The news that my son and heir wants to bowl spin this season was greeted with predictable delight by my old friend John Wake.
“Always good to welcome a new member of the spinners’ union,” he said – and if that particular union needs a shop steward then Wakey is clearly tailor-made for the job.
In which capacity he may be assembling – as we speak – a coachload of flying pickets to prevent ECB officials reaching their desks at Lord’s.
My active membership may have lapsed a few years ago, but as a known sympathiser and ‘fellow-traveller’ I’d be sorely tempted to join the protest myself.
During the past few months we’ve all wailed and gnashed our teeth at the sight of England’s twirlers failing conspicuously to cut the mustard on the subcontinent.
The selectors’ decision to recall 39-year-old Gareth Batty for the Test tours to Bangladesh and India highlighted the dearth of rising spin stars in this country.
Imagine our collective joy, then, at reading about Hampshire’s Mason Crane.
The 20-year-old with the name like a 1930s New York gumshoe enjoyed a terrific winter playing grade cricket in Sydney – a tally of 45 wickets in 11 matches, including three ‘seven-fors’ – and was picked for New South Wales in their Sheffield Shield game against South Australia.
He thus became the first overseas player to represent the state since Imran Khan back in the mid-1980s.
You would imagine those in charge of the England side would want to see this young tyro – apparently inspired to bowl leggies by watching Shane Warne in the 2005 Ashes series as a kid – doing his stuff in our domestic first-class competition, with a view to him taking the next steps on the ladder.
So how many overs do you reckon he’s bowled in his county’s first three Championship matches of the season?
None. Zero. Zilch.
In fact, how many of those games has he actually played in?
None. Zero. Zilch.
He turned out last week for Hampshire twos against Sussex at Southampton and picked up five wickets in the second innings – after getting just three overs in their first knock.
And now it’s solid one-day cricket until the Championship returns in mid-May.
Another talented spinner, Northamptonshire left-armer Graeme White, has also found himself somewhat underemployed of late.
He sent down 14 overs in the County’s opener against Glamorgan at Wantage Road but sat out the away trips to Derby and Worcester.
A glance at the club’s colour-coded fixture card reveals the problem .
Of their 14 Championship matches, three are played in April and five from late-August onwards.
That leaves just six four-day games in the ‘meat’ of the season, courtesy of the Almighty Cash Cow that is T20.
As anyone who has ever tried to bowl spin will tell you, cold hands and grassy pitches are not an ideal combination – so how an up-and-coming tweaker is supposed to survive, let alone prosper, with the schedule as it is, I’ve absolutely no idea.
I suspect even the greats of the past would have struggled in the face of such lunacy.
My favourite spin bowler, Bishan Bedi, claimed exactly 100 first-class wickets for Northamptonshire in 1973, with 86 of them coming in the Championship.
He didn’t bowl a ball in that competition until May 9 and completed his haul at Guildford on August 31.
Would ‘Bish’ have proved as effective on pitches with still a touch of morning frost in them?
He was an artist and a master of his craft, so it’s possible.
But it’s a tough ask for someone seeking to learn a trade that, by common consent, can’t be assimilated in a hurry.
I would call as a witness – were he not currently plying his leg-breaks, googlies and top-spinners in the Elysian Fields – the one-and-only ‘Tich’ Freeman of Kent.
In 1928, aged 40, he took 304 first-class wickets in the English season. And no, that’s not a misprint.
He followed up with 267 in 1929, 275 in 1930, 276 in 1931, 253 in 1932 and then 298 in 1933 – a staggering 1,673 scalps in six summers.
‘Against run-of-the-mill county sides, where batsmen were hypnotised by Wisden and the season’s averages, there was no-one like Freeman for destructive purposes,’ wrote Denzil Batchelor.
It was said that whilst
he might not remove too many of the top-order
men, you would stake the house and all its contents
on ‘Tich’ twiddling out the last six or seven.
Legend has it he named his retirement bungalow ‘Dunbowlin’ – and the record books show he sent down nearly 155,000 deliveries in first-class cricket between 1914 and 1936.
It would be interesting to know how that workload compares to the Gladstone and Disraeli of slow bowling in Northamptonshire club cricket – Gordon Draper of Kettering and Irthlingborough’s Roly White.
They might have given ‘Tich’ a run for his money.
But what if they’d been obliged to deliver half their overs in April and September?
A serious grievance for shop steward Wake to get his teeth into…
Yesterday found your correspondent whistling ‘Happy Birthday’ to his favourite cricketer.
Not singing, note. There is enough grief and misery in the world without that.
Mike Brearley turns 75 on April 28, and looked full of both beans and gravitas when I saw him at the Wisden dinner earlier this month.
What I didn’t realise until a few days ago is that he was born in the same wartime week – albeit a few thousands miles apart – as one of popular music’s most successful female vocalists.
The memory of a Brearley innings will remain forever ‘Evergreen’ in my mind.
As captain of England – one of the very best of all time – he triumphed in all conditions and never let it rain on his (country’s) parade.
Still a hugely respected figure in the international game, chairing the MCC’s World Cricket Committee, he doesn’t simply hanker after ‘The Way We Were’.
And as one of his playing opponents famously observed, he has that degree in ‘People’.
So many returns, Michael. And Barbra too.