Retro Sport: Send for Syd - part two

Syd celebrates his first wicket at the Recreation Ground v Seaton

Syd celebrates his first wicket at the Recreation Ground v Seaton - Credit: Archant

In July 1994, Torquay Cricket Club, facing the threat of relegation, asked me to find a pro to rescue them. I drove to Bristol, and signed up former England fast bowler, David ‘Syd’ Lawrence... but not everyone approved!

A batsman's nightmare! Syd leaps into his delivery stride v Seaton

A batsman's nightmare! Syd leaps into his delivery stride v Seaton - Credit: Archant

Two years ago, Syd Lawrence had sustained a serious injury while opening the bowling for England, in New Zealand. A come-back attempt had failed, and now, on July 30, 1994, he was sitting opposite me in the Grand Hotel.

“Give it to me straight,” he said “What exactly is expected of me?”

I explained that Torquay had just six fixtures left, and that the club had hired him to save it from relegation. Whatever that took, within the rules of the game, was for him to decide!

Soon afterwards, as we walked into the Recreation Ground, he turned to me, and smiled: “I don’t come with a safety catch, you know!”

The Seaton batsmen halt play to complain about 'intimidation'

The Seaton batsmen halt play to complain about 'intimidation' - Credit: Archant

We reached the pavilion, and Syd climbed the stairs to the changing room, to meet his new team mates.

A big crowd had gathered, and I joined it. Everyone knew that if we could win today’s match against Seaton, it would be a huge first step towards safety.

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Torquay batted first and ended with an impressive 234 for 5.

After tea, Ian Coulton threw the ball to Syd, and asked him what field he wanted. “Five slips!” was the brief reply, as the giant fast bowler paced out his run-up.

He turned, glared at the batsman for a moment, and began a rather flat-footed, limping run in. Gone was the athleticism of old, but not the fire in his belly!

Just as he reached the crease, he leapt high into the air, turned his huge shoulders, and hurled the first ball of the match at Seaton’s opening batsman.

It pitched short and fizzed past his nose. The second ball knocked his off stump back.

Next in was Richard Newton, the Seaton captain and a Devon county batsman. He lunged forward at the last four balls of the over, and they passed him at shoulder height.

Midway through Syd’s second over, the batsmen halted play, and asked the umpires to take action against ‘persistent short pitched bowling aimed at the head’!

Umpires Mike Rowle and Trevor Dodwell disagreed, and ordered play to re-start. Wickets began to tumble, and, although Syd ended with just two of them, it was his physical aggression which had inspired the comfortable victory.

Newton continued to play forward to every ball, and ended up covered in bruises. On the following day, the Independent devoted a full page to the ‘Bouncer War’. In reality, Syd had bowled a good length, but his height, and strength, ensured that he got prodigious lift.

When the Bristol Evening Post published news of Newton’s bruises, Syd replied: “Poor technique is always a recipe for pain!”

Draws against Plymouth and South Devon followed, but Syd was never far from controversy.

Against South Devon, the umpires removed him from the attack after six overs. His knee injury had made it difficult for him to avoid running down the wicket in his follow through, and he had ignored three warnings.

Always inspirational, and giving 100 per cent, Syd carried on undaunted in the face of more media criticism.

The following weekend saw high-flying Exeter arrive at the Recreation Ground. Despite chasing a disappointing target of 147, Exeter were soon in trouble against Syd’s pace.

He had taken three early wickets, and was now fielding at mid-off as Exeter’s last pair needed just 13 more runs to win.

As the crowd held its breath, the last man lost patience and swung hard at a delivery from Julian Wyatt. The ball flew towards Syd who dived forward to make the catch.

As the umpires signalled the end of the match, the batsmen were furious.

“But it bounced before he caught it!” they said.

Mayhem followed, and, after having his shower, Syd walked out on to the pavilion balcony topless. An Exeter supporter shouted up to him: “You cheat!” Syd smiled broadly, and replied: “If you come up here, we can discuss it!”

The win banished any fears of relegation, and Syd’s job was done!

He ended with 13 wickets, but gave so much more!

He had a heart to match his huge frame, and his mere presence brought the best out of the team.

Soon after his memorable month in Torquay, Syd said goodbye to cricket.

He now owns a nightclub in Bristol, and is the current West of England over-50s body building champion. Too boring for a character like Syd?

Oh! Yes! I almost forgot! He still uses his skills to attack the head...

He now runs a micropigmentation programme where he tattoos stubble on to bald men’s heads!