“Keep my shoulders on the ground, you must be having a f*****g laugh,” is my rather unbecoming response to a request to stretch inside the Lord’s MCC academy. Apologies to the members.
I’m stretching because Devon Malcolm has told me to. Yes, the former England international Devon Malcolm has told me to stretch, so I do. Even with myself at 6’2″, his presence remains towering, and I’m not in a position to argue with a man with 128 Test wickets.
So the question is, why am I being asked, nee told, to stretch (a question I’ve not asked since a Year 9 PE lesson)?
It’s all on behalf of Play With A Legend‘s new venture into cricket. The brainchild of Josh Landy and former Arsenal footballer Perry Groves, PWAL has been a triumph in football, allowing fans to play a match with their ex-professional heroes, an ideal event for stag-dos, corporate events and beyond.
Now, in partnership with the Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA), the team have expanded their repertoire with a smaller ball, starting by inviting journalists and cricket bloggers to pit themselves against Malcolm in the Lord’s Academy.
Malcolm also joined us for a drink afterwards, reflecting on his side’s win (in fairness, he played for both teams, so that achievement is dampened somewhat), but told us the day is more than just who prevails in the game.
“When you played for England, access for the fans to us and vice versa was very limited with the amount of practice you do. Coming here, you get to tell a few stories, pass on some tips and really express the enjoyment of what playing for England was all about.
As Malcolm himself admitted, even as you use the pace growing older, the skills remain, as shown when he ripped one past my outside edge. I prefer to call it a good leave.
The ex-England man acted as the eighth man for both sides, giving each attendee a chance to bat and bowl against a man with 1,000 first-class wickets behind him.
But even the heroes themselves can be fallible, as Malcolm showed when in knots from an over in spin, not quite finding an edge which I’d have almost certainly snaffled behind the stumps.
The great man himself alluded to the fact that “a lot of people make jokes of Devon Malcolm’s batting”, an opinion he is proud to share as being the last victim in Shane Warne’s only Test hat-trick.
“I know quite a bit about it, opening or closing the face to play the ball, so I could coach too.
“Shane has never been the same since I hit him for a few sixes in Sydney! But the Test before, at Melbourne, the man who took 700 Test wickets only had one hat-trick, and I’m delighted to be bracketed to be that final victim.
“He’s so proud of that hat-trick, he always talks about it and so he always talks about Devon Malcolm. He doesn’t talk about the others, he just talks about me!
“I was looking to put him for six, wherever he pitched, which didn’t work, but the Test after that I got a couple and made my highest score of 28.
It’s anecdotes like those that make cricket what it is, and what makes being a cricket fan that little bit more special than any other sport.
It’s an opportunity to strike the cleanest ball you’ll ever hit in your life, only to be denied by the right hand of a former pro. But at the end of the day, not many people can have c D Malcolm in their scorecard.
It’s an opportunity to make a fool of yourself and still come away with a smile on your face and, hopefully, not too many physical and mental bruises.