Stewart Larner

In 2003, Greg Smith was Chairman of the Almondbury Casuals Cricket Club, a very friendly cricket club. One Sunday he described to me the purpose of the club as “specifically to give hopeless cricketers a game”. I’m unsure what Stewart felt about his talent, but the neutral observer would have to say he was not a gifted cricketer. I first met him when he worked as an NHS clinical psychologist in Manchester. Clearly no slouch in the brain department then. There are many who are not entirely sure what a clinical psychologist does and despite working with several, I confess I haven’t much of a clue either.

Stewart was a jolly chap, a Billy Bunter character. Rumour had it the Casuals got him on a free transfer from Cambridge Methodists, a friendly team just off the Bradford-Leeds bypass, near the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. Whatever the pace or age of the bowler, he wore a helmet. He went to Yorkshire’s winter nets every year where presumably he learned, as a prelude to each Casuals innings, to run four laps round the square before returning to the changing room to practise his shots, a sort of air guitar with a cricket bat. A routine he never varied.

I first saw him play in the 2004 Yapham fixture. Stewart batted six and came in to join opener Paul Nozzer Brown, who, despite a number of runs going begging wide of his leg stump, being dropped four times and overthrown on at least one attempted run out, was still at the crease and well on his way to a hundred. Stewart somehow stayed with Nozzer and helped him to finish on 96 not out. In the last over, Nozzer was so desperate to get the ton, he lapped Stewart once, could have been twice, trying to run a four. Stewart couldn’t speak for ten minutes.

At the winter committee meeting of 2005, Will Ward, opening bat and surveyor, told this wonderful story about Stewart’s indoor net. Stewart lived in a large old vicarage, with attics and cellars. Somewhere in the depths was an open space 22 yards long with a wicket at one end. A Heath-Robinson construction began at the other. Made of rifled guttering of a diameter suitable for a cricket or tennis ball, it angled downwards for fifteen yards before letting go with speed and accuracy. A seemingly innocent descent thus transformed an angelic orb into a satanic missile. As fiendish a delivery that ever spat off a length. And Stuart would be there, waiting . . .

The following spring, fresh from winter coaching, I watched him against Whitley Bridge. His helmeted innings started with the conventional forward press, but pretty soon we saw boundaries from the slog-sweep, pioneered by Lance Kleusener but now taken to a new height. Higher still, the lob wedge to short midwicket and finally the classic thick top edge to backward of square. 11 runs and pleased as punch. But it didn’t stop there. Following the tea interval, Stewart showed us the discipline it takes to play at his level. Four times round the square and several stretches had jaws dropping in the pavilion, making way for the last pieces of chocolate cake. Then his over of slow off-spin was pure mystery. His fielding came from the much vaunted ataxic school of coordination. No one was in the slightest doubt as to the outcome when a short skier entered his area of the pitch. But then he caught it.

Stewart’s retired from the NHS to Scarborough, and he is in the process of forming his very own team.

Written in 2009

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