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The Ten

The Ten: Net gains – From Piers Morgan v Brett Lee to KP’s Topley-banger

by George Jackson 5 minute read

We step away from the field of play to explore some famous net gains – moments that have taken place in that most vaunted of practice areas.

First published in 2014

10. Piers is a clown

If there was a competition to pick out the most embarrassing moment of England’s Ashes tour down under, the sight of Piers Morgan holding his bat aloft having faced an over of Brett Lee in the nets would have to be up there. Piers had criticised the England players for folding under the pressure of the Mitchell Johnson-led short-ball barrage and claimed that he could do a better job. Despite being gobby to the last, he left the net with a broken rib after taking four balls on the body. Legendary Kiwi Richard Hadlee condemned the stunt as “dangerous and unnecessary” while the perma-smooth Gower declared it to be “completely unedifying”.

9. Bumpers in the road

Animosity between Dennis Lillee and Kim Hughes went back to when they were both youngsters in Western Australia. It came to a head, however, when Lillee’s buddy Rod Marsh was passed over for the Australian captaincy in favour of Hughes. The searingly-fast Lillee apparently took out his frustration by constantly bouncing the helmet-less Hughes in the nets. “They thought he was a soft boy. They were two hard men and they didn’t have much respect for him,” says Australia’s coach at the time Peter Philpott. Australia only won four of the 28 Tests that Hughes captained.

Kim Hughes (left) and Dennis Lillee played together in 37 Tests and 49 ODIs for Australia

8. The Claret Rose

During a Lancashire net session in 2003, a young and fiery Sajid Mahmood hit Andrew Flintoff on the shoulder with a beamer. The blow caused internal bleeding and Flintoff missed the two upcoming Tests against Zimbabwe (meaning Mahmood’s waywardness is somewhat to thank for Anthony McGrath’s Test career). In his book, Flintoff revealed he “had a right go at” Mahmood because it was “like a darts player missing the board and hitting the announcer.”

7. Trotty gets shirty

Pakistan’s 2010 tour of England was disintegrating into chaos. The spot-fixing scandal had just broken and remained unresolved. With pressure building on the Pakistan Cricket Board, chairman Ijaz Butt suggested that some England players had taken an “enormous amount of money” to throw the third ODI. England’s fury culminated in a clash between Jonathan Trott and Wahab Riaz in the nets at Lord’s. It’s alleged that Trott accused Riaz of being a ‘match-fixer’ and then grabbed him by the throat. The pair had to be separated by Graham Gooch. The following year saw three Pakistani cricketers – Wahab Riaz not among them – serving prison sentences for match-fixing.

6. Look away now

There’s footage on YouTube of this incident and it’s not pleasant viewing. The Kent opening batsman David Fulton is practising with a bowling machine against the short ball. After a few textbook hook shots, Fulton settles into his stance and checks the position of his feet. All is well. As he looks up though, the ball, prematurely fed into the machine, strikes him in the eye. The ball, travelling at 90 mph, pierced the grill of his helmet and caused injuries that required major surgery and nearly ended his career. A warning to us all.

5. Dananjaya lives the dream

If you’re a kid growing up who likes cricket this is the kind of thing you dream of. Turn up to the nets, bowl a few deliveries and get selected in the World Cup squad: Roy of the Rovers stuff. Sri Lankan Akila Dananjaya had never played professional cricket when he was selected for his nation’s World T20 squad in 2012 based purely on the strength of his performances as a net bowler – and the push to get him selected is said to have come from captain Mahela Jayawardene. High praise indeed.

4. KP’s Topley-banger

Young Essex bowler Reece Topley had a less successful time of it at Loughborough University in 2009 when he turned up to bowl to the England players. The big-hitting Kevin Pietersen, never shy of generating news, whether intentionally or not – drove a ball back at the young left-armer and watched in horror as it smashed him in the head. The 15-year-old was knocked out and required stitches. “My ear was basically hanging off,” Topley said afterwards. Happily enough, KP signed a bat for the youngster and, five years later, he’s taken 118 first-class wickets at an average below 26.

3. Onyon makes Faulkner weep

As the 2013/14 Ashes festival of Pom-bashing headed to the pace-friendly track that is Perth, and with Ryan ‘Rhino’ Harris’s knee creaking, all-rounder James Faulkner came into contention for a second Test cap. His chance of being selected was shattered, along with his right thumb, by a bouncer delivered by Aaron Onyon in the nets before the game. Brilliantly, Onyon was a British ex-pat from Lincolnshire, at the time plying his trade in Perth as a club pro. It’s fair to say it’s probably the most damage an Englishman inflicted on an Aussie during that most painful of winters.

James Faulkner played just one Test for Australia

2. The ‘folly’ of Solly

England and leg-spin have never been the most natural of bedfellows, but one of the country’s finest exponents of the art in recent years is the much-underrated Ian Salisbury. The former Surrey twirler was taken to India in 1993 as a net bowler but after appearing to be the most dangerous in practice he leapfrogged John Emburey and Phil Tufnell to play in the first Test. Mike Atherton described the decision in his book as “pure folly,” as he wasn’t an official member of the full touring party. Salisbury failed to take his net form out to the middle, recording figures of 1-88 in an India win.

1. ‘Hampshire is history’

Deep in the mythology of English cricket, and the after-dinner speaking circuit, is a story about the young Devon Malcolm. Recommended to the Derbyshire set-up by Geoffrey Boycott, young Dev was invited for a net with the county. The young man charged in, according to Geoff ‘Dusty’ Miller, and delivered a vicious rising ball that struck John ‘Jack’ Hampshire in the chest. The twist being that Hampshire had been batting in the neighbouring net. Hampshire, 22 years Malcolm’s senior, was (apparently) carried out with two broken ribs. Fortunately, Dev would go on to improve his accuracy and clean up a few batsmen standing at the right set of stumps.

First published in 2014

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