In September 1955, I left Montpelier School, Paignton, and was sent to Clifton College, a well-known boarding school in Bristol.
After a winter of rugby, April 1956 arrived, and it was time for cricket!
The first net session at my new school was organised by one of the batting coaches, a young New Zealander called Tom Wells, and he took a close look at each of his new arrivals.
Obviously unimpressed by my batting, he called me over and said: “I see you as a spin bowler, young man, so I am going to send you to work with Old Reg.”
The following day, I was in the presence of my last, and most influential coach.
'Old Reg' was the legendary former Gloucestershire and England all-rounder Reg Sinfield, now in his mid-50s, and we met him in a classroom.
Reg didn’t work in the nets any more... he didn’t need to!
“I’ll teach you about cricket, and I’ll teach you about spin bowling,” he told us.
“One of the younger coaches will teach you about the rules of the game, and what you do with your fingers to spin a ball... those are the secondary bits!”
Then, standing in front of us, leaning forward, and looking deep into our eyes, he began a coaching session which I remember, almost word for word, 65 years later!
“Do you love cricket?” he asked. “Yes,” we all replied in unison.
“OK, gentlemen, if you really love it, I can tell you, now, that every one of you will blossom into a fine cricketer!
“How can I be so sure? Well, I’ll tell you how I know."
We were already spell-bound as he explained.
“During a cricket match, you are only on the field for half of it. During the other half, all but two of you are in the pavilion!
"So, some of you will be great 'on-field' cricketers, and the others will be great 'off-field' cricketers, and both are equally important!
“When I was young, I was in the navy. Do you think the gunners were the most important people on board? No! Of course not, the rest of the crew were just as important!”
He stood up, still bending towards us, and said: “So you want to be spin bowlers? Well, I am going to introduce you to a lady who will help you be just that!”
We looked towards the door, but, as we did so, he pulled a cricket ball from his jacket pocket.
“Here she is! And always remember... she’s a lady!
“Look after her, keep her clean, and she will work hard for you.
“When you run in to bowl, take your lady, gently, in your hand, and then dance with her!
“Get up on your toes, relax, dance a few steps, and then reach up, and spin your lady, just like when you’re dancing.”
He demonstrated a rhythmical run-up, and continued.
“After you have spun her, you throw her high, and offer her to the batsman.
"Then, as soon as she has left you, you bring your hand down across your chest, and bow to her!
“If you bully her, and throw her down hard on to the pitch, she won’t work for you... so, remember, if you always treat her like a lady, and give her wings, she will reward you with wickets.”
Although I didn’t know it then, later in my life, I would coach cricket for nearly 30 years. I never used this imagery, myself, but then, I never had even a spoonful of Reg’s charisma!
Before we left the classroom, he called us up to him, and we gathered around, staring up at him, as he said: “Now, lads, I’ve got a special treat for you!”
Reaching into his pocket, he brought out a bright shiny cricket ball with eyes, eye lashes, and a small pouting mouth crayoned upon it.
“Here is my own very special lady,” he said, bending down towards us.
“Eighteen years ago, in a Test Match against Australia, I offered this young lady to Don Bradman!”
Our mouths dropped open.
“She smiled at him, and he couldn’t resist her! As he went to reach for her, she spun away, clipped his bat, and then jumped right up into Les Ames’s gloves!”
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