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Mixing It With The Best

Tom Grundy reports on the experience of a lifetime after bowling at England and West Indies in the Edgbaston nets. Turns out it was him that bowled Tino Best into some form…

It’s rare that a club cricketer such as myself is able to go toe-to-toe with the world’s best, but the final Test of the series against the West Indies at Edgbaston provided me with just that opportunity. As a local opening bowler I was invited to England and West Indies’ net sessions to provide net bowling prior to and during the Test match. What followed was a quite brilliant experience.

It’s fair to say I was slightly nervous as England fast bowling coach David Saker threw me a ball and pointed me towards Alastair Cook’s net for my first bowl of the day. Slotting in between Stuart Broad and Steven Finn, my palm has never felt sweatier and my arm less like my own. Somehow my first few deliveries hit a decent area and I soon settled into a bowling rhythm, most of the batsmen treating good deliveries with respect and dispatching anything too full or too short.

The West Indian squad were keener to make the most of our services, favouring running net bowlers into the ground to throwdowns. It was, somewhat surprisingly, Tino Best who spent the most time with us in the indoor centre and after watching the events of Sunday unfold, it appears we bowled him into some form! He also provided some of the funniest moments of the week. The first was the result of a fellow net bowler deciding to bounce the Barbadian, and as he went to collect the ball from the ducking batsman, Tino said, “Good pace man, now get your pads on!” Having seen Best roll a few out from a couple of paces, it wasn’t an offer anyone in their right mind would accept.

The second took place as Tino was preparing to bat against us in a net next to where Cook was taking throwdowns from Graham Gooch. Somebody asked Tino if he had been selected for the match and he sharply replied, loud enough for the England contingent to hear, “Yeah, and I’m going to break Cook’s ribs.” Cook remained focused while Gooch let out a little smirk.

In amongst all the bowing and a lot of shielding myself from Darren Sammy’s straight drives, I did pick up a few ‘Test wickets’ for all my hard work. Adrian Barath, Kieran Powell and Kirk Edwards all fell victim to my brand of medium-pace and each wicket was met with me keeping my head down and retrieving the ball quietly, with the occasional apology. One of my net bowling colleagues opted for a celebration and send off after taking Ian Bell’s edge; this was met with disapproving looks from the England players and management.

Having trained with the West Indies and England for three days it was evident that the hosts brought a higher level of intensity to their training, with Gooch in particular putting the batsmen through their paces. For me, the most enjoyable batsman to watch and to bowl to was undoubtedly Jonathan Trott. Alongside the patience of Cook and Andrew Strauss and the forcefulness of Kevin Pietersen and Jonny Bairstow, Trott provided a technically perfect master-class that saw him pick off the bowling from any line or length. Having come away with a handful of Test scalps and witnessed world-class batting from the best view in the house, those were three days I will not forget in a while.

Click here to read extracts from Steven Finn’s diary, written exclusively for All Out Cricket

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