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“You’re just not a killer …”
Brian Cox’s Lear-esque Logan Roy drawls to his son Kendall aboard a super yacht somewhere off the south of France. The words come out of his craggy, ursine features like a bullet.
“You have to be a killer.”
This quote from the end of series two of Succession, while pivotal, prophetic and downright chilling for many reasons (no spoilers here) gnawed away at me after the first watch. Not because it unearthed some latent patricidal feelings or because I could massively relate to being asked to be a blood sacrifice in order to cover up a corporate scandal, but in a cricketing sense.
Let me explain.
As a kid I used to bowl slow left-arm spin, with an action that made South Africa’s Paul Adams, famously the “frog in a blender”, appear the height of orthodoxy. I looked weird, sure, but crucially could turn the ball, sometimes dramatically so. To cut a long and painful story short, I had a growth spurt in my teenage years and my new height coupled with the aforementioned action led to a sort of adolescent mortification at my own bowling. This only got worse as I began to suffer from a version of the yips, making every over I bowled an anxiety-ridden exercise. Being able to “get out” of an over was to escape without bowling into my own toes, unleashing a pathetic beamer or (the worst) physically not being able to release the ball.
It wasn’t long before the ball stopped being thrown my way and I decided to “focus” on becoming a batter, but there was one final embarrassment to come. I was asked to play in a tournament at the local club against a few touring sides in a round-robin competition. In order to maximise time the format was to involve 15 eight-ball overs.
It was the first day of the 2005 Edgbaston Test, when England racked up 407 runs. I remember wanting to stay at home and watch that rather than be playing. Perhaps my mindset wasn’t right to begin with. A semi-pro batter from New Zealand who dabbled as a wine maker got busy putting our seamers to the sword just as Strauss and Trescothick et al were doing the same to the Aussies 80 miles south. I was summoned.
The now familiar feeling of dread surged through me as I did some cursory warmups. Eight balls is quite a lot if things start to go wrong. The first ball came out fine, I didn’t give it a huge rip but I remember a surge of relief on seeing it pitch. The New Zealand wine maker slapped it for six over midwicket. Effortlessly. Worse, the ball went over the river that skirted the ground, so a replacement had to be sent for.
The second ball went for six too, and the third, fourth, fifth and sixth. I went to take my cap from the umpire, planning to skulk off to the boundary to die as the call went around to see if there were any more balls left to use. “You’ve got two more lad” the umpire was not forthcoming with the cap. Ah yes. Eight balls.
After an interminable delay another ball was found. I’d decided to bowl wide and fast, at least make Mr Chardonnay work for it. “Wide ball” called the umpire. Too wide. And again. At least the stream of sixes had been stopped, albeit with extras. I decided to bowl seam-up. The batter wound up for another almighty heave but cloth’d it into the legside and ran a single. Mr Chardonnay was now stood next to me and put his arm on my shoulder. I burned with anger and shame. Shrugging him off and trying in vain to look like I didn’t care. “Didn’t get that one did you … still tried though,” I splurted. The batter fixed me with a stare and an almost deranged smile “Yeah, that was fun, mate.” A killer, then.
A couple of years later, the bowling well and truly disappeared, I was now a batter. I’d got to 50-odd in a league match when a left-arm spinner, slightly younger than me but not by much, came on. He dropped short and I hit him for six. And again. Third ball he bowled a full toss and I bunted that for six too. Three balls. Three sixes. The bowling wasn’t that good and I began to feel a bit embarrassed, for the bowler but also at myself for inflicting the sixes. The next ball was a full toss and instead of smearing it like I had the previous delivery I decided to hit it for a single and get off strike. Not a killer. I missed the ball and was bowled. Definitely not a killer.
That same year Stuart Broad was hit for six sixes by Yuvraj Singh in the first World T20. The clip re-emerged this month as Broad bowled the most expensive over in Test history, Jasprit Bumrah, somewhat incredibly, being the man to inflict the damage and plunder 35 runs from one over. Broad is on record as saying the Singh over from 2007 is not something he regrets or looks back on with negativity, adding even that “it probably made me the bowler I am today”. While a bit miffed, Broad did seem to shrug off the assault. He had just taken his 550th Test wicket moments before, which probably helped.
Six,6,6,6,6,6. The ‘perfect’ over for a batter but for a bowler it is a double dose of the devil’s number. Only a handful of players in the history of the game have suffered the fate. Famously, Malcolm Nash was the first, at the hands of Garry Sobers at St Helen’s in Swansea. Ravi Shastri unleashed on Tilak Raj in 1985 and 22 years later found himself in the commentary box for Yuvraj’s take-down of Broad. It has yet to happen in Test cricket but on the past few weeks’ evidence it can only be a matter of time.
It’s embarrassing to be hit for a lot of runs off a single over, obviously, but there’s something about the six sixes that welds batter and a bowler together, the failure and the glory forging them forever.
Sir Garfield Sobers’ eyes are misty, swirls of milk in a glass of water. He’s seated, a walking stick leans against his chair. He is immaculately dressed, suit, shirt, slacks. I scan his collar for any sign of the infamous upward tilt, of the cream-coloured boundary antennae he was famous for sporting, but today they are firmly starched in place.
Sir Garry is in his mid-80s. It’s a challenge to compute this small, wiry, grey-haired man with the cricketing colossus that Bradman called the greatest all-round cricketer he had ever seen. Maker of 8,032 Test runs, taker of 235 Test wickets, an electric fielder with lightning hands. The kid who made his Test debut at 17 and aged 21 converted his first Test century into a triple – breaking Len Hutton’s 20-year-old record for the highest score in a Test match, Sabina Park the scene of 365 imperious runs against Pakistan in 1958.
He’s in London to promote a new charity – The Sir Garry Sobers Foundation. The assembled media have been granted a few minutes of his time in a hotel suite before some formalities and speeches.
I want to ask him a question about the six sixes. I mention this to another, older and more experienced cricket writer as we wait to go in and they warn me off slightly, suggesting that he has said all he needs to say on that record-breaking cameo at Swansea and might bristle at the topic, after all Sobers did once say: “Sometimes I wish I’d never done it … wherever I go, all I hear is ‘tell us about the six sixes.’”
Still, I won’t get the chance again. At the end of questions and with everyone packing away, I go for it. Gulping down the nerves, doing it for the teenage me and any other bowler who has been on the wrong end of a six-hitting shellacking.
“Sir Garry, I have one last question, if you wouldn’t mind … as a bowler yourself I wonder if at any point during or after the six sixes you ever felt sorry for Malcolm Nash?”
He looks up at me and his eyes flicker, that iconic gap-toothed smile. “Not really, he wouldn’t have felt sorry if he’d knocked my stumps out of the ground!”
He slaps his thigh and chuckles.
“Did you feel connected to him, like you’d been brought together in some way by that over?”
His partner, Jackie White, leans in. She tells me that a couple of years ago when Nash published his book, Not Only, But Also, he wanted Sir Garry to sign a copy for him. He drove from Wales to London and the two men met up, shared a drink or two and reminisced. Three months later Nash died.
“It’s a good memory” Sir Garry says, “But I never felt sorry for Malcolm, and he wouldn’t have wanted me to.”
With thanks to the Sir Garry Sobers Foundation, changing the life trajectories of young people all over the world. For more visit: https://sirgarrysobers.org