Alan Ward: A Colt of Classic Potential

Alan Ward is a colt of classic potential. Those people who follow the turf (and there has always been a sizeable community within the game of cricket that would be hard put to choose between a 33-1 winner and a hundred against Yorkshire) will know exactly how Derbyshire feels about Alan Ward. Here is a colt of classic potential, one with real speed. The trouble is, he has been difficult to train. Between the ages of 16 and 20, he outgrew his strength at a pace that was as alarming as his fastball, and even now, Major Douglas Carr, the Derbyshire secretary, is apt to look at him reflectively to make sure that he has not grown any taller than six foot three inches in the past year.
To say that Alan Ward has been nursed is to flatter the Florence Nightingale of this world. Derbyshire had him in an intensive care unit before the medical profession understood the meaning of the term. He has been cooed over and clucked over, he has been told what to do and when, he has been on body-building courses, he has done weight-training and road running, his various captains have told him when to put his sweaters on and when to take them off, they have made a fetish of not over-bowling him, and, one way and another, he has been handled as if he came from Ming instead of Dronfield. You can understand why when you talk to Alan Ward. “I’ve pulled practically every muscle in my body,” he says cheerfully. “You name a muscle, and I’ve pulled it.
My back, my shoulders, my arms, and my legs. The lot. I had so many strains and injuries that I hardly played at all for two years. I suppose it was just a question of growing up.” Still, the pace was there. Derbyshire had seen it when he went to their nets as a boy of 16, and they have been nurturing it ever since. “I didn’t play much cricket at school,” says Alan Ward. “I wasn’t that interested in it. I did bowl a bit, though.
Anyway, one day, one of the local clubs asked me if I would play for them. They must have seen me at school. I was 16. I went along. I was rough as anything, but so were the pitches, and I took a lot of wickets. I enjoyed it. I love knocking the stumps down. The club recommended me to Derbyshire. I had a fortnight’s trial. They took me on.” Douglas Carr, Derbyshire’s secretary, says with the sort of understatement that Noel Murless might envy, “He is certainly quick. One or two good players think quite a lot of him.”
At the end of last season, Derbyshire decided that, as Brian Jackson was retiring, it was time to take the wraps off Alan Ward and give him a bowl in the big time. He started against Leicestershire early in August, and he dismissed Maurice Hallam, Mick Norman, and Terry Spencer, who were numbers one, two, and eleven. He did not play against Somerset and Glamorgan but came in again against Yorkshire. He took two for 39 in the first inning and three for 16 in the second, and his wickets included Phil Sharpe, Doug Padgett, and John Hampshire. Derbyshire then went to Cardiff to play Glamorgan.
On a pitch quick enough to make a fast bowler lick his lips, Alan Ward bowled out their first four batsmen on the way to taking six for 56, and he induced such a feeling of respect among the opposition that it inspired Tony Lewis, the Glamorgan captain, to produce the quote of the season. “For once, I was glad to get down to Harold Rhodes’ end, and I never thought I would live to see that happen,” said Lewis fervently. Alan Ward took four wickets in Glamorgan’s second innings, including both openers for the second time in the match, and he ended the month with five for 50 and three for 23 against Hampshire.
That was it. He had taken 26 county wickets for a total cost of 308 runs, which worked out to 11.8 runs each. He played some festival cricket in September, but he did not take many more wickets. All he did was spoil his average a bit. As a result of this month of menace, Ward found himself in an MCC side at the beginning of this season, and he found himself being interviewed by such diverse organs as Yorkshire Television, The Daily Telegraph, and The Cricketer (ever on the ball!). “You’re the fastest bowler in the world,” said the gentleman from Yorkshire Television, by way of an opening.
“I’m not,” said Ward, with some spirit, which must have depleted the interview no end. “That sort of talk is unwarranted at this stage of my career,” says Ward, sensibly. “I’ve played for MCC after half a dozen matches and I’m thrilled about having played for them, but I’ve done now. It would have been better if things had been gradual.”
He shrugged. “But they haven’t. “I’m ambitious. I want to play for England. I’m tremendously curious to know how this season will go, but I fancy that there will be a few batters looking out for me.” Asked to digress on which way he moved the ball (a subject on which several fast bowlers I could think of would contribute not less than 5,000 words), Ward carefully kept a very, very straight face and said, “I bowl a lot of straight balls.” He thought a moment. “You could say I’m experimenting,” he allowed.
He did not exactly slip himself when playing for MCC against Yorkshire. The weather was cold and grey and not conducive to whittling them down. Alan Ward looked philosophical. “But then that old currant bun comes out,” he says, “and you feel different again. You feel like bowling quick.” Ward was right about the batters who are looking out for him. His start this season was as gradual as he could have wished. It was so gradual that it was almost imperceptible. That may be no bad thing. If Alan Ward is going to bowl as fast as Frank Tyson, not many Englishmen will mind if he takes another two years to work up to it.
Alan Ward: This characteristic bend-back just before delivery seems to be a mixed blessing. It has caused criticism in that it seems to break the impetus of his forward motion, but at the same time, it winds him up for maximum velocity at the moment of release.
Alan Ward of Derbyshire: "One way and another he has been handled as if he came from Ming instead of Dronfield." Few bowlers have been so carefully nurtured by their county nursery and have made so sudden an impression on the county scene. Is he the new Frank Tyson?
Alan Ward of Derbyshire: “One way and another he has been handled as if he came from Ming instead of Dronfield.” Few bowlers have been so carefully nurtured by their county nursery and have made so sudden impression on the county scene. Is he the new Frank Tyson?
Alan Ward: A Colt of Classic Potential
Alan Ward: A Colt of Classic Potential