Headingley 1981 changed my life for ever. In the course of a single afternoon my world turned upside down. I'm not being big-headed, but I don't think the country was quite the same after that.
|"Have you tried switching it off and then switching it back on again?" Botham and Brearley talk tactics.|
I was playing a test match there for England against the Australians when I took delivery of my very first personal computer - the ground breaking Sinclair ZX81. It might appear a bit dated now but in those days it was like looking into the future ... and I liked what I saw.
Before I could get my hands on the little beauty there was the small matter of winning a test match to consider. In that game we were pretty much dead and buried, and when I was joined at the crease by tail-ender Graham Dilley not many people in the ground gave us any hope. We were so far behind that I just said to Picca (Graham Dilley) "let's just give it some 'umpty." I was dying to get back into the dressing room and set up my new toy and I didn't want to be hanging around doing a Boycott and blocking.
|Bumble celebrates winning the Nigerian Lottery. He thought a spam bin was a special offer at Aldi.|
Just my rotten luck then that Picca starts playing like Bradman and all my big slogs seem to be finding the boundary. I couldn't help but worry that Gatt would be tearing the packaging off my new computer and getting cheesy Wotsits stuck in the keyboard.
The next day we set Australia 130 to win the game and to be honest I thought they'd walk it. I'd spent the evening messing about with the ZX81 and hadn't got an awful lot of sleep. I was so tired I told the gaffer that I didn't think my bowling would be any good and he may as well give the ball to RGD. I also had a word with Mr Willis myself - I promised him that if he bowled them out before tea then I would show him an internet site devoted to naked female Bob Dylan fans called 'Lay Lady Lay'. He was pretty fired up I can tell you. It wasn't just seeing Rod Marsh caught on the boundary that made him punch the air! Straight after the game ended he came bounding into the dressing room with a big smile on his face. "Come on then Beefy," he said "show us the crumpet."
|In the pre-internet days players and umpires had to amuse themselves by organising ant races.|
I didn't have the heart to tell him that the internet hadn't been invented yet! I just said that the connection was down. I don't think he's ever forgiven me.
The ZX81 was good but it wasn't long before new models came on to the market. Soon everyone in the Somerset team had either a ZX Spectrum or a Commodore 64. Big Colin Dredge thought he knew a thing or two about computer technology and was always going on about how he could solve any problems. His pride and joy was his Amstrad CPC464. "It's a better all-rounder than you'll ever be," he said to me - a reference to the Amstrad's keyboard and data storage being housed in the same unit. I had the last laugh though; the CPC464 had a fatal design flaw ... if you took a leak in its floppy drive it had a tendency to blow up. I can still see Dredgy's face as his fancy unit went up in smoke during a particularly intense game of Challenge of the Gobots during the tea interval at Hove. Crazy days.
|Arise Sir Beefy. Her Majesty told me she had forgotten her Hotmail password. Luckily I managed to help her ... 'Queen1'.|
I was soon in demand as much for my computer knowledge as my cricketing abilities. People often ask me: who was your most difficult opponent? I always tell them that facing Michael Holding or Dennis Lillee was nothing compared to removing Zlob Trojan spyware off John Emburey's old Atari Portfolio.
I have lost count of the number of players and umpires who have been grateful for my assistance in sorting out their various computer difficulties. Derek Pringle was always trying to download tracks by weird groups like Lieutenant Pigeon or Agoraphobic Nosebleed. In those days peer-to-peer file sharing sites were a recipe for disaster. There were more bugs around than in a one star Karachi hotel room. I remember one tour when Prings had set his heart on a Bogshed bootleg that he'd seen on Napster. He had foolishly neglected to install any antivirus software and soon he had more viruses than the kitchen of a backstreet Lahore curry house.
|Delivering the Cowdrey Lecture in 2010 on the subject of Intelligent Data and Probabilistic Inference.|
Of course computing was very different in the early days. You had to fire up the system from a floppy disc, and boy, they could be more delicate than Peter Roebuck after a pint of shandy. And, compared with today's super-fast units, early computers ran slower than Gatt after a three course lunch at Lord's.
Even since retiring as a player my computing knowledge is still in great demand. In the Sky commentary box there are a few old timers who haven't quite grasped the rudiments of modern technology. Bumble was having problems with pop-ups after visiting one of his 'specialist' sites. I told him that he should set up a firewall, which he did ... by cementing a ton of bricks around his hearth! It reminded me of the time I told him to check his floppies for viruses and he was down the clap clinic at Accrington General quicker than Ian Chappell out of a pub window. And he's still the only man I know who uses his CD Rom drive to hold a mug of tea. I've lost count of the pairs of chinos Nick Knight has had to send to the dry cleaners after being covered in Typhoo.
|Me: "Have you got an Apple Mac?" Gatt: "No, but I've got some Wotsits my kit bag!"|
These days the younger players are all very computer-savvy and tend not to need my help. However, an umpire who can find his way around a laptop is about as rare as Boycs getting a round in. Only last week I was talking to Dickie Bird at the Scarborough Cricket Festival. He thought ITunes was a throat lozenge. I asked if he was on MySpace and he said "no, I'm parked outside Lidl." He thought a Hard Drive was the elevated section of the Snake Pass. When I mentioned installing software he thought I was talking about his slippers.
We have come a long way since the days of my beloved ZX81. I can still remember the days when the most modern gadget in a cricket ground was the scorer's pencil sharpener. I don't know where it will all end but I'm sure that wherever new technology takes us there will always be a place for the I.T. Guy.