December 24, 2016

A letter to my 12-year-old self

A peek into your cricketing future and what you can do to make it better (and ache less)

Just consider legspin, okay? In a few years, a blond Aussie bowler is going to make it cool again (but also wreak havoc on England) © Getty Images

Dear Nick,

Merry Christmas from your future self in 2016!

First of all, you'll be glad to know the nuclear attack always threatened by 1980s TV and film hasn't happened, yet. And more importantly, as a cricket-mad kid, you'll be glad to hear that you're still playing the sport you love. I know you've been setting up ad hoc games on the park on weekends with your dad, and there are all those frenetic tennis-ball tournaments against the factories at the back of the Kwik Save supermarket, but as this was the first season you put on a pair of proper whites, I thought I'd send you a few words of advice.

Now, you were the best player in your primary school, but you need to put into perspective that your school didn't actually have a cricket team, any coaching, or any sort of pitch. So when you meet Darren Maddy - you're right, he'll go on to be a professional and play for England - at comprehensive school, don't be dismayed that you're not as good as him. You never will be.

But you could have been better. Almost every coach, team-mate, and your dad, will tell you for the next three decades to try and not bowl too fast. And you won't listen to them. Ever. Even now, when your body's creaking, you'll attempt to whang down the odd bouncer from a four-pace run-up.

That's right, four paces. I know it's hard to imagine how you'll feel in 30 years' time, but I can promise that you won't want to charge in from 20 yards. It will take you 29 years to revert to bowling spin.

And that's what I want to tell you about, no matter how disappointing it might seem.

You have pace for your age, and you can swing the ball away. Yet the cold hard fact is, you're not quick enough to be quick. And know this, that as I sit here and type this, my shoulder hurts, and I toss and turn in bed at night because my hip joints have been worn away from season after season of pounding into the crease.

In 30 years' time, when batsmen rule the roost, it's variation, of pace and turn, that counters their dominance

Fair enough, you'll play a handful of games for Leicestershire CCC youth teams, and you'll even bag the wicket - sort of, I won't bore you with the messy details, the crooked umpire - of Chris Broad, which might seem like your wildest dream, considering his stellar form this 1986-87 Ashes series, but you won't make it professionally. I know this might sound harsh, and that I'm breaking your dream, but that's the truth.

So listen up. Keep bowling that outswinger, keep shining the ball, and listen to "Swing King" Ken Higgs when he comes to your school nets and coaches you on how to deliver that perfect sidewinder. This lethal ball will never leave you. However, it should be one of your weapons, rather than your only artillery. In the next 30 years cricket is going to change. The West Indies' Four Horsemen will falter, and the world's best bowlers will be spin bowlers, not pacemen. I've just watched a series where India have dominated England. Their batsmen have toyed with the England attack, while their wizardly spinners, blessed with the ability to tweak the ball both ways, have tied our best players in knots.

This is what you need to do - and don't start crying because you're not going to grow up into a big bad fast bowler. Bowl spin. Think about it: you already can. You love experimenting with different types of deliveries. In the nets you bowl offbreaks, legbreaks, inswingers and googlies. So start bowling them in games. Now.

You're going to tell me that no one else bowls such a mixed bag in a single over. That's a good thing. In 30 years' time, when batsmen rule the roost - wait till you see the supersonic bats that will be developed, your beloved Duncan Fearnley will look like a twig - it's variation, of pace and turn, that counters their dominance.

And guess what? After three decades of bowling pace, the first year you do try bowling this dolly mix of deliveries, you'll win your team's bowling award with one of your best ever season averages.

The future, for you at least, is spin. And look, I know it'll be hard to convince you, and even now I hark back to steaming in full of adrenaline and knocking stumps over, but brain before brawn is the best option.

Anyway, it's up to you. Even if you don't listen to me, or this letter is lost by the time-travelling postman, you have years of unadulterated joy ahead on a cricket pitch. You may not be a professional but you'll still play on Test grounds in England, India and Sri Lanka. And because cricket is special, because the people who play cricket share a passion that those outside of the sport never really understand, you'll make lifelong friendships that you'll treasure.

All the best,
Nick

PS Don't go for that quick run in the Under-16s County Cup final at Grace Road - the non-striker will strand you in the middle of the wicket, and then lose the game.

PPS Record every moment of the 2005 Ashes. I promise you, it's an absolute belter of a series, and inexplicably it may be the last time cricket is ever seen on terrestrial television in the UK.

PPPS When you're 18, don't store your cricket kit in your girlfriend's shed - you'll never see it again, and you love that Gray-Nicolls Dynadrive.

Nicholas Hogg is a co-founder of the Authors Cricket Club. His third novel, TOKYO, is out now. @nicholas_hogg

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Doug on December 26, 2016, 11:06 GMT

    Dear 12-year-old self -- Spend less time thinking about cricket. Nature blessed you with no throwing arm and feeble eye-hand coordination, and while you will manage to teach yourself many things out of books, cricket is not one of them. You'll find it frustratingly hard to get picked for any team at all, unless you manage to find a side that's permanently turning up with only nine players, and everyone and his brother will remember your failures more than your occasional successes, including you.

    Still, you will make fifty once in your life. Just once. It's very nearly your heart's desire. Don't be greedy. And your side will lose that game, but it won't be your fault.

  • Stuart on December 24, 2016, 22:03 GMT

    Honestly mate, all you ever go on about is the time you went to school with Darren Maddy and that he was good at cricket. Could you not just write all this in a diary or something?

  • c on December 24, 2016, 21:58 GMT

    Great Read. Haven't played the sport for more than a decade, but still miss it. Although played lots of baseball. This article is really relevant to me as I am contemplating playing cricket again and want to give my best shot at making it pro. I am already in my 30s but why not. I am way wiser, perhaps in the best shape of my life, athletic, ..... as long as I focus on spin and not fast bowling. Regardless if i make it. I know I gave it a shot and in the end you live only once. Perhaps in two years I will come back to this post and say, Damn I made it. Why not. GL.

  • Global on December 24, 2016, 19:52 GMT

    Amazing read.. and so much to relate to.. brought a few smiles and a tear. Great work!

  • ARKRAJ3849247 on December 24, 2016, 18:52 GMT

    Wow,,you beauty,,Neatly Crafted,,

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