In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
A Modern Day Fairytale
The scream could be heard throughout the entire building site, reducing the fifty or so workers to a shocked silence. It was followed by an equally agonised, drawn out gurgle of pain. Those who were close saw that a huge slab of concrete had fallen directly onto a bricklayer’s hands crushing them against the wall he had been laying. It took nearly ten minutes to move the slab. Fortunately, the injured man, Jake Ottley was already unconscious.
At first it was thought that amputation would be necessary for at least one hand, if not both. Jake’s surgeon was a very compassionate man and he worked tirelessly for a year to rebuild the shattered hands. He succeeded, after a fashion. Jake was able, more or less, to use them but without the abilities he possessed before the accident. He was unable to work, and from his own viewpoint something worse, unable to play cricket.
At the start of April 2004, Jake wandered down to the village cricket ground in St Johns in Woking, to see his old teammates.
“Jake, old chap, how are you?” “What a bloody shame, mate.” And so on. Some people, unable to know how to handle the situation, joked awkwardly. “Well, Jake, at least it won’t spoil your fielding; you were no bloody good in the first place.”
He was persuaded to pad up and go into the nets, but it was not a success. His hands were totally estranged from the bat and Jake Ottley knew he would never bat properly again. The club captain, Brian Lee, went into the nets, picked up a ball and tossed it to Jake. “Come on, mate, throw me down a few. Your fielding wasn’t the only thing that was lousy; you couldn’t bowl either.”
“True, true,” Jake muttered to himself, as he came off his short run, three paces, and turned his arm over. The ball pitched outside the leg stump, spun sharply and hit Lee’s off stump.
Brian Lee stared down the track. “You lucky bugger. Bet you can’t do that again.”
“Oh yes, bloody lucky, that’s me all right.” At the same time he could feel that his misshapen hand could impart a great deal of spin on the ball. He tried again and Lee was bowled middle stump by a prodigious off break from outside the off stump. All the players gathered around to watch Jake and examine his grip on the ball. At the end of the evening they all knew, as did Jake, that the 39 year old with the ugly broken hands could spin a cricket ball like no one they had ever seen.
Jake was picked for the first game and took 7-23 as his team romped home by a street. Throughout the summer he left a trail of carnage across the Surrey cricket leagues, taking 130 wickets in 22 games. He even started to practice bowling left-handed. Jake Ottley was famous. His story was covered by all the national newspapers and there was even talk of his being elected Briton of the Year. His damaged hands were featured in press photographs and even on television.
It was close to the end of the season when he received a telephone call at his home. A man introduced himself. “I’m Roger Knight, Secretary of Surrey County Cricket Club. Tell me, please, Jake, where were you born.”
Jake, certain he was being set up, replied, “Guildford.”
“Would you like to turn out for the County in our last Championship match, against Middlesex at the Oval?”
“This is a joke, isn’t it?”
But it was not a joke and J A Ottley, at forty years of age made his debut for Surrey a few days later. He tore Middlesex apart, taking thirteen wickets in the game to give his County an innings victory and the County Championship. The following year, Jake was playing for Surrey from the opening game. Throughout 2005 he wreaked havoc on the cricket grounds of England and Wales, taking over a hundred wickets and heading the national averages. Inevitably, there were calls in the press for his inclusion in the Test team, calls that became a torrent when the Aussies won the Fourth Test to level the series at 2-2.
Jake didn’t believe such a thing was possible, but when Ashley Giles broke a finger, there was David Graveney on the phone.
“Jake, will you join the team at the Oval for the final Test?”
What a question! There was only one answer and so, a few days later, an unemployed brickie arrived in his Vauxhall Astra to meet the others. It was as if the Gods had come down from Mount Olympus as they walked onto the familiar turf. Flintoff, Michael Vaughn, KP, Strauss and Harmie. These were the English players. The Australian Gods were even larger, McGrath, Warney, the skipper Ponting and the batting legend, Matt Hayden. Jake walked several feet off the ground.
It all proved too much for Jake Ottley. Glenn McGrath bowled him first ball in England’s first innings of 368. The Australians powered to a lead of 220 runs with Jake taking none for plenty. His spin had gone, he simply couldn’t bowl. In their second innings England didn’t bat well and when Jake joined Andy Flintoff, the great man needed another 50 for his hundred. The pair added 56, Jake scoring a painful two before Brett Lee took all three of his stumps out of the ground. At least Flintoff had his century, even if England’s lead was only 92. Hayden and Langer moved steadily to 39 off eleven overs before Vaughn called on Jake to bowl. As he started his short run up, Langer at the non striker’s end remarked, “You can’t bloody bowl, mate.”
The ball spun sharply from the leg, took the edge of Hayden’s bat and Trescothick was throwing the ball up at slip. Ponting played all around the third ball and was bowled through the gate and to the fifth Damian Martin gave Jake the charge, missed and Jones whipped off the bails. 39-3. The crowd hummed with excitement; sensing something might just be happening. It was, England’s spinner could spin the ball again. The wickets tumbled, Jake taking six and Flintoff, striving with every sinew, three at the other end. 90-9; the Aussies needed only three runs to win. The Oval was electric, the tension tangible as Jake took the ball for his ninth over. The Australians, the English players, the 26,000 spectators and indeed the whole country knew this was to be the final over. Thirty days of cricket, one hundred and eighty hours had boiled down to this moment. It was not going to be easy.
Shane Warne spent a busy minute of gardening, and, as Jake was preparing to bowl, called for new batting gloves. He took fresh guard, looked slowly around the field and nodded, ready to face. Jake turned quietly to umpire Buckner. “I want to bowl round the wicket.”
Buckner stared at him. “You’s bowling round the wicket now, man”
“Left arm around.”
Buckner stared at Jake, eyes white in his long West Indian face. He wandered over to Rudi Koertzen and the two umpires discussed the unprecedented request. They asked the advice of the third umpire and after some delay, it was decided that Jake could bowl left-handed. Bucknor advised Warne who took fresh guard, shaking his blonde locks in disbelief.
Jake trotted in slowly, and delivered the ball, imparting more spin than he had ever done. The ball pitched on off stump and spun back into the batsman. Warne went down on one knee to sweep, but the ball climbed on him, took the shoulder of the bat and there was Geraint Jones leaping like a salmon to catch it in his left glove. The Oval erupted in a wall of sound, relief, joy and sheer excitement woven into an explosion.
Jake, unable to believe what had happened, stood still as Freddie Flintoff lead the charge of bodies towards him. He lost consciousness as they fell on him. A hand was shaking him. “Jake, Jake, we’ve won the Test, we’ve won the bloody Test.” As Jake opened his eyes he saw his wife and the jubilant scenes on the television. For a moment he could not understand and he looked down at his hands. They were perfect, the fingers straight and unblemished, apart from a little brick dust under his nails.
He smiled. We beat the Aussies. It was too much to expect two fairy stories in one day.
Written by BM