Cricket: Never a dull moment with Doull

Derek Pringle on the bowler set for a swinging time with New Zealand
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The Independent Online
There are some people who, contrary to the laws of modern sport, respond to their calling in life later rather than sooner. Simon Doull, New Zealand's opening bowler, is one such person and although he is not old, at least not by county cricket standards, he has been around long enough and experienced enough maladies to make Chris Lewis seem like the indestructible man.

Injury has been the constant feature of Doull's Test career since his debut against Zimbabwe in 1992. First, it was a hamstring problem and then a snagged shoulder that held back his progress. Now, like the England captain, he has a degenerative back condition, though one currently held in check while he enjoys the salad days that usually follow when a man has the acumen to swing the ball both ways.

New Zealanders do not like their heroes to be too fanciful and Doull, now aged 27, is not likely to disappoint on that front. Born in the Pukekohe, a farming area 50 kilometres south of Auckland, he has been described variously as "uncomplicated" and an "unvarnished country lad."

However, according to his New Zealand team-mate Chris Cairns, he is the life and soul of the social committee on tour and completely dedicated to karioke and crooning, a combination that means he appears to know the lyrics to every pop song ever likely to be aired in a public place.

Such ephemera suggests a distracted mind and Doull was indeed drifting when Steve Rixon, the recently appointed New Zealand coach, began to form an unlikely alliance with him. Rixon, an uncompromising Australian used to winning things with his beloved New South Wales, suddenly began to make inroads into the bowler's impenetrable interior, something both his predecessors - Glenn Turner and Geoff Howarth - had failed to do.

The results have been remarkable and Doull has gone from someone who first learned his trade in a tent (which is how the more uncharitable describe indoor cricket) to a bowler with the potential to win Tests.

He has done it through a combination of working hard on his fitness (he even trained with a rugby league team when he played for Pudsey in the Yorkshire League) and by learning to swing the ball both ways by adopting a smoother action.

Although not as quick as Dominic Cork, his 6ft 4in frame gets him more bounce; a handy acquisition when you have a slip cordon waiting for the edge. He has an action not dissimilar to Worcestershire's swing bowler, Phil Newport, except that his bustling run-up has been described by David Lloyd as being like a cross between Gladstone Small and Merv Hughes.

Without a ball in his hand, Doull looks not unlike a stretched version of Andre Agassi: his severe crewcut and sparse goatee beard having apparently been cultivated to rid others of the perception that he is some kind of softie. It is an image he now takes with him off the field as well, and one of his Northern Districts team-mates reckons he drips more gold than a pimp when in civvies.

However, he certainly struck the motherlode on the pitch recently in Lahore, when he took 8 for 85 in New Zealand's win over Pakistan. Apparently he swung the ball so much that day that Pakistan provided a different ball for the following match.

Richard Hadlee believes he bowls deliveries that will get anyone out, and that he has benefited from not trying to bowl too many different types of balls, an optimism that still afflicts Darren Gough from time to time.

The recent death of his mother forced him to withdraw from England's game against Northern Districts last weekend. Had he played, England would not have romped home as comfortably as they did.

Just as crucially, however, England's batsmen did not get that vital sight of him either, and they as much as anyone will be waiting to see if the real thing matches up to the video nasty they have all been studying for the past couple of days.