Jonathan Wilson is an award-winning journalist and author, who won the 2009 Football Book of the Year for Inverting the Pyramid. He is also a huge cricket lover and recalls his attempts to keep improving...
I’m 41. There’s an older batsmen who plays for two of the three teams I play for who says it’s his aim each season to register at least one score higher than his age. This was becoming a serious issue; I was in danger of my age being higher than my record score. Until last season, my highest was 44* and that had come in the summer of 2002 in a rare outing for the Oxfordshire village of Toot Baldon. My age was creeping up; my batting wasn’t.
In part, that’s because I hadn’t played very much. I left university in 1999 and between then and 2012, I doubt I played more than 20 games. Mainly, it’s because I wasn’t very good. I’d never been coached but I could hang around for a bit at the start of an innings and bowl some loopy nonsense, I could catch and I was very good at turning up. That summer of 2002, I topped batting and bowling averages for Toot Baldon (0 and 44*; 2-0-7-1).
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A chance meeting during the Hashim Amla eternity at the Oval in 2012, allied to a hip injury that hampered my hockey, lured me back in. I was modest about my abilities, although probably not modest enough. I started batting at six, but even when I got in I didn’t score quickly enough. I slid down the order until it was suggested I should probably think about becoming a bowler. In 2014, inexplicably, I took 23 wickets at a shade under 20, including a spell of five wickets in 27 balls to turn seemingly certain defeat into victory against the belligerent librarians of the Bodleian.
But whatever alchemy had worked then deserted me. Six weeks into last summer, I’d taken 0-160 and was averaging 3.8 with the bat, almost entirely down to 13* ground out over an hour and half to draw a game at Smarden in Kent. I was in a dark place. I realised the only way out was to go to a darker place, so I started having lessons in Catford.
The bowling became less erratic. Then, chasing 149 on a capricious track at Reach in Cambridgeshire, I came in at 47-5. We ended up winning by five wickets, the victory sealed with an under-edged sweep that took me to 51*. Once the openers were off, the bowling had been gentle, but just staying in that long caused something to click. Two of my teams simultaneously asked me to open – probably to get a snail out of the middle order. I responded with 77* and 74. Suddenly I was doing things I’d never done before and, these days, that is very rare.
This winter, I’ve been having more lessons, working in the gym to strengthen my bowling shoulder and netting at least once a week. Just before Christmas, I found myself – ludicrously – training next to Scott Borthwick (we chatted about front foot position and the Sainsbury’s in Silksworth, Sunderland). I’ve lost weight. I had my bat refurbed and got new gloves off my mam for Christmas. I now have a trigger movement. It’s all very silly. I’m still fundamentally crap and I’m still 41.
Opening Up Cricket is a not for profit organisation that promotes mental wellbeing and suicide prevention through cricket.