There is something that I wanted to talk about, a subject which has often courted bewilderment, curiosity and concern amongst fellow village cricketers. And, given the amount of times that I’m asked about it, I thought I’d break my own code and write an article about myself- more precisely, explain why I no longer bowl in matches. As much as such a narrative might seem self indulgent, its purpose is more than an egotistical confessional. It is to help folk to understand how even the most subtle of mental health issues can disturb a person’s confidence and destroy a pursuit they love.
During the 90s, I had enjoyed a very successful period of about eight years as a village cricketer. A batsman, and really a fielder, I wasn’t. Barely passable. But as a bowler I had achieved considerable success. I started of as a pace bowler who, apparently, according to a former captain, was the second fastest on the circuit. Over time the pace fell off in search of a tighter line. This proved successful as the majority of my wickets were bowled or LBW. I could carry weak attacks and hold an entire end up for an afternoon. I took many five wicket hauls (including four eight wicket hauls). And one Saturday, in May 1992, I bowled an entire team out, save one batsman who had cried off at tea. You don’t really need to know these figures, and I did consider deleting this paragraph. But I am happy for you to see the cricketing reflection I have of myself now. Like a redundant and washed up ex public servant, bitter as he talks over a beer in a pub to anyone who’ll listen. “I used to be someone, yer know….”
Then on Monday 25th May 1998 it all went wrong.
Southwick Wanderers were playing an away match at Bognor and Bersted. I had bowled a fairly ineffective first spell from the west side of the square and was taken off. I wasn’t worried, we all have off days. Later on I was brought back into play by the Wanderers captain of the day, Tony Preston. I’m not sure that in myself I wanted to come back on as I wasn’t in the right mind. On the Sunday I had just been dumped the person I’d been dating and I was a bit down about it. But there’s nothing like running and seeing those stumps disturbed. I took the cherry.
I ran in to deliver the first ball. For some reason I failed to release it properly and it landed square at my feet. I had done this once before, a few years previous, and simply recovered by the end of the over. Not this time. Things just got worse, embarrassing, I just wanted the over to end. Whatever I tried I couldn’t release the ball properly. I was, to my relief, taken off straight away. That was the end of me as a bowler. Despite a number of attempts by kind and encouraging captains in the years since, I’ve never recovered my ability.to release the ball properly. There were a few occasions when it came back, just fleetingly, but then the self doubt would return. To the outsider such a dramatic and so permanent demise is unfathomable.
After this, for a number of seasons, I played very occasionally as a ‘batsman’. But I was tired of playing this bit part role in the late middle order, someone who made up the numbers. In 2005 I left the game altogether, save a few appearances for my friends at Brunswick Village in 2009. It wasn’t the same. Watching people run into bowl, and knowing I could do it too, save this ‘disorder’, became too much.
After extensive research, and also being told by my friend, Alan Moroney, of other bowlers it had affected, I learnt I had a condition commonly known as‘Yips’. It is a basically an anxiety disorder that causes involuntary movements in the execution of a skill. Much has been written about it, especially in the field of golf, but there appears to be no known cure. To those who endure it there are ‘there are no answers, only a proliferating number of questions’(1) The career of Keith Medlycott, the Surrey cricketer was ended by it- as well as others (2) I dare say I am far from the only village cricketer to go this way.
So now readers of this site know what it’s about that’s a few less folk to explain it to- or not, as no-one has every really fully understood it- professionally or otherwise. I just live with the frustration of not knowing how to defeat it. But lets face it, compared to anxiety issues that others in the world suffer, it doesn’t rate. Yet it is good to talk about its effects.
So what now ? I’d give anything to take another wicket. For Southwick Wanderers that would probably be a record. The longest time between one wicket and the next. Certainly if I turned up at a match one day and the Yips had disappeared the captain wouldn’t be able to take the ball from my hand.
I’ve felt embarrassed trying to explain this to people and sometimes it hurts to do so. Yet my situation, despite me being recognised as having anxiety issues anyway, is totally insignificant compared to that of many others. Thankfully there are enough folk to remember how things were before. The whole situation helps me appreciate the greater problems of others. I hope it makes me a better person.
But one more wicket, just one more wicket….