Between 2005-2010 ‘Challenge Kemp’ was a regular feature of SPIN cricket magazine. Where – for some reason, always dressed as Sherlock Holmes – I would report on various challenges set for me in the cricket world.
This article was from the March 2006 issue.
Dedicated followers of this column will recall with a wince my earlier attempts at facing an over of Freddie Flintoff’s bowling in the Lord’s nets. That day the blade remained as clean as the moment it left the workbench; the Kemp rear-end, however, wound up peppered with six deep red circles, as if I’d sat on a plate of over-ripe strawberries.
Well here’s a chance to regain some pride, I thought as I opened the golden envelope containing my latest challenge; to bowl at England Women’s captain Charlotte Edwards.
Never mind that over the last nine years she has consistently been one of England’s top bats and recently lead her country through a tough series on the sub-continent where players were falling left, right and centre with Bombay Bum and broken fingers (so much so that Charlotte, at times, had to lead a side with only eight fit players on the park.)
I’m already hatching plans as I pull the deerstalker from the mothballs once more and make for The Brit Oval. Impress here, I figure, one quick visit to the gender re-alignment clinic later and the first class career could be back on track.
I may be getting a bit ahead of myself here though. My track record with the fairer sex, generally, is checkered to say the least [No kidding – Ed] – and Charlotte is an Ashes winner after all. A vital part of the women’s team that beat the Aussies in a series for the first time in 42 years. She stood up in front of the thousands of cheering fans in Trafalgar Square just like Freddie. In fact, she helped Freddie stand up in front of the thousands of cheering fans in Trafalgar Square. But rational thought and modesty have never been a strong part of the Kemp family make-up and I’m soon steaming in to bowl, all whirling arms and puffed-out cheeks.
Luckily for me it transpires that, only the night before, the England men and women’s teams were gathered for an award ceremony and it’s a rather tired-looking England opener – muttering something about 5am finishes and not picking up a bat in a month – that faces my first ball. It’s a peach of a delivery that moves in the air, seams off the pitch… and is that the tickle of an outside edge I hear? My opponent is wide eyed with surprise (as am I, but keep this covered as I charge down the pitch waggling my finger in triumph) “Oh God,” she says “I hope you don’t bowl me. That would look terrible. I was told you were going to be hopeless!”
I chuckle to myself at my gamesmanship. Little does she know that as recently as 1990 I played with some success for Middlesex schoolboys (I was 27 at the time).
The next few balls are snorters and I’m already picturing myself in a little skirt as the team faces the Indians again – this time on home soil – in August. However, it seems that these first deliveries – some of the best of my life – were mere sighters for Charlotte, and, as my legs leaden and her hangover clears, it seems she might just have got her eye in…
Soon, great clanging shots billow the sides of the net and everything I offer up is treated with ever-growing disdain. The power of each shot is pretty astounding. Charlotte’s hardly built like a Russian ‘lady’ shot putter, so each stroke that sends the ball high into the roof of the net or whistling past me on my follow through, is the product of pure timing.
“I take a lot of inspiration from Marcus Trescothick,” Charlotte calls after your wheezing correspondent, as he trudges back to his mark. “We’re both openers and we both hit the ball hard. There’s nothing fussy about our style”. I have to agree with this analysis as another ball is slapped back past my ear with apparently minimal footwork or, indeed, effort. It seems I have been ‘worked out’.
As I continue wearily flinging the ball down, one onlooker shouts out, “Pretend this is a real over – let’s see how many each shot would go for”. If only this joker had said that at the beginning when I was bowling like Wasim Akram…
The next six balls go for 26 runs.
At last I’m allowed to hobble off to the changing room, looking not unlike a little old man with rickets.
I catch up with a fresh-looking Charlotte later and grill her on exactly what she thought of my bowling. How fast is she used to facing?
“Well, I was facing Lorna Fitzpatrick last summer and she can get up to about 80 miles an hour, but generally the bowling in women’s cricket is about 60.” And how fast was I? “Oh, you know, about that…” Charlotte says vaguely, obviously trying not to damage my pride any further. Really “Well, er maybe a little less…”
So how come you found it so easy in the end? “Well in these indoor nets the ball just comes on to you,” she says. “You just play through the line. It’s very easy for the batsman.” I start to feel a bit better about myself. “And because you’re not very tall, you don’t get much bounce do you?”
I decide to change the subject.
It seems she’s been putting hopeless fellas like me to the sword for quite some time now: “I started playing in the school and county boys teams,” she says. “They were great days, and I was my county’s leading scorer. Some of the opposition didn’t like me playing. Some of the parents wouldn’t let their sons play when they saw I was in the team. It was crazy. But I didn’t mind. It made me play better. I realised in every game I was always being judged. I just hope that our Ashes win inspires more girls to take up the sport and shows everyone how well us women cricketers are doing”.
Well, I certainly don’t need telling as, not for the first time, another Kemp dream fades away…