In a few short months during the summer of 1988 I went from being a 5 foot 5 inch aspiring club standard fast bowler to playing U15 International cricket as a wicket keeper. This came about through a combination of a number of factors.
The most important factor was luck: In my 3rd game as a keeper I was watched by an incredibly influential person within the English game who pulled some strings. This fast-tracked me into a trial for the West of England squad. It was ironically held at Millfield School.
I went to the Bunbury Festival and kept wicket well (for a novice) over the next 4 days. I was then I was informed that I would be playing for England U15s against Scotland U17s the following week.
I had received no specialist coaching as there were no wicket keeping coaches anywhere in 1988, let alone from my home on the Isle of Wight.
So how did I learn the movement patterns and skills that seemed to pull the wool over the eyes of selectors and coaches alike in 1988?
The wicketkeeper wall game
Effectively, I taught myself to keep wicket in my back yard. We had a brick extension at the back of the house which fed onto a patio area.
In this space I used to pretend that I was keeping to my fast bowling heroes: Ian Botham, Neil Foster, Malcolm Marshall; and spinners such as John Embury and Phil Edmonds.
I did this by throwing golf ball or old tennis ball against the extension wall whilst keeping behind some home made stumps. The ball would come back at good speed off the wall, often deviating off of the brick wall and sometimes hitting the edge of the patio slab as well.
I created some rough patches with old bits of carpet and placed them on a length. Again, the ball would take some funny bounces off of those surfaces.
My cricket bag was a fantastic "batter" in front of me when I practiced taking leg side balls to different types of spinners and seamers.
Every ball was taken as if I was in the middle of a Test Match.
I could sense the crowd, feel the pressure of the game around me and would even commentate to myself as I threw the ball into the wall and received the ball back off of it.
I used to do this for hours each day. In many ways, I had already kept wicket in 20 Test Matches (in my head) before I actually put on gloves in a game for the 1st time!
What a unique drill.
Or so I thought!
Many years later, I had a conversation with the great Australian keeper, Ian Healy about this "unique" drill and how it kickstarted my career.
Ian just laughed and then showed me the golf ball that he used to take with him on every Test tour to do exactly the same thing.
He also used to visualise the opposition players batting infront of him with Warne, Gillespie and McGrath being "bowlers in his head". He would find the most difficult surfaces that he could, and practice for hours on his own. He would end up in all sorts of weird and wonderful places around the cricketing world.
I still use the drill with players at school. It provides them with a self relent drill that they can make their own.
I encourage them to build layers of distraction or different bounce types (from different balls or surfaces) to test their movement, speed, balance and catch.
Here is James Seward using the drill on the Pool shelf in the Aquatic centre last week.
Watch the way that he chases the ball to prevent a quick single and maybe create a run out opportunity. James is creating his own reality and practicing really well.
I now know that the drill is not unique.
But it's a great one nonetheless.
Give it a go.