

It seems that those hair-rock titans Poison were right all along: every rose has its thorn, just like every night has its dawn. And for this current group of Moddershall players, next season could well be the dawn of a great era.  

Previous columns for Moddershall CC's newsletter, 'Barnfields Buzz':

BB01: The Grass Isn’t Always Greener… | On club loyalty
BB02: The King and I | Early forays in the press box and meeting IVA Richards 
BB03: Chris Lewis: Still out in the Cold | The coldest cricket match I ever played 
BB04: Sam Kelsall: Role Model | How a 15-year-old's standards inspired a team to the title
BB05: Astle la vista, Baby | Surrealism and hypocrisy with a NZ star
BB06: The Geometry of Captaincy (A Hunch) | Waxing philosophical about setting the field 
BB07: A Brief History of Moddershall in the Staffs Cup | A look back at our four finals



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